2006-08-22: Complex thoughts on a simple meeting
So, here I was at GenCon, demoing 1001 Nights, when a woman in a peach-colored cabaret (sparkly bra and hip belt, long full skirt and veil) belly dance outfit walks by. I made some comment about how she should really be playing my game, and someone (I think maybe Judd or Matt) says "Well go get her!"
So I did. I took a copy of my game and stepped in beside her "You could be *in* my game!" I brought her back to the demo table, with it's silk scarf, brass bowls, and colorful dice. She didn't have time for a demo, yet she was excited to see other women gamers. Her screen name is Cahira, and she runs Ladies of Hack. She gave Emily and me flyers for her GenCon meet-up of women in gaming, scheduled the next day. Now, a cool side effect of having a person in belly dance costume next to my demo table was that it was *packed* when I turned around, and I sold a couple copies to those folks instead.
A very short time later, *another* woman comes by the booth. She's already got my game in her hands, and so I asked her if she'd like a demo. She's already going to buy the game, and is more interested in connecting with other women gamers. Cool! I tell her about the meet-up tomorrow, she buys my game (and a few others) and goes away happy. Her name is Shoshona.
So, the next day at the meeting. Around the table in the food court right outside the exhibit hall are the two women from yesterday (previously unknown to each other), a friend of Cahira's, a woman who was just walking by and stopped to join in, a woman from the Ladies of Hack on-line forum, Lady Myke, Raven, me, Julie, and Emily. The first thing that strikes me is that, for all the women gamers at GenCon, it's too bad that this is the whole group. There's talk around the table of getting a more formal thing going next year, with a scheduled time and place for a meet-up event. That's encouraging, because any new thing has to start somewhere.
We go around and introduce ourselves. It's instantly clear to me that we are coming from very different gaming backgrounds. Cahira and her friend and her forum member all play HackMaster. Myke and Raven play various games, and Raven at least is heavily involved in the True Dungeon LARP. Julie, Emily and I play indie games. Talk is unstructured, since this is the first ever meeting, and Shoshona asks about playing with a boyfriend or husband as GM. One woman told of her ex-husband, who would regularly and intentionally kill off her characters. That was phsycologically scarey, and I was glad he was an 'ex'. Cahira's forum member, older than us by 20 years, was the only member of a long-running game her husband GMd for her, yet I still understood it to be a HackMaster game fully in his controll. Cahira talked very briefly about not letting on when she was upset with her partner's GM decissions because "There's no crying in HackMaster."
I've been playing games with my partner for 15 years, often with him as GM, and only once, for a three minute exchange back in the early 90s, did I feel railroaded. How the heck are these women, who I suspect are a reasonable sample, dealing with getting slammed down in play and suppressing emotional response, combined with what I project to be a regular denial of one's own creative input? I see two options: one is to suck up and deal, being submissive and devious and manipulative in play, which is what any person would need to do in that case. The other is to get super tough, creating defenses that could take the blows, being faster-stronger-meaner in play. That's the two versions of female characters - the soft but sneaky coniving beauty and the sword-wielding bitch-goddess - that I find most sexist and steryotypical in game art and fiction. And that's not even looking at the gender of the characters these women actually play.
I got the feeling Shoshona had other questions, but talk quickly became 'here's where my character did this thing to prove she's no girly girl'. Emily mentioned that she and I had games in print here for sale, and no one batted an eyelash. Ok, I'm not expecting accolades for having a game out, but it seemed odd that in a small group of women gamers there wasn't a single question about how we'd published, what our reception as game designers had been, what we'd considered going into the game, and so on.
I thought that by and large the questions and conversations were about how we defined our characters and our gaming and ourselves in relation to the men. For example, one woman talked about how she never plays female characters because she's very male-identified. Another woman mentioned in an aside how the guys liked her in the party because someone had to be the cleric. Even the question above, about having men as GMs, was about one's boyfriend or husband, not about the possibilities or experiences of play with women GMs in comparison to men.
