September 29, 2009

Thought from Steve Townshend, Wizards of the Coast Writer

Through the RPG Chicago group I found out about a talk with Steve Townshend about writing for the industry.  He recently just finished working on books for D&D 4.0, which includes the Dungeon Master's Guide III, Monster Manual III, and the Demononicon.  All three of those books are slotted to go out in 2010.

After the initial talk I got a chance to talk to him one on one.  Since he's been playing since 1982 I ask if he's seen an evolution in female gamers.  I wish I had a tape recorder to put more quotes in, but instead I have notes, so I'm mostly paraphrasing what Steve said. 

He said that in the early 80s there were not a lot of female gamers at all, and this continued in the early 1990s too.  In college he tried to have at least one girl in his gaming groups, but he admits that each girl was the "token female" in the group.  In th late 90s is when he saw there was real growth of women players.  He credits the growth of board games as one part, where a game brings people together.  Another thing he credits is Vampire the Masquerade and White Wolf, with a system that had more emphasis with storytelling.   All of that lead to Steve noticing the abundance of girls when he went to GenCon '99. 

Helping some of that growth continue has been the Lord of the Rings movies, thinks Steve.  Girls being able to relate to the characters, or in some instances have huge crushes on elf boys, helped a lot.

He also says that women are the "best storytellers" and story-telling is what women want more of in their games.

His wife Liz was great to talk to as well, who got into games about 6 years ago.  She definitely agreed with me that it's nice not to be the only woman in a campaign over a couple of years.  Believe me, boys will be boys and girls will not get half of it sometimes.  

Steve was awesome to talk to, and he has a great blog out there but the url I got doesn't work... if you're out there, Steve, let me know what the link is!

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.

Question of the Week #2

I've posted this under the previous interview because the question I have for this week actually stems from Cypress' interview.  Again, I would love any discussion to this topic from you all.

Do you think that some of the artwork depicting women in RPG books and other paraphernalia is hurting female participation rates in the RPG community?

September 25, 2009

We are not alone.

In my last post I talked about a response to my question on a forum, and how I particularly didn't like dismissing an issue.  I apparently was not the only one.  Another poster responded, and stated a lot of the same points I did.

You can finally see what was said here, if you haven't figured it out already.  I was a little embarrassed before to share the link because I felt I might be a little sensitive to the situation.  I almost felt like I was being attacked.  It looks like I am not the only one that feels that way.

As you can tell I've had a bit of an interview drought but I haven't stopped looking!  There will be more of that soon.  Also going to a few events where I hope to meet some more contacts.  Keep spreading the word!   The blog is off to a fantastic start.  :D

September 23, 2009

I'm not the person who created this difference. I am a person willing to talk about it.

On a forum where I asked for feedback someone posted a very critical response where they (albeit indirectly) accused the people noticing the difference between male and female gamers for creating it.  Maybe I should put in a quote:

Calling out the distinction calls attention to it, and all of a sudden we have "female gamers" and all their needs. Or "male gamers", and all their needs.

I sat on this response, and thought about it long and hard, and decided to respond myself.

In response to the first quote.  In the society I live in today, in the country I reside in right now, there are differences between men and women that I cannot avoid for two reasons.  The first reason is that a lot of the differences between men and women are biological.  Females compared to males have different genitalia, different bone structures, even different rates of hair growth.  There is no avoiding that.  The second reason is that the society I live in treats each gender differently.  There is a whole evolution of society that goes along with those treatments.  It has nothing to do with anything I've ever stated or done on this blog, let alone in my entire life.  I was born into it, and as a women who is not considered the "norm" in many ways even outside of gender, it's impossible for me to not notice these differences.

When so many men consider me a rare specimen of my gender because I like Dungeons and Dragons and running campaigns, when I am the only female who ran games in my group of friends in college, how can I not notice that there is a difference between male and female gamers?  Even if it is a difference that is only perpetuated by something that has no real factual backing, there is a difference.

In his response, this man seemed to respond as if I thought something discriminatory was happening.  I have never stated that this difference is discriminatory.  A lot of the people I've talked to have not found a discriminatory difference at their games either.  But there is a difference that people notice by the way women play.  And what is wrong with noticing something in the world that was already there to begin with?  What is wrong with noticing a rain cloud when it is raining?  Pointing out the rain cloud did not start the rain.

