October 07, 2009

Interview with Joel: Not all girl gamers are a benefit

I had the pleasure to interview my friend Joel, a teacher who's been gaming since he was twelve. I first met him through The Boyfriend, and he runs a great game of SLA Industries. He blogs the games he runs along with his extras he makes up for the setting here, and I suggest you take a gander. Also, I've become friends with his wife Rachel, who's also a teacher and just as nerdy as the rest of us at the SLA table. Rachel and I are usually the ones at the gaming table keeping the team on task, and I appreciate that I'm not the only one trying.
Joel's experiences gaming with women weren't all positive. It makes me sad, but at the same time the way he talks bout it, although caustic, are very entertaining.


How did you first get into gaming?
A friend of mine asked me to play DnD with him and a couple of friends. This was when AD&D just did it's second revision. He started back on the blue box set. When Elf was a class. I never played the older stuff, I just collected the books on a goof. AD&D was where I started.
Where did you branch off from there?
It was mostly the TSR stuff. We dabbled in Star Frontiers, Gangbusters, Top Secret, Boot Hill. I didn't get into the "indie" stuff for a while. We also did a little bit of strategy stuff, too. Dawn Patrol was a favorite.

So how long was it until you played a game with a woman?
One of my buddies, Chris, had a girlfriend who played. Chris had been running a huge campaign for a few years and wanted to work his girlfriend in when we played while we were in high school. Dawn (that was her name) was using a character that came from a campaign that was at best "broken."
How broken? Please describe.
She was the daughter of Asmodeus or Beezelbub or something ridiculous like that. Pentagrams for irises. A fortress that she created inside a bag of holding with a wish. This was busted power-gaming personified.
Did Chris have to do this to get Dawn to play or was it that she knew what she was doing and didn't care?
She knew what she was doing. The campaign the character came from was just insane.

So I'm guessing that wasn't a very positive experience.
No, I distinctly remember in-game having my Bard physically restrained from choking her out.
Then what was your first positive experience with female gamers at the table?
Hmm...let me skip past the Strategic Games Society at SIU where my female DM thought she could run a campaign with 26 active players at the table. The rest of the female gamers there were more interested in long descriptions of campside orgies with their boyfriends. I would just have my Bard steal all of their stuff while they were naked in-game. What I couldn't carry, I would just take out into the woods and bury it.

Sadly, my first positive experience with a female gamer would be 1993-4 with what would become my ex-girlfriend. She shall henceforth be referred to as "The Ulcer."
I'm hoping that doesn't refer to her gaming practices
No, her as a person. Her gaming was actually pretty good. I was running a campaign in the RPG Underground and she wanted to try it out.
Did she bring anything different or new to the table?
Other than breasts, having a female character in game changed the dynamics of the party.
While she had trouble with the game mechanics for a while, she grasped the idea of role-playing well. She got deep into character, which encouraged the rest of the group to try to do the same.
So she helped bring out those skills in the other players?
Yeah. She was over the top normally, so at the table she was pretty nutty. Everybody kind of got into it.
Do you find that most female players are good at the role playing characters in general?
Not to that point. Before the Ulcer they were all uniformly horrifying. Either they were allowing for epically broken characters or they were just looking for a porn experience in Greyhawk.
A porn experience? I'm sorry, but you have to explain that dynamic.
"Role-playing" sexual encounters. We're talking constitution and dexterity rolls. Imagine the inherent creepiness of yiffing and apply it to DnD. And that's why I became extremely selective about the women I gamed with.
Do you find that it's less prominent these days when you game?
Only due to the fact that I am choosy about who I game with. It seems that when I can pick and choose, it's fine. Then I get stuck in a campaign with [...] [d20 sapphire's Boyfriend] was running a DnD campaign and asked me to join. I hadn't played DnD in years. He was running 3.5 and I stopped with 2nd Ed. AD&D. The group was me, nichols, gina, big john, and heather. I don't even know where to start with this train wreck. For one, the campaign was horrible. The first warning sign should have been that Heather was playing a "non-standard" character.
Define non-standard
She was a pixie or something along those lines, and Gina was playing a thief that didn't really do any thieving. She would just stand there and eventually demand a cut of the loot.
These sounds like bad players in general.
Heather seemed to be trying too hard and Gina didn't seem to grasp the role of her character.

I wasn't worried about gaming with Rachel[Joel's wife]. We played a ton of Magic:The Gathering when we were dating. She was into Blood Bowl too, once I showed her how to play. She read lots of fantasy, like Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffrey and like some sci-fi like Douglas Adams. She also liked the Middle Earth stuff, so I figured she'd be fine in DnD. Turns out she could break a character with the best of them. She turned a Halfling Druid into the team's mobile artillery unit. Unfortunately, the biggest challenge would be keeping her from falling asleep during the game.

It sounds like for you, player personality is a lot more important to gaming than anything else to have a good experience.
Yeah. If you have a table full of duds, the game isn't going to be fun.
Do you find that women are more or less likely to be a dud at the table than men? Or is it an equal playing field?
Dud is a wide-sweeping classification. I find that women at the table are prone to a few classic blunders. If they're only very casual gamers, they get hung up on game mechanics and you spend more time explaining the rules than playing. Sometimes they're not into the setting. Other times they just can't grasp their character. Granted, these issues can be for men, too. It's pretty even, I suppose. I just notice the women duds since I don't game with lots of women.

Did you ever game with people who felt that RPGs was a "boys-only" club or didn't want to game with girls?
No. On the contrary. We gamed BECAUSE women generally wouldn't have anything to do with us. We would have gladly welcomed women to the table.

Do you think that there's something about the RPG community that scares away some women in general?
Oh hell yes. What woman would be enchanted by a table full of sweaty, greasy, out of shape men grimly eating chips and swilling sodas as they argue over the particulars of how to best fillet an orc?
Do you think that's something that needs to be fixed on an individual basis or can the whole community do something about it?
I've found the gaming community can be pretty insular. You get a group that works well together and they're not going to want to change it. Maybe with the more casual games you'd have a chance.
Do you think those casual games could become a window to more "hardcore" gaming, i.e. instead of the occasional card or board game of the main stream hardcore like running campaigns or playing in long run tabletop games instead of the occasional one shot?
Hard to say. Maybe if time and finances permitted.

Is there anything, I guess other than not being a stereotypical negative geek stereotype, that the RPG community can do to attract more female players?
I think they have. As far as games go, a lot of the White Wolf stuff seems to appeal to females. I think some of it may come down to the games themselves. As far as the players? I don't know. Not much has changed in the 26 years I've been gaming.

Alright, well I guess that's all I got right now Joel. Thanks for the interview!
Glad to be of service.

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