We could have talked about what issues held meaning for us as women gamers, what we might see as different in a woman's approach to gaming, where we'd like to see the hobby develop next, etc. As I walked back to the booth with Julie, we talked about how if we are moved to tears in a game, that's awesome, and it means we're going somewhere real with the game. I hope there is a more formal Women Gamers at GenCon event, and I hope it's more about women and women's ideas, wants, and visions in gaming than about how tough their fighter is because they have to prove they're not a weak little female. It made me sad to realize how that's still the experience of many women.
I applaud Cahira and the Ladies of Hack for making a start. They are making women gamers more visible in a section of gaming culture that is, I think, less women-welcome than the section I generally inhabit. They are obviously having fun gaming, and they are building connections and community to support their interests. As more and more women do this, all these questions, from all sections, will eventually get answers.
I hear that Raven and Myke had a whole different experience, which I would love to hear first-hand from them.
2006-08-22 15:35:28 Julia
The dynamic sounds like another male dominated social activity I have engaged in. It's interesting when you get women together and talk about their experiences. There's inevitably someone who says she goes about it in "male-ish" way, which for me brings up a whole slew of other questions like how is the male way of doing x activity uniquely male?
A better analogy to my question might be sports. What does it mean to "run like a girl" or be a tomboy? Having daughters, and one naturally athletic, tall, who likes Barbie and princesses, and other girly things, maybe I think about this way too much.
So what does it mean to game like a man or a woman? Is it in the chraracters you create, or the choices those characters make? And what the heck is wrong with playing a girly girl who relies on her wits and has no real physical, or mystical power? We can't all be axe wielding troll goddesses schooled in the dark arts?
And it's a real bummer you and Emily weren't acknowledged as writers. Personally I'd find experiences of women writers more interesting than how your gender affects the characters you play. Do you think 1001 Nights or Shoot the Moon would get a different reception or audience if the cover said "M. Baker" or "Emilio Care Boss"?
2006-08-22 17:58:24 Thomas
I just wanted to say that this:
I see two options: one is to suck up and deal, being submissive and devious and manipulative in play, which is what any person would need to do in that case. The other is to get super tough, creating defenses that could take the blows, being faster-stronger-meaner in play. That's the two versions of female characters - the soft but sneaky coniving beauty and the sword-wielding bitch-goddess
Was, oddly, eye opening for me. The idea that these stereotypes are adopted, at least in part, because they're the 'acceptable' or functional modes of female interaction in play is... well, it's got me thinking about a lot of stuff. So thanks!
(Of course I'm also eager to hear more about this, and I think Julie's question above is an excellent one.)
2006-08-22 17:59:08 Thomas
Arg, and by "Julie", I obviously meant to type "Julia". Stupid vowel shifts in my head.
2006-08-22 19:42:28 librisia
Since I'm planning on coming to GenCon next year, I'd definitely like to be in on this.
Judging only by your description, it sounds to me like the kind of play these women are involved in is a result of their dysfunctional relationships. They have abusive male partners, and that abuse, predictably, travels over into play. Since you and I are married to THE two NICEST guys in indie games, we naturally have a very different experience of gaming with male s/os.
It's sad that you and Emily are exceptional for being women in the game publishing industry. It's also sad that your accomplishments as publishers (female or not) weren't acknowledged by the group. But I also think this lack of interest/thought about theory is endemic to gaming culture. The women's reactions of indifference/disinterest are a symptom of the hobby's lack of theoretical discourse (we know who the exceptions are).
Krista (Brennan's spouse)
2006-08-22 19:53:53 Meguey
Julia - "So what does it mean to game like a man or a woman? Is it in the characters you create, or the choices those characters make? And what the heck is wrong with playing a girly girl who relies on her wits and has no real physical, or mystical power? We can't all be axe wielding troll goddesses schooled in the dark arts"
Can you expand this awesome bunch of questions to it's own post, and we can have you as a guest of Fair Game? (points to Julia "See what kind of cool person I get to hang with? She rocks!")
2006-08-22 21:44:53 Meguey
Julia - "Do you think 1001 Nights or Shoot the Moon would get a different reception or audience if the cover said "M. Baker" or "Emilio Care Boss"?"
I'm not sure. I think my game works well under my own name, in part because 'Meguey' is a bit unusual. I also am deep enough into my section of game design and game play that I really do not see gender, ethnicity, or orientation as a factor in a game's reception. There may be people who pass 1001 Nights over for any of a stack of reasons, and it's their loss. The proof is in the play - it does not matter who I am; it matters that I showed up with a game that's well made and delivers. What's your take, Emily?