I am examining something that already exists, and I am sorry that people feel like I am creating a problem.  One, I never said anything was inherently a problem in the RPG community, though it's a question I have asked during my interviews.  Two, I am not the one who invented gender or sex or even RPGs.  I'm just seeing how they all interact.  

I might be reacting just because I find it ends the discussion unjustly.  One should not dismiss a question merely because they don't like the topic, or what the topic might suggest.  

And I know I'm going to keep asking questions.

September 20, 2009

Question of the Week #1

I'm not going to lie, the interview collecting is becoming quite slow.  Partly because the people I've asked haven't gotten back to me just yet (but having a life outside the internet is strongly encouraged) and partly because I have just started a job back at home.

I don't want this discussion to lose momentum, so I am now starting a new 20 Sided Women Project tradition: Question of the Week.

This will be a philosophical question posted every Monday for the readers to respond to in the comments by all you wonderful readers and supporters out there.  It's a great way to hear what you all think which definitely helps out this project.  Just respond in the comments and I hope to get a discussion going.  Here it goes...

Question #1
Do you think that the evolving gender roles of today's society contribute to some of the "problems" seen in the RPG community in regards to women players?  i.e the issue of a female minority and getting more women to play RPGs?

September 18, 2009

The Power of Suggestion

When I first started researching what was out there about my fellow women in polyhedral arms, I came upon an article by E. Cabell Hankinson Gathman titled Real Girls Don't: the invisible minority of female video game players.

Although the article focuses on female video game players, specifically MMO's, I think it's important to note the first example of when Gathman first joined her high school's RPG club.  Only after she broke the "barrier" of being the first women more girls started joining the club.  Hence, the perceived number of female gamers was lower than the actual number of female gamers.  It seems all the boys beforehand had just assumed that girls just didn't game.  When girls started showing up, they couldn't explain why their previous assumption was wrong.

I think this is a particularly interesting point.  The power of suggestion.  I think in this case, for the boys in  the club before Gathman joined thought that girls didn't join just because none would ever just walk into the club.  Observation (and not necessarily a good one) taught those boys that girls don't come to the RPG club to play, hence girls don't play RPGs.  This results in these boys not asking girls to play, not explaining games to girls, and instead introducing boys to the hobby.  This results in a never ending cycle.  Boys think only boys play RPGs, so they only approach boys about RPGs.

This cycle can be stopped in two ways.  1) A boy could finally invite a girl despite the ideas that the community perpetuates or 2) A girl could join on her own like Gathman did.  Both I think are great steps towards getting some diversity in the community, and introducing a fun activity to new people.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is why women haven't been joining the community at a rat that is equal to men.  Assuming that women don't like RPGs makes men who play not as inclined to invite women to play in many situations, and makes the industry make games more appealing to men.  Hence character designs like Mialee in the D&D 3.0-3.5 books, where the women are more lanky sex objects to decorate pages.

With that in mind, the female market is alive and well in the RPG community, no matter how small.  I think it's safe to say that nobody should suggest that girls don't play RPGs anymore.

September 15, 2009

Working on things

Hello all,

Just a warning that although I have been able to secure some interviews, I have also become somewhat busy this week, so it may take some time.  Sorry if there is a delay in productive updates.

Please keep on spreading the word of the blog!  I'm finding that a lot of you want to help and right now that's one of the best ways to do it.  And thanks for your interest, it means a lot to me and all the other people interested in this subject.

September 11, 2009

Sex versus Gender: a brief statement

Last night I realized I should extrapolate what I mean by "women" in this project.

When it comes to a subject like this, one has to decide whether or not the discussion is on "sex" or "gender".  "Sex" is used scientifically to determine if a sexually reproducing organism is one that expels eggs (female) or sperm (male).  It is something that an organism is inherently born with, albeit it sometimes with complications.  "Gender" is a social construct that traditionally originated from sex.  It is the identifying traditions, customs, acts, and behaviors that a society use to denote male and female.  For example, in a lot of western societies women will wear dresses, something men will not wear, for a variety of reasons.  This is a part of gender in western society.

