September 05, 2009

Interview with Calin Day: Better Introductions to Gaming for Women

My second interview is with Calin Day, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person at a RPGChicago event.  I can let him introduce himself:

My name is Calin Day, I am older than 30, but not by much, and have been gaming since I was 12.  I have primarily been a GM/DM, but more for lack of having an organizer than from not wishing to be a player.  Currently, however, I am a player in two campaigns.  The first one is Dark Heresy, the other is WarHammer Fantasy.  Oh, I would be remiss if I also did not mention that I am married, (to a woman), and that I have been with her since High School.

Calin's thoughtfulness on the gaming community helps bring some insight from his experiences.  From this he's found better ways to bring women into a game that they will enjoy.


d20 Sapphire: Alright, first question: What got you into gaming in the first place?

Calin Day: I began gaming at age 12 on the invitation of a friend of mine, Dustin Keary, in Durango, Colorado.  We tackled RoleMaster, (by Iron Crown Enterprises), and Dustin was actually quite good at math so it worked.  RoleMaster is the summit of complex math in gaming. Probably the worst.

d20 Sapphire: So then how long was it after you started gaming that you had the opportunity to play with a girl?

Calin: Not until High School. It wasn't for lack of wanting to game with anyone, but we didn't really know anyone near us at that time who was interested, girls or boys.  In High School, we recruited girls from school or girlfriends of current gamers.  I have to say that those who played did so with as much interest as the boys, but much more clever.

d20 Sapphire: When you recruited the girlfriends of gamers in high school, was it any more or less successful than just finding any girl?

Calin: I would have to say more successful, because they were more comfortable around the group and didn't have any outsider icewalls to climb.

d20 Sapphire: So more of those girls stayed?

Calin: Those ladies stayed to game as long as they didn't get bored or offended by the males. Which was surprisingly a long time for teens.

d20 Sapphire: Have you ever gamed with guys that were offensive? Anyone who thought gaming was a "boys-only club" deal?

Calin: That's an interesting question. I have to say that I have only gamed with offensive men possibly twice, but interestingly, no women were in those games.  Those players usually don't last long in my group, thankfully.

With regard to the gamers in my groups over the years, I have noticed a trend among both men and women.  There are generally two types of play style with men - 1. Kick in the door and fight. 2.Good at being tactful and subtle. Not much in between.  With the ladies, however, I have noticed that almost all of them I have ever gamed with, (save one, Pam), are subtle. 

d20 Sapphire: As GMs, are some of your male players surprised or have interesting reactions to the kind of gaming that women players bring to the table?

Calin: Reactions generally depend on the situation at hand, but I will say that just as in a crowded bar, some men over-react and are outright rude, possibly without knowing it, and others are self aware enough to mantain composure with a sly grin.  With regard to social interaction, however, I would say that both the ladies and the men in my groups both have their moments.  Though I do notice that the ladies have better manners. 

d20 Sapphire:  I remember when I talked to you in person earlier this week, you mentioned you know a lot more women who got into the hobby as the girlfriend of a gamer than women who just seeked out the hobby. Do you think that the majority of girl gamers got into the hobby through a boyfriend or husband or some kind of significant other?

Calin: I do agree, that the majority of the women who have gamed in my groups have traditionally been girlfriends or significant others of those of my male friends who asked their girls to game.  That is not to say I haven't met a few who game on their own outright, but in general, I would agree that the demographic of gamers hasn't changed a whole lot over the years.  The stated demographic of official game systems is typically "younger white male". As I fit into that demographic, as do most of my friends, I would call it "unfortunate", and one I seek to help change.  I have never heard of an all-ladies gamer group, but would love to meet one.

d20 Sapphire:  What do you think is a good way to help facilitate a change towards more female gamers? Is it something that the gaming community should be focused on?

Calin: I do think that the gaming community needs to open up.  Movies, such as LOTR, have helped do this. Media has helped - a little - but not much. is an excellent venue for such things, but most people I tell about it haven't ever heard of it.  I will say that the Bristol Ren Faire is an excellent social study on live female costume and roleplaying situations. Both for singles and for couples.  It would be an excellent place to pass out flyers.  It also has a very active acting staff. And as such, theatre groups are also an excellent place to pass the word along, as I believe they fit the demographic of a gamer rather well by nature.

d20 Sapphire: As a GM do you prefer to have either men or women in your groups?

Calin: Another good question. I actually don't have a preference, but I do hope the people playing are having fun.  I have had too many wives ruin a game because they were there to keep an eye on their man, oddly enough.

d20 Sapphire: Really? how did that work?

Calin: They weren't there to game, just to keep an eye on their boy, under the pretense of wanting to game.  As soon as they realized that gaming is harmless, relatively cheap, and in no way shape or form a threat to their relationship, they bailed out. 

d20 Sapphire: So in that vain, have you seen gaming ruin relationships? And not just between men and women per se.

