September 28, 2009

Interview with Cypress: Embracing the differences

I had the pleasure to be able to do an email interview with Cypress. Cypress is 29 years old and has been a gamer for 11 years, meeting her husband of 8 years through the hobby. She has been a GM for just as long but only recently feels that she has hit her stride as one. It is her life’s mission to help gamers everywhere have a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience. To this end she created the Triple Botch gaming forum. A place for game groups to stay in touch during the long eons between games as well as post in character and a whole lot more.

I found that Cypress is not afraid to point out what usually makes a female gamer different than a male gamer, and what she prefers.


How did you get into gaming in the first place?
I think I’ve always been a gamer. I loved those choose your own adventure books and the Legend of Zelda for the NES. But as far as pen and paper go, when I was 14 an older group of friends was playing Rifts and telling me about it. I loved the imaginative and escapist nature of it and wanted to join but they didn’t want to deal with my parents and so I had to sit that one out. Four years later my cousin’s, who lived an hour and a half away, came for a visit and out of the blue invited me to come up and game with them. They had no idea I had been interested in it for so long. They were running a game of Vampire the Masquerade, we played idealized versions of ourselves as vampires so it was very easy to get into character. I think it was a great first introduction to gaming. The system was easy to learn and the premise simple yet exciting.

If Rifts had been my first game I think the mechanics would have turned me off of the hobby altogether, the gaming Gods knew this, they had a plan for me. Since that first Vampire game I have played pretty much every week.

When you started out in gaming, were you the only girl/woman at the table? Or have you usually been able to participate in a game where the ratio of women to men are about equal?
My first group consisted of 3 guys and 2 girls. Over the course of 9 years there was always at least one other girl in all of my groups. I didn’t even realize that it was an issue until my latest group. I am the only female and it is an odd experience. While I love hanging out with the guys and have a wonderful time, there are situations and jokes that only another girl can appreciate, so it does get lonely sometimes.

Do you feel as a player you bring something different to the table than men players? What about other women players, do they bring something different to the game?
Yes, I don’t even have to think about the answer. I try to talk to stuff before attacking it. I remember this was such a bizarre concept in one of my earlier groups that they all just sort of laughed it off at first. But the GM, who was also female, went with it and told me later that she found it refreshing that we had talked to the big scary monster instead of just killing it. It ended up being an ally in the end and I think I won some respect from the guys in the group as being more than just eye candy.

I would say the same is true for other women players I have known. They are more apt to try to work things out in other ways and use combat as a last resort. I think that combat is necessary but if there is another way to accomplish a goal I will almost always try that route first. It can frustrate the male players at times because they tend to want to kill every NPC that looks at them funny.

I also don’t mind playing a supportive role. To use D&D terms I enjoy playing the cleric, or bard. I am happiest when the group succeeds whereas men tend to be happier when their character succeeds. It is a machisimo thing. Yes, gamer guys can be quite macho.

How did you first get into GMing?
I am of the mind that everyone should take a shot or three at the GM’s chair. So after a year of playing I decided to give running a shot. My first game flopped horribly. I was too rigid and not prepared to roll with what my players did. It took several years, a few games, and a lot of internet research but now I find GMing to be more enjoyable then playing. In the beginning it was an obligation, but once I found my groove it became more like an art form. I have a blast with it now.

Do you find you have a different style of GMing than some of your male counterparts? Do you find there's a difference between male and female GMs?
There are many different styles of GMing, I seldom have run across the same style twice. I will say that I have noticed that female GM’s tend to be more inclusive of all the players. What I mean is that we will go around the table to make sure that everyone has a chance to do something in a given scene more consistently then our male counterparts.

Female GM’s also tend to have less emphasis on combat in their games.

Did you ever have an experience where some of your male players were uncomfortable with you at the game or didn't want you at the game because you were a woman?
No, but I have always been a tomboy. I am just as likely to make a perverted joke or comment as the guys. I like to think that this puts them at ease with me. I have always been welcomed with open arms into all 5 groups I’ve been in. If anything being female has gotten me special treatment.

What kind of special treatment?
Gaming related[.] I get help with character creation and seldom have to do any sort of complicated math for my characters. Feats or powers are pointed out to me so that I don't have to read the entire book if I don't want to or have the time to. Not that this doesn't happen for guys too, but I think it is much less frequent.

I have had characters take no damage when they should have and be targeted less in combat situations. I don't condone this, but it has happened on more than one occasion. Maybe they were afraid I would cry if my character got hurt. *laughs*

Now that I'm married most of the special treatment comes from my husband. I wonder why that is...

One more story I almost forgot about. At a local Con game one year the GM had a bunch of premade characters he was handing out to all the guys for them to choose from. There must have been some 15 sheets for 4 guys. I was just about to grab one to start looking it over when he comes up to me with three sheets to choose from. "Here are the girl characters for you."

...I could have died. I prefer playing girl characters but had never been restricted in such a way before. Very bizarre.

If you perceive there is a female minority in the RPG community, do you think there's anything specific that's causing it?
Combat heavy games are what keep women away from roleplaying. In the beginning rpg’s focused almost exclusively on combat and combat mechanics. Women, by and large, are turned off by war and fighting and so didn’t really see the point. But thanks to White Wolf and their storyteller system that [situation] is changing. More women are starting to get into the hobby as they have more options. Vampire the Masquerade took the emphasis off of combat and put it on the character and their personal struggle. It isn’t that you can’t have a deep D&D character, but the system isn’t geared that way. Almost every feat is combat-centric, whereas Vampire has loads of merits and flaws in the social and mental arena as well.

Complicated systems are also a turn off for most women. I know that I like to roleplay and I don’t want to have to do vector calculus on the fly just to figure out how much damage my pistol did. If a Hack N’ Slash Rolemaster game would have been my first gaming experience I probably wouldn’t be getting interviewed by you right now.

Another problem is the perception that gamers are all overweight, unhygienic couch slugs who have never seen real boobs, live with their parents at the age of 35 and frequent Furry Cons. Do such stereotypes exist, sadly yes, but in my experience they are the minority. It will take some time for gaming to lose its stigmas, but I have no doubt that it will. The hobby is still relatively new after all.

Do you think that the RPG community could do anything to be more female friendly? Do you think that it's necessary for the community to try to be more female friendly?
The community could tone down some of the artwork. It would be nice to see a woman with normal sized breasts every now and again. *Laughs* But I do think that they are cognizant of this fact and slowly working on it. Overall I like the direction RPG’s have taken (more emphasis on roleplaying and less on combat) and I think as long as they stay on this path the number of females will continue to grow.

It is also up to us female gamers to spread the word to our friends, female and male, don’t be afraid to talk about your hobby in a positive manner. Even if they have no interest in roleplaying, every bit helps to tear down the walls of misperception. That is one of the reasons I was so keen to do this interview.

Thank you Sapphire for helping to dispel some of the myths surrounding the wiley and elusive female gamer.

And thank you Cypress for your help as well.

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