Gender is a choice in many respects.  Sex is not.

In my blog, I want to be sensitive to the fact that in today's world one's sex is not tied to one's gender.  Sex is most important when one is doing a scientific study, something dealing with biology.  However, my investigation is into a social group, and isn't really anything scientific.  It's social and about a fun hobby that many people enjoy.  Hence, "women" in the blog are all those people who identify as women.

This isn't something I need to say to clarify anything I've published so far, this is more for future interviews.  If there is anyone who was on the fence about and interview but wasn't sure if I would consider you one gender or another, this is my standard: If you call yourself a woman and present yourself as a woman to others, you're a woman.  End of story.

Recent news of Caster Semenya the runner reminded me that this is something I should address.

I hope everyone who's been keeping up with the blog found it helpful in some way, and I would love to spread the word around to get more people involved.  Once again, email me at for an interview if you want to help out the project.

September 10, 2009

Interview with Jennifer Schoonover: Woman in the Gaming Industry

It was great being able to take to Jen Seiden Schoonover.  She is an ex-WEG (West End Games) and has done numerous freelance projects for role playing games.  She owns an indie company that edits and write for other companies, as well as writen columns for RPGlife, and RPGirl Zine.  I was very happy to have her as our first female point of view for the project.  She has had a huge amount of experience that shows the the RPG industry is definitely not just for the guys.

d20 Sapphire: How did you first get into gaming?
Jennifer Seiden Schoonover: My parents played with a few friends of theirs around the kitchen table once a week and let me sit in and listen. I also looked through all their books, mostly D&D stuff. My dad's best friend started the war-gaming company that preceded West End Games and would bring over a lot of that stuff too.
d20 Sapphire: How old were you when you finally got around to playing?
Jennifer: I tried GM-ing Ghostbusters and Paranoia when I was about 16, and joined a bonafide D&D group soon after. By then my dad was working for WEG and I had copies of a lot of their supplements.
d20 Sapphire: When you started out with D&D, were you the only woman in the group or were there others?
Jennifer: I was pretty much the only woman to show up in gaming groups until about 1998.
d20 Sapphire: How easy was it to game as the only woman then? Was it easier in some groups than others?
Jennifer: Definitely. Usually there wasnt a problem. I think I saw my first "bad" group in 2000, but by then I was already ex-WEG and wouldn't tolerate that sort of thing anyway.
d20 Sapphire: How was that group bad? 
Jennifer: I'm not sure if they were uncomfortable with me having ovaries, me being ex-industry, or just my gaming style but everyone but the GM apparently had a problem with me being there, so I was told later on. Maybe I didn't play like a girl was "supposed" to play. Maybe I was anticipating the GM because of my background.  Not sure. At the time I was at WEG I was also one of the only editor/game director that was female. I don't play much anymore due to this actually. Mostly I GM now.
d20 Sapphire: Is it easier for you to GM than play at a comfort level?
Jennifer: Yes. After developing Chaos University for my own company I found I was really happy running the games. I kept trying to find ways to bring the players into the game deep enough that they would forget where they were and I think I'm happiest doing so.

d20 Sapphire: So it sounds like at least when you first started playing it was easy to get into the group without any hassle. Were you already good friends with everyone when you started gaming with them?
Jennifer: At the time I was about 16 and my 30-year old friend invited me to game. I think they were more stuck on the age difference than anything else. They were all in their twenties through forties.
d20 Sapphire: You were the baby of the group then?
Jennifer: Oh yeah. And I didn't understand the system part (still don't actually), but I could run with the storylines. Yeah, systems and me never work.
d20 Sapphire: Do you find systems too complicated? 
Jennifer: It's like a block. D6 was easy, and I know I learned the CoC system, though I've forgotten it, but I was the Paranoia line director and never figured it out. That's why whenever I have to create a new system for Iron Game Chef or one of the other games I put together, I use incredibly silly systems. This may be more "me" and less "female."

