September 03, 2009

Interview with Chris Fox: Noting the Evolution in Gamers

I had the opportunity to interview Chris Fox the other night, the first to be interviewed for the 20 Sided Women Project! Chris has been GMing for over twenty years. His favorite games are Exalted, Shadowrun, Earthdawn and Champions. He writes the an article called Evil GM on You can also keep with with him on his blog, Because of all his years in the community, I was really glad to have Chris help start out the blog. His long run perspective shows how women first started getting into gaming, and what some of them brought to the table.

d20 Sapphire: What got you into gaming in the first place?
Chris Fox: I started gaming when I was six. I'd seen the hobbit cartoon, and loved reading that old Choose your own Adventure series of books. One day I saw some kids at school playing D&D. I wandered over and watched, and they invited me to play. We started our very first adventure the next day. It was short and really, really bad but we had a blast.
d20 Sapphire: That's fantastic! I think that's the earliest age I've heard anyone ever join a game
Chirs: I get that a lot. I was really lucky that a group of kids just a bit older was playing. One of them was seven and the other eight. I didn't get heavily into it until I was about twelve.

d20 Sapphire: So then how long did it take until you started playing a game with a girl or woman? Was it in elementary school or even later?
Chirs: It was later. I'm 33 right now and this was in the late 80s. Girls didn't play games at all back then. I didn't meet my first female gamer until I was 15, and it wasn't for lack of looking. I even remember the shift in the hobby and what caused it.
d20 Sapphire: What did cause it?
Chirs: White Wolf released a game called Vampire in 1991. That was how I met the first girl I gamed with. Vampire the Masquerade even. Alongside the game they released LARP rules, and I ended up going a couple of times in my late teens. By that time girls were about one in five, at least for the LARP itself. In pen and paper I'd still only seen a few, and most of those were unwitting girlfriends dragged along by husbands or boyfriends who wanted to play.
d20 Sapphire: So then do you think the girls were more attracted to LARPing than the pen and paper games?
Chirs: Not necessarily. I think they were put off by the people who played pen and paper games. Those who played LARPs were the goth kids by and large. The pen and paper games were rife with sweaty overweight gamer geek sterotypes that drooled on women and had no social skills. That first girl I mentioned had a rough time of it, because all three guys in the group hit on her constantly. That's an intimidating environment for anyone. Plus, they seemed to assume girls are idiots and need basic concepts explained. Like you were a different, lesser species. In the early nineties a new generation of gamers came up, and we were at least a little better adjusted socially. We could accomplish amazing feats like talking to a girl...
d20 Sapphire: So you think a shift in the kind of gamer made it more available for a girl/woman audience? Like the people were less intimidating?
Chirs: I might replace less intimidating with more socially well adjusted. Though, I do believe the availability of certain games helped. Vampire was about dark themes, and involved a lot more visceral RP. Compare that to cutting down orcs and collecting gold. A lot more girls seemed attracted to the Toreador rock diva than to the Red Sonja chick with a claymore and a penchant for violence. Though, I did see girls play that last too. Two of my most violent hack and slash gamers were girls
d20 Sapphire: So it sounds like the genre evolved bringing in an element that brought in more social gamers, which in turn brought in more women?
Chirs: Exactly

d20 Sapphire: So when you first played alongside a girl, was it a memorable experience? Did she bring something different to the table?
Chirs: She did. Melanie was incredibly smart, which was one of the things I liked about her. The rest of the group stumbled around, and basically hacked through any obstacle. She taught them the fine art of negotiation, and came up with a lot of their best plans. If you've ever read Knights of the Dinner table she was a lot like Sara.
d20 Sapphire: So it sounds like she brought more elements of character development.
Chirs: Definitely. Character developement, motivation and a desire for more in character roleplay and less rolling of dice
d20 Sapphire: How receptive were the other players?
Chirs: Not at all. It totally destroyed the game at first. They were all attracted to her. Its very difficult for a 15 year old male to act normally around an attractive girl. They just couldn't see past her as a potential girlfriend, which just drove her nuts
d20 Sapphire: Do you think Melanie is a lot like other girl gamers? More likely to be focused on character development and motivations?
Chirs: Its hard to generalize, because I've seen a lot of different types of girl gamers. I think their center is closer to character development, and the males center was closer to tangible accomplishment. Killing the dragon, getting the magic sword...that sort of thing. But I've seen a female version of every gamer stereotype.
d20 Sapphire: Yeah, we're so not immune to those stereotypes. 