Calin: I have seen gaming strain both male/female and male/male relationships. With regard to Magic the Gathering, I have seen it almost ruin relationships.  Magic is expensive, time consuming, and exclusive to those who enjoy it, and know the rules. This more often leaves out the spouse, even in pretense of wanting to try to play, and has caused rifts among several of my friends relationships.  Thankfully, my wife is very, very understanding. 

d20 Sapphire: Do you think magic has more of an exclusive quality that makes it less accessible to a spouse than pen and paper gaming?

Calin: Oh yes. MTG is a very hard game to learn, and expensive to own, and takes a lot of time to get into.  Pen and paper gaming is largely "free", so long as you have paper, pen, dice, and a book. It is one of the primary reasons I game.  As a youth, money was scarce, so we gamed. 

 I will say that from an "outsider" perspective, the ladies I have taught the games to picked it up faster than the men, but also dropped it quicker, whereas the men stayed on.

d20 Sapphire: Hmmm, why do you think that is?

Calin: Maybe it's just me and/or my stories or genre, I do hope I don't offend!  But honestly, I believe it is because the game isn't "real". If that makes any sense.

d20 Sapphire: What do you mean by real?

Calin: It doesn't have to do with your neighbor, or someone you know, or a place you went with a friend, or anything that actually happened in real life.  My wife likes to discuss "real world matters' with her friends, and has let go of gaming because she is too easily bored.

d20 Sapphire: Do you think women in general get bored by the kind of fantasy that gaming provides?

Calin: I think the genre, stories, and method of measurement, (all created by males), leaves out a critial aspect of something that holds the attention of the better half.  I have read fantasy fiction by both men and women, and I will say that they are wildly different in tone and topic, method and execution.  Because the gaming world was created on Mars, those from Venus are currently just visitors. We need a gaming company made largely by women to help get them into the game, in my opinion.

d20 Sapphire: Do you think there are games out there that already appeal more to women than others?

Calin: Killer Bunnies is an excellent example. Certain board games are better as well.  Games that are dynamic, interesting, change quickly, and have something appealing to their sensibilities, are what I would define as the target.  Slogging through a pile of math to figure out of the spear hit the orc in a shower of blood and gore is not something that most ladies seek in my experience.  However, the ladies in my groups have often commented that they like my varied choice of music, the maps I have created for the projector, and the quality of the minis I have painted.  One of my good friends, Laura, is an excellent mini's painter. A pro.

d20 Sapphire: They like more of the artistic pursuits?  Or at least that part of gaming?

Calin: Agreed, and a complex story is essential, as they pick up on stuff the men do not.  Layered relationships in a large story arch with implications and subtlties rather than blood and guts slay the dragon.

d20 Sapphire: Do you think subtle character relationships and story arc implications are the window to introducing more women to gaming?

Calin: I do.  Here's my view on the method...

Men sort of automatically "get" gaming from a "roll dice, kill baddies" viewpoint. That method appeals to them.  In order to introduce ladies to the game, we need to have a large background story pre-created for their character.  For example, "Your character was born to an upper middle class family, one wherein hot and cold running water and hot meals on the table were commonplace. Though your character had no need for adventure, the drive to see uncommon lands and strange peoples led her a place where travellers often gathered to tell stories." That's a lot "more" than, "Hey Grok! Roll dice, kill baddies!"

d20 Sapphire: Wouldn't that kind of character development work more with long campaigns rather than just the occasional one shot?

Calin: It would, but in order to get the ladies interested in campaigns from a one shot, they need a foundation of understanding about what the game is.  Here's an example from a different standpoint... If I were to ask you to put together a bike, would you read the instructions?

d20 Sapphire: Yes.

Calin: Here's the difference between most guys and ladies - I used to put bikes together and take them apart, and I have never once read the instructions.

d20 Sapphire: Ah I see. So women usually want a more in depth understanding of something before they're gung-ho about it. Is that your theory?

Calin: True, that.  So, to get ladies to game more, it's my theory that a stronger understanding of what gaming actually "is" would be requried, up front.  I usually have a sit-down discussion with most new gamers, both guys and girls, about how they view gaming in general, before I have them over to game.  The trouble is, most GMs do not. They expect you to automatically know what gaming is in my past experience.

d20 Sapphire: Then you consider that first conversation key in keeping any player in for the long term.

Calin: I do, as a foundation, of course. I also want them to know what they're getting into, how long it will take, what to expect, and most of all - I want them to have fun!

d20 Sapphire: Which is always the whole point!

Calin: It's why we game, after all!

d20 Sapphire: Well thanks Calin for the interview! 

Calin: Happy to! 

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