d20 Sapphire: It sounds like you're into the storylines developed by gaming. It's something that the other people I talked to thinkg females are more into. Do you think there's any truth to that?
Jennifer: I like pulling emotion out of gamers and I suspect that might be a female trait. But when I do put it in a game, I think the guys that play enjoy it too. Nothing sappy, but senses of betrayal and loss, anger and blind hatred... when you can evoked these emotions, it makes the victories more striking.
d20 Sapphire: I find that too. Do you think that doesn't happen as often if a guy is the GM?
Jennifer: Hm... now it gets tricky.... I think that it's the creator's hand that could better guide the GM. It's not that, on average, male GMs suck at wringing emotion, it's that you need a good GM. Most GMs are male therefore you have more male GMs that aren't good at it.
But... female GMs, while they CAN suck, are more likely to make an extra effort to be "good" just because they know that they're females and will be noted as such. If that makes sense.
d20 Sapphire: Like there's extra pressure to be good?
Jennifer: They know if they put too much sappiness in a game with a portion of male players, they'll be called on the carpet for it, yes. But they shouldn't have to give up their instincts and try to MAKE a "male-oriented adventure."
d20 Sapphire: You think they should incorporate their instincts into their GMing?
Jennifer: Absolutely.
d20 Sapphire: Working in the industry, did you find that you brought different ideas when it came to making games than your male counterparts? Were there things you focused on more that maybe your co-workers who were male didn't think about as much or at all?
Jennifer: Again, I'm not sure if it was just me or females in general, but I really try to make continuity match up. It's actually what I'm really well known for now when editing freelance.
d20 Sapphire: This is mostly for supplements for games?
Jennifer: Right, although I came up with most of the history for New Gods of Mankind by Dark Skull Studios. They had named some battles and occurances and I put it together and explained how the battles came about and stuff. It was pretty nifty.

d20 Sapphire: It sounds like you haven't had to deal with a lot of men that were weird about a woman at the gaming table. Have you had to deal with that really at all?
Jennifer: Not since that one group. Now I do demos at cons and if anyone has had a problem, I haven't been told about it. And convention demo-ing is a whole 'nother animal, because everyone's a stranger.
me: Do you hear other female gamers complain about it often?
Jennifer: I'd like to think I have... but I can't tell if it's real or assumed in most cases. Outside of playing I've gotten comments from guys like, "I've never met a female gamer." But not actually AT the table. Same thing, I think. Most of the women I've spoken with were at a gaming convention and were serious about it. Most women I've met OUTSIDE the gaming table, simply did not game. Or gamed a long time ago because their older brother did it.
d20 Sapphire: Do you feel that women are a significant minority in gaming?
Jennifer: I want to say no but I'm probably a bit out of touch with reality. The last two demos I hosted had an even amount... in fact one had three girls and a guy. But overall, probably. I think more girls are getting into gaming.
d20 Sapphire: Do you think that might have something to do with where you are from?
Jennifer: Yeah, I lived in really small towns or in places where there were other interests.
d20 Sapphire: Do you think there's something specifically helping more girls get into gaming? 
Jennifer: Current culture. The acceptance of things like Goth. Anime might have even helped. Cute big-eyed animals and Squee!
d20 Sapphire: Hahaha! So it looks like it's a natural evolution that the gaming industry isn't necessarily facilitating, is it?
Jennifer: The fads have changed significantly. Before it was be a prom queen. Now it's dress up like a vampire. The game industry was just 20 years too early. A majority of younger girls are getting into it because it's a cool thing to do. If LARP can go mainstream with the high school crowds, the rest of us have got it made.
d20 Sapphire: It sounds like you think the industry doesn't have much to worry about as time goes on.
Jennifer: It may actually have to keep light on the systems to incorporate a younger less-literate crowd, but it CAN go there.
d20 Sapphire: Have you found, as a GM and a developer, that female gamers bring something different to the table at a game?
Jennifer: I think more spontaneity in that they will just blurt stuff, and possibly more randomness in that they don't want to do the same thing twice. It's a guess though.