Thomas - Glad to help. What part of "this" do you want to hear more about?
Krista - I'm happy to hear you're going to GenCon- I think you'll enjoy it.
I'd hesitate to call the men in these relationships abusive (except perhaps the guy who always killed the woman's characters - *ick*) without knowing more about them. I expect learned methods of play can make perfectly decent women and men fall into crappy gamer habits, regardless of what type of games they're playing. That said, yes, we do indeed have as partners two of the nicest guys around.
My plan is to be more of a front-runner than an exception in the game publishing industry. Even if I never publish another game (which could happen), I fully expect other women to publish more. I was talking to a man at GenCon who's been coming for 25 years, and he had encouraging things to say about the shift in the hobby towards greater diversity in games and in players, and in increasing gender balance (95% male 25 years ago to 70% male now). I think that as women are increasingly active, visible, and vocal, they will publish games.
2006-08-22 21:27:19 sven
It's strange that 'women in gaming' should be a topic of interest. But it is. Getting girls into our gaming group was like the best thing ever. (Of course, the main reason why it was so good was probably that they were totally new to rpg and therefore could see things in some ways almost impossible for us 'braindamaged' oldtimers.
Jonas Bark?? once wrote a nice post on playing with really young and totally rpg-unexperienced girls. Here. Girls like to blow things up too, he says.
2006-08-22 22:18:44 Jonas
"Of course, the main reason why it was so good was probably that they were totally new to rpg and therefore could see things in some ways almost impossible for us 'braindamaged' oldtimers."
Which give me more room to brain damage them in my own image, immersionism!
The girls I have gamed with have in general been playing more or less in the same way as the men. But new roleplayers are easier to play with when you try to do something different.
Another part of "the best thing" Sven mentions is men tending to shape up a bit around women, dropping the most obscure of the geekiness :)
2006-08-22 22:31:33 Thomas
Generally, I just want to hear more about your thoughts on women in gaming.
More specifically, I'd love to hear some expansion on why the two options (the conniving beauty and the bitch-goddess) are the two options. I'm having trouble articulating precisely what it is about this idea that I'm finding so compelling, but somewhere in that section I quoted something lodged itself deep in my sort-of conscious...
2006-08-22 23:17:33 Sephera
"I hope there is a more formal Women Gamers at GenCon event, and I hope it's more about women and women's ideas, wants, and visions in gaming than about how tough their fighter is because they have to prove they're not a weak little female. It made me sad to realize how that's still the experience of many women."
I too, would be very interested in Women Gamers events at GenCon. I was not able to go to GenCon this year because I am on bedrest (and I didn't yet have a clue what GenCon was about), but I do plan to go with my husband next year. I guess part of what I'm looking for is somewhere to belong, a niche if you will.
I play in a large home brew D&D type game. Our "usual" players are almost 50/50 gals and guys due in part to couples coming to play together. We have a few other guys that stop in to play when they can. It sometimes gets frustrating when the guys start side tracking and quoting from misc. gaming humor and to not have some place like that for women. I think this is part of what Ladies of Hack are working towards.
Women just think differently than men and there are a few times where I'm fairly certain we had the DM stumped with one of our "female" thoughts was something he hadn't considered.
I guess I'm digressing here. Basically, I would love to be able to identify with a group of Female Gamers. My friends and I loved the idea of Ladies of Hack shirts, just because there doesn't seem to be much out there like that.
As you already have a foothold in the industry from publishing games, do you have ideas of what we could do to become more readily recognized? Or something along those lines. Who could we talk with about having more a more visual female presence at GenCon, and not just as objects of oddity or eye-candy?
2006-08-23 00:49:57 James
"Who could we talk with about having more a more visual female presence at GenCon, and not just as objects of oddity or eye-candy?"
Host a seminar.
2006-08-23 02:11:40 Heather
Cahira told me she talked to you guys so I had to drop by and take a look. I am Heather O'Malley and I founded the Ladies of Hack. The idea wasn't about "gaming like a girl" but rather to give us a support group where we could talk about things that bothered us or made us feel good. I also want to be able, at some point, to be able to get gaming companies to realize that we game and are not just the sisters, wives and girlfriends of gamers.
