More than Wenches & Wives: Women in Gaming


Knight by Jeleynai

"Knight" by Jeleynai (resized) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0


An Introduction

I first started playing tabletop roleplaying games at the age of 16 with Vampire: the Masquerade, and I encountered a good mix of genders in gaming groups, both online and offline. At 21, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with a new circle of people, but we had a decent mix of genders in our group, as well. Once I started to participate in D&D message boards, however, I encountered reports about The Great Woman Shortage. Gamers regularly complained about not being able to find women who were willing to give the hobby a try. D&D had been a male-dominated game for decades and although some women played, the common view was that they were vastly outnumbered.

At first I thought that the shortage was all in people's heads, but as time went on, I heard about it from folks all over the country. I noticed how few women in forums identified as female. I also couldn't help but notice how guys watched me when I went into gaming stores. It's not just that they sized me up; they looked at me like they expected me to be bored, or shopping for someone else, or simply lost. And whether or not they intended to do so, some of them treated me as though I didn't really belong in the store or in the hobby.

I started this section of my web site to represent women gamers, and out of concern for some of the things I'd seen and heard over the years. My goal is to discuss women as gamers and as characters in a way that's open, respectful, and encouraging to everyone at the table. I hope to address common arguments, attitudes, and misconceptions that I've heard from men and women so that we can understand each other better. At the very least, I hope to be part of a movement to make everyone feel as though they belong in tabletop roleplaying.

Does Gender Matter?

One of the most difficult things about discussing gender bias against women is that, in our current era, many refuse to believe it exists or that they could be affected by it. Some gamers seem to feel personally attacked by the very notion that women could feel marginalized in roleplaying. I would like to be able to say that gender doesn't matter at all because that would mean that all genders were always treated equally and represented fairly. But I've seen that these things are not universally true and although some factors are subtle, others are not.

What I aim to do here is reveal potential problems and opportunities and discuss them in an organized fashion. Our cultural upbringing influences us in powerful ways that we don't even realize, and that's one of the most dangerous things about it. Even those of us who have been raised with very "modern” attitudes about gender and women will fall back on ideas we didn't even know were instilled in us. I'm not here to point fingers at anyone in particular; I'm here to invite everyone to examine their own beliefs and conduct.

Even if you've never been affected by gender problems in gaming – or even if you don't believe that such troubles exist – continue reading, anyway. Chances are good that you'll meet gamers who've dealt with some of the issues I discuss here, and you might run across similar things in your game when you least expect it. Either way, it's better to be prepared; that way, if you see something you're not okay with, you'll have a better chance of speaking up and knowing what to say.

Girl, Female, Woman, Bitch - Which is Which?

As I proceed, I'll be using a number of different terms to talk about women in gaming. Sometimes I'll just talk about "women" in gaming as a whole, although I know that there are also young girls, tweens, and teens involved in the hobby. When I talk about "girls" in gaming, I'll probably be referring to all women, whether they're young or not. I'll probably specify "female gamers" from time to time.

Why the variation? First off, it makes this easier to read. If I spoke of nothing but the female gamers who play female characters and deal with female concerns, it would probably make you grit your teeth. But I'll also use different terms because I'm trying to encompass a lot and reflect even more. There isn't just one female experience or one kind of woman. I'll be talking about a variety of people: those who were born female, those who were raised female, and those who identify and present themselves as female/feminine. I'll also be talking about the cultural ideas about being a woman, as well as being a woman in the gaming subculture. One word just ain't gonna cut it.

Last but not least, I'll also be talking about the ways in which women can be problematic in gaming. Just as I have encountered and heard about troublesome male gamers, I've also found disruptive female gamers. I've also had to wrestle with the wives and girlfriends of men who play. So I'll be talking about women many would describe as "bitches," but without name-calling; I'll be trying to look at even the most annoying behavior constructively because that's what we all deserve.

It's worth noting that I welcome all women in this conversation, but don't presume to speak for all of them. This is especially true for women from minority groups. They deal with the intersection between their gender and other factors, and I don't know enough about those intersections to responsibly address them here. Simply put, it's not my place to speak on their experiences. But I'm always willing to listen, learn, and look for ways to be more inclusive.

My Articles

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Table of Contents

Women In Character

A look at female characters, including their roles, power, and other aspects.

Women Out of Character

A look at female gamers, their history in the hobby, and their impact on games.

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Further Reading

When I first started this web site, I couldn't find many other sites by or about female roleplayers at all. Then, articles about women who play video games became more commonplace, but there still wasn't much about those who play tabletop RPGs. A lot more material about and by women gamers is out there now. Whether you think gender matters or not, you might want to look around for other sites that address women in gaming to get a broader perspective.


Outside Links

"Are There Any Girls There?" Empowering Excursions and Gender Role Subversion in Dungeons and Dragons Role Subversion in Dungeons and Dragons" by Rachel M. Just

Roll A Strength Check: Why Tabletop Games Are Awesome For Women (and Everybody Else)

Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress

RPGs Designed by Women

Dovearrow's Blog About Feminism & Gaming

The Female Adventure(r), Part 1

How Women Have Shaped and Changed the World of Roleplaying Games

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The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths

Misogyny and the Female Body in Dungeons & Dragons

The Inevitably-Named "Rape in RPGs"

"RPG: Role-Playing Gender, and How the Game Industry Has Sustained and Defied Sexism" by ReBecca Elizabeth Compton

Why More Black Women Should Play Tabletop RPGs

Rat's Rambling: Female Gamers

Women in Gaming Archive

Women in RPG's: A curated podcast list by Hazel Stapp


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