Do you think that some guy players give gaming a whole "boy's only club" feel? How common has that been in your experiences, if at all
Chirs: Less common now than it has been in the past, thankfully. There is still a significant portion of gamers who refuse to game with women, or when they do treat them so condescendingly they get uncomfortable and leave. Some bar them for a more practical concern, which is relationships. If you put guys and girls together and they enjoy the same habits relationships -will- happen. That part is fine, but the breakups can destroy groups. I even know one group that is all girls and refuses to accept guys for that reason.
d20 Sapphire: Do you think that's helpful overall?
Chirs: In my opinion? No. Its worth having both sexes if you really enjoy in depth hardcore character defining RP. You can more accurately reflect life by having those viewpoints present. Its hard to find the right people though, especially if you include things like in game relationships. Some GMs seem to steer clear of that, though I encourage it where it makes sense... many GMs seem intimidated by allowing characters to have in game relationships. Especially if there are both men and women present.
d20 Sapphire: Is this mostly men GMs, women GMs or just all GMs all around?
Chirs: Mostly male GMs. I've only played under one female GM. Every other one I know is a player.
d20 Sapphire: I do agree as a GM it's hard to do the character relationships. I don't know about you, but I feel those kind of opportunities are valuable to character and story development.
Chirs: I very much do. Nearly every character in every game I've run in the last ten years had an in game spouse before the end of the campaign. Many went through multiples. The death of a spouse in game can make for a great story arc, one that can really impact a player. When you have NPCs with a lot of depth and encourage people to treat them like real people it fosters a suspension of disbelief that really brings a lot to a game. The more people get into character the more they forget to be uncomfortable about things like in game relationships. Basically, as a gamer gets more experienced they seem more likely to accept and then actively seek that sort of thing. That's held true for both men and women I've known.

d20 Sapphire: Have you ever experience a woman who was very opposed to gaming just because it wasn't a girl thing? Or has that not happened a lot in your experience?
Chirs: Quite a few times. Either you're a geek or you're not, and many of the guys brought women to the table who weren't geeks. After a session or two they'd hang out on the couch watching TV just to avoid the game. Most of the women I knew who liked playing shared a lot of similarities with men I know.
d20 Sapphire: Do you think if those women gave it a fair chance they'd like at least part of the gaming experience? Or was it something just not for them?
Chirs: It wasn't for most of them. I really made an effort to weave new players into the story, and this was true of the women who came to my table as well. They had a solo session, and I eased them into the game. If they didn't like the solo and weren't hooked after the first session they really never came around or decided to give it another shot. I was surprised by some of the girls that did try it and like. Some I assumed wouldn't completely surprised us.

d20 Sapphire: Do you think there's anything that could change in the RPG community that could make it more welcoming to women? Is it a change that the community should pursue?
Chirs: You know, its really hard to say. I feel like we've finally been successful. Nowadays about a third of the gamers I know are women, and that number grows anually. Having a broader array of games for people to play attracts more female gamers, because it caters to different styles than the more mainstream games. I know a ton of girls who love WoD, and Big Eyes Small Mouth. I don't know very many into D&D 4th edition, at least comparitively.
d20 Sapphire: So those more social games are the window to the female market?
Chirs: I believe they are. Look at The Sims, and the demographic that plays it. That carries over to RPGs as well.
d20 Sapphire: Well that's all the questions I have, I want to thank you so much for your time and being my first interview for the blog!
Chirs: Sure!


  1. Sapphire,

    Looks like the site is going well! I enjoyed the interview and if you have followup questions let me know.

    I'm spreading the word around about your site, because I like that you're raising awareness. Female gamers have had a rough time over the years, and while its getting easier I won't be happy until we're finally 50 / 50 for the man / woman player split!


  2. I hope lack of 50/50 gender balance in gaming doesn't reflect poorly on us. At Gen Con I've noticed a lack of balance in amount of belly fat, but I don't think we discriminate against skinny people.

    There are gender imbalances in many areas, and not always for bad reasons. Obviously some people are boors, but it's plausible that a different percentage of women might choose gaming than men, just as a different percentage of Americans choose to watch football on TV than choose to RPG. I look forward to seeing what Sapphire discovers.