From what I have seen on your site, you are both doing well. I am always glad to see new and interesting games, even when I can't buy any.
Next year the Ladies of Hack are planning on running several games and possibly hosting a few seminars. We want to get the word out and help the large number of women gamers actually get recognized.
2006-08-23 02:38:25 Meguey
In order to host a seminar or a pannel, whoever decided to make the jump would need to start planning and talking to the GenCon organizers (Peter Atkinson?) -now- to get a spot in the schedule. If it's in the program, that'll bring people. Then the women putting the thing together talk it up on the web via forums and blogs. There are actually a few other women game designers and publisher out there. John Kim has a great list of links that would be helpful in tracking down some bigger names who might be interested in taking part.
I'm not personally going to be at GenCon next year, so I suggest whoever wants a panel of women talking about Women in Gaming to start making those connections. I'd start looking for other women to get it rolling by opening threads on The Forge, Story-Games, RPGnet and RPG talk (all linked on our front page, to the right).
2006-08-23 02:47:33 Meguey
Cross-posted with Heather. Hi Heather! Sephera, meet Heather. Heather, meet Sephera. Heather's got the fire to make this happen, as is evident from the first stab made by Ladies of Hack at GenCon '06. It'd be awesome if, in a few years when I can come back to GenCon, there's already an annual Women in Gaming panel, a Ladies of Hack meet-up, a seminar on Gender and Play, and so on. How cool would that be?
2006-08-23 04:57:39 Judd
A seminar is an awesome idea.
Jeff and I got an awesome interview with Lisa about being a woman and GMing at Gen Con. I wanted to talk about being a person of color too but we just didn't get to it.
The interview with Lisa was the first time I felt like we were doing something really important, actually reporting on something that meant a whole lot.
Anyway, if that interview taught me anything it was that women in gaming need to be heard way WAY more.
2006-08-23 16:36:45 Matt Wilson
Yay! I'm glad you posted about this, Meg!
Your two-options idea is similar to some things Meredith was saying last night about gaming culture and the weird anti-progress behavior that it often promotes, but that's probably enough for a whole new thread.
I could go on and on about the terrible experiences that keep Meredith from being a part of this hobby, which is a shame, because she was absolutely essential to the development of Primetime Adventures. It frustrates me to no end.
I hope you and Em feel like the game design experts that you are. Your games are awesome.
2006-08-24 21:43:10 Jonathan Walton
There were a lot of events at GenCon this year that looked to be about women in gaming. I don't have my schedule with me, but it seems like someone thought this was a big thing to push. Unfortunately, from glancing over them a bit, most of them looked to be the "some girls play games too!" variety instead of something more in-depth. I was planning on attending one of the seminars, but ended up being stuck in a demo for longer than I expected and missed it. Did anyone check any of those out?
2006-08-24 22:29:54 Sephera
Is there any way to check what the actual attendance of those seminars was?
Here's what registration numbers were as of August 2nd for some of the seminars:
SEM00168 - But What if the Player is Female?
Host: Sheri Graner Ray (Gen Con LLC: Industry Insider)
Players: 200 players (192 were available as of Wed Aug 2 13:33:01 2006)
Time slot: Thu Aug 10 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Making games more appealing to women doesn't have anything to do with fuzzy pink kitties or with putting our products into pink boxes. This seminar will explore some of the different ways men and women approach entertainment and technology and will begin to see how we can leverage these differences to make better games while at the same time expanding our audience. And it all begins by asking, "But what if the player is female?"
SEM00054 - Chain mail Bikinis & Iron Jockstraps: Gender in Gaming
Duration: 2 hours
Host: No game master specified
Age requirement: Teen (13+)
Experience requirement: Newcomers (maturity preferred)
Players: 100 players (92 were available as of Wed Aug 2 13:33:01 2006)
Time slot: Thu Aug 10 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
An open discussion about the role of gender in role-playing and computer gaming. An open and frank discussion please bring your questions this is a very open format.
Those are the only two that jumped out at me from the list and look like they had poor attendance if any. The second one didn't even have a host at last glance.