d20 Sapphire: Do you think there is anything that the RPG community could do to help bring in more female gamers?
Jennifer: Aside from acting surprised when a girl expresses an interest?  Have explanations of things. If a girl wants to use a gun, a male at the table, in his bid for showing his superior knowledge (which works on other guys) might start going into detailed explanations of EACH AND EVERY type of possibility there is. The girl gets bored, because she just wants to blast someone out of the sky--not as interested in the details. Thus the supplement or adventure in question might want to do a list, detailing just the difference with a picture of each gun. Thereby the woman just picks and chooses. This is done by some companies. But if you supply more of these things for a variety, it will eliminate some of the conversation and get right down to "make the selection, now go and do." Industry publishers could draw more girls in if they eliminated the competition themselves instead of hoping it will be eliminated at the table.
d20 Sapphire: Ah I see, less necessary choices should be left for expansions and supplements?
Jennifer: It's that and just that... well, I've seen guys talk out a comparison between two types of guns. Or motorcycles, or anything else. It's part of geekdom and a lot of women will do the same. But if a woman is new at it, she may be offput by having a guy "gently" tell her the differences between a whole bunch of guns. It may just be me. But why have someone explain it all to me if there's quick efficient descriptions I can glance through?
d20 Sapphire: Makes perfect sense. I know I would personally like that.
Jennifer: I'm not saying that women can't debate or anything, but we'd like to be prepared for the debate instead of being the student of one.

d20 Sapphire: Thank you so much for the interview!
Jennifer: Not a problem.

September 09, 2009

Reading Project

During my interview with Calin he suggested I look for the book Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress. I think I will go buy the book soon (it wasn't in stores today) but before I read it I went to look for the reviews on Amazon.

It seems most of them are on the extremes of the spectrum. Either the book is appreciated for bringing light a hobby to the fairer sex, or it's a travesty of female stereotyping. Either it's a gateway for women to at least understand Dungeons and Dragons, or it's dumbing it down for people who aren't that dumb.

Part of the reason I want to read is to see which side of that line I am on. Part of it is to see if Shelly Mazzanoble has similar experiences to me and the female gamers I talk to. So hopefully in the future I will have a review for you all... I just need to order the book since it seems no book store has it.

September 07, 2009

Responding to some gamer's thoughts

There were a couple of people's personal comments on the that I would like to discuss briefly. I didn't copy the comments word for word, but there were two I'd like to share briefly.

1) Attractive gamers are a extremely small minority.

2) Gaming women are definitely not the minority, and the myth is that they are a minority.

I get really annoyed by people who state number 1.  It involves a lot of self hate.  "I can't be part of a group that would have a lot of attractive people.  I can't be one of the beautiful ones."  Why not?  Why can't we be attractive and gamers at the same time?

I understand that the expectation is for gamers to be unhealthy, sweaty, greasy, with horrible B.O. and fantasy art t-shirts.  But why does that have to be the norm?  To perpetuate a stereotype that isn't beneficial merely because it's what is expected will not do the gaming community any favors.  I hear from a good number of people who want to bring more players into the pen and paper gaming world, especially more female gamers.  How are we as a community going to attract more people if we don't even like who we are to begin with?

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be sloppy nerdy people.  An individual has a choice on how they want to present themselves, and I have no problem with people who decide that a t-shirt and jeans with gym shoes is how they want to dress.  Just don't tell me that as a gamer I can't be attractive or that I don't like wearing fashionable clothes.  Because a good number of us are and do out there.

People who state number 2 I think come from a situation that has two factors.  One is that they personally have never experienced a gaming group that has less than 40-50 percent women in it.  The other factor is that they think that they're group is a great example of what the norm is across the country. 

For every one person that says 50/50 is the norm, I find that there at least 6 to 10 people that find that women are definitely in the minority.  It's not that the people who think statement 2 are intentionally ignorant. They just aren't knowledgeable about what is out there.  I find I was like that as well, and recently.  It's even just going on the internet and looking on forums and gaming sites that I realized that my experiences in high school and college were not the norm.  It's not normal to start out with a group of five girls playing AD&D.  It's not normal to be part of groups were women are half of the gamers there.  But it does happen.  Apparently enough that some people are perplexed by the women a minority in gaming concept.  

I don't think that just because one person has had a 50/50 gender experience in gaming means the issue should be dropped.  I don't think that my experiences should be counted as the be-all end-all for gaming in women.  But some people act like the discussion should end because their experience is "ideal" and therefore so should everyone's as well.  That's fine for them.  However, I'm definitely someone that likes to continue investigating situations like this.

Consider this blog a continuation of that discussion.

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!