I posted on Ladies of Hack to see what assistance I could be to Heather and company to try to get more stuff for female gamers, designers, etc. at next year's GenCon. I couldn't go to this year's because I'm on bedrest, but I am already planning to go to next year's.
2006-08-25 01:16:52 Meguey
There was another on Sunday afternoon about Women and War, lead by an ex-military guy. The program book is just -not- easy to read, and things get lost. It took me at least 30 mins to find the time and location of the costume contest (of course, I didn't start with the ToC : ), which is a pretty big event. Emily and I would *totally* have gone to the Gender in Gaming one. Anyone know more about it?
2006-08-25 19:42:28 Jmstar
There was a whole series on women in military history, organized by time period. I didn't get a chance to attend a single seminar or event.
Side note: If you go forward with organizing seminars, please share resources with me - I need to figure out how to do it myself for another project.
2006-08-26 14:51:12 Martin Ralya
I'd love to see a more formal, pubicized Women in Gaming event at GenCon. If you keep notes for next year (I always do), drop me a line at martin(at)treasuretables(dot)org when you have more details, and I'll be happy to publicize it on Treasure Tables. :)
2006-08-27 14:08:09 Emily
That would be a good idea. Something like the Indie Games Explosion that could be publicized as a block ahead of time. Though it would be a pain to have a whole 'nother day taken up by seminars, like the rpg theory stuff on Friday.
Jason—sure thing. Anybody else out there have experience navigating the behind the scenes of GenCon? Maybe we should talk to Ron, Luke or Kat Miller about this.
Not that I'm volunteering or anything. : )
2006-08-27 15:26:10 Meguey
Emily, surely you're not volunteering to help organize an awesome event, are you??
2006-08-29 03:12:10 Heather
I like the idea and it is one of our plans. There are a lot of women gamers and game designers and it is sad that most people have trouble realizing that. I will certainly push to get something going, along with the LoH tournies...many games...only female characters.
2006-08-29 19:30:00 Cahira
Just read your write-up about the LoH gathering, and I wanted to apologize. I'm sorry that we disappointed you with our reaction to y'all being game designers. :-( It was definitely unintentional. However, I was impressed, and I bought your game for 2 reasons: 1) because it sounded cool, and 2) because I had met you and thought it was neat that you were a game designer.
I didn't get a chance to look at Emily's games while at GenCon, but I did check them out online as soon as I got home. I don't want you to think that we were unimpressed. However, because I only play games (have no intentions to create them and have never GM-ed a game), it never occurred to me to ask about how you got them published and stuff. Sorry about that!!!!
Also, I wanted to correct something. I don't game with my boyfriend as a GM. And it's more because of me and less because of him. If a monster in his campaign (played fairly and correctly) were to kill my character, I would cry and take it out on him. I firmly believe that he would be perfectly fair in his GM-ing. I just don't think that I would do well. :-D I really hate to cry. :-P
But anyway, I'm really happy that y'all came to the meeting, and I'm gonna copy your thoughts into a Word document so I don't lose them. Knowing how we can improve is the best info that we can get at this point! :-D
2006-08-30 14:30:18 Meguey
Hey Cahira! Thanks for swinging by, and your corrections are very welcome.
I think part of what was going on was that it was the *very first* such gathering. It's always going to be a little disjointed when a group of folks unknown to each other sit down together, with no agenda or facilitator or guidelines, no matter what the thing is that drew them together.
There are some good articles on LoH; is there a comment section, or somewhere I can ask a question?
2006-08-30 19:34:23 Cahira
Yeah, it was definitely disjointed. :-D Mainly my idea for the very first gathering was just to get acquainted with more women gamers.
We'll definitely have more organization in the future.
Glad you liked the articles. :-) If you want to comment on any of them...or really on anything...there's a Community Forum link on the main page or a direct link here: http://www.ladiesofhack.com/smf/index.php. Feel free to come comment on anything that strikes your fancy. :-D
2006-08-31 04:21:49 Liz
Thanks for posting this! It's really good to open up the discussion. It takes a while. I think a lot of such first meetings end up being a bit of a CR session of telling individual stories but that is productive too.
I think it's a fabulous idea to have a block of time to talk about gender in gaming!
John K. was telling me about your game and it sounded neat - I'm definitely going to read it.