Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Move Over, Boys. Girls Game Too. Get Over It.

I'd like to preface this article first by thanking my good friends Matt and Adam for not even knowing about, yet alone believing, the bullshit claim that "girls don't have enough imagination" to play role-playing games. Second, I'd like to thank my friend Stubby for not being a skeevy, perverted, desperate bastard when I met him and he became my first Dungeon Master.

Last night, before I went to bed, I quickly scanned my Facebook wall to see what I had missed while my husband and I watched a couple movies. One of my friends had posted an article that caught my eye, but I didn't really have the time to read. I saved it for this morning, and what I read disturbed me.

The article, #NOTALLROLEPLAYERS: A HISTORY OF RAPEY DUNGEON MASTERS, reinforces a distressing stereotype that I've been reading about with alarming frequency all over the Internet. That stereotype seems to suggest that all men are sex-crazed lunatics who can't keep their fantasies to themselves and that they feel ridiculously threatened when females venture into their games. So much so, in fact, that they feel perfectly entitled to sexually harass and physically threaten the lives of women both in the industry and in the playing field.

More and more articles are being written about this sort of thing, where women are starting to finally speak out about their bad experiences with gaming groups. I've heard about this shit occurring most frequently in video games, particularly MMORPGs and shooter games like Halo, where female gamers are continuously harassed by male gamers the moment they find out the person behind the avatar or controller is in fact a woman.

I've never encountered problems like this before, personally. I think it's because I've almost always played male characters. Or maybe I just got lucky and involved myself in groups where none of the guys were at all interested in me sexually. Of course, it could also be that I also made it abundantly clear I wasn't available, let alone interested in any case, and, as my male friends have never been shy about telling me, that I'm intimidating. This amuses the hell out of me, because I'm all of five feet tall and a hundred fifty pounds at most soaking wet.

My first experience with role-playing came in the form of this game "Battle Masters" that my friend Matt brought over one day when we were 14. We sprawled the giant mat out on the living room floor of my house and played this fantastic geekery for hours. I think the spark that jump-started our delve into RPG-land was the fact that we were both avidly reading Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Death Gate Cycle series at the time. To this day it is still my favorite series and holds a special place of honor up on my desk shelf.

Around this time is when I first started really heavily writing my own stories, too. My friends Matt, Adam, Amanda, and I passed around a spiral bound notebook between classes during our high school career, taking turns writing bits of a greater story together. This, I've said time and again, was my first experience with free-form role-playing, in a sense.

Not long after we started rolling out the mat to play "Battle Masters" on the weekends and after school, Matt came over one day next toting a selection of manuals he had found somewhere. These books started off pretty simply as the TSR 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monstrous Manual. I don't know whose they were originally, but I do know that I still have them in my possession.

I spent hours reading over the material in those books, figuring it out. Matt and Adam were both as eager to play as I was, and they were both unanimously in favor of me, a girl, taking on the role of Dungeon Master. I know. Terribly unheard of, right? Girls can't possibly have "enough imagination" to play D&D let alone enjoy it, let alone be Dungeon Master.

My collection has grown significantly since then, and is nowhere near complete.
Since that time, I have played in several various tabletop adventures. Though D&D remains my top favorite, and I'm a vintage elitist snob who prefers TSR's 2nd Edition to anything Wizards of the Coast has pumped out since it bought the rights, I have also played in a few World of Darkness games such as Mage and Vampire. One of my past boyfriends was really into WoD, so I got a taste for that. I think none of his guy friends ever hit on me because I was his, though he never put me through the sexual fantasy ringer I've been hearing about in articles like the one I read this morning.

The fact that there are so many women and girls who experience sexual harassment online and off in their games really distresses me. Some of the best stories I've ever had to tell have come from my tabletop experiences. Stubby and I once talked about turning his campaign world into a novel, or book series, featuring his DM PC Dusk, our friend Matt's Nera the drow, and my gangly Gammaliel the Great, Master Illusionist! He's still my favorite ever played character in a game.

I also consistently tell people the story of my elven cleric, Hisael the Paladin Slayer. That adventure was probably the only one experience I had that made me uncomfortable, and it was mostly to do with the fact that the DM and 90% of all the other (male, every last one of them) players kept forgetting that my character was male and not female. The one stereotype that has always troubled me with these games is the limited imagination among the male population that seem to think a person should only play characters that match their real life gender, "so as not to confuse the DM."

The only guy present who did not keep thinking my character was female was the only guy present who was playing a female character himself. In retrospect, I realize he was playing a big-breasted stereotypical man-dependent, helpless mage, but... At least he acknowledged and remembered that just because I, the player, had boobs and a vagina did not necessarily mean that my character did as well.

Very rarely do I play female characters. Mostly because I've always been kind of male-minded. I don't like make-up or playing dress-up or the color pink. I like steak. I think the only truly female trait I have is my loathing for sports, but... My husband doesn't like sports either. That's just one of the many reasons why I married him. I am insanely happy to be with a man who doesn't have "The Game" playing in the background all the time on the television. In fact, right now I'm hearing Star Trek: the Next Generation. Awww yeeeah.

The point of all my rambling this morning is that... Some day I hope to share my love of RPGs with my daughters. I have big dreams of getting back together with Stubby and Matt and teaching our kids to play D&D, to run watered down campaigns and stimulate their imaginations. I've had giant foam polyhedral dice on Lilah's Amazon wishlist since even before she was born! And frankly I'm really disappointed that nobody has bought them for her as a birthday present yet.

I fear for my daughters' futures, though. I fear that they are going to suffer the same indignities many other female gamers are still stupidly facing today. I fear their only experiences with gaming are going to be limited to a small, cloistered, pre-arranged group consisting of my friends' kids, and that they won't be able to talk about their joy of role-playing (if they have it) with the larger community for fear of ridicule and scorn, and, worse, sexual harassment.

Amelia first discovers the manuals at 8 months.
Long before all this gender-stereotyping bullshit came to my attention, I was strongly defensive of role-playing, one of my favorite hobbies of all time. In high school, the negative fallacies I was most aware of were the ones claiming D&D was devil worship. I wrote a fiercely defensive essay on the matter, the only paper I ever wrote in which I got an F, because I had started off insulting everybody in the first paragraph. I still have that paper. I save it like a trophy. My grammar and spelling was perfect, but my tone was so aggressive that my teacher gave me an F and stern blue-pen talking to in the margins.

To all the ignorant people out there who spit claims of Dungeons & Dragons being devil worship, I have a few things I would like to say. It is time that your misinformed closed minds be opened up to all the facts. Evangelists and related religious fanatics, just hold your breath. Hear what someone experienced in the field has to say.

There is more to that essay than that. I wrote it in response to a bunch of idiotic propaganda I remember going around at the time, when the Internet was still new. I wish I could find the same video I'm remembering right now, but essentially it claimed D&D was a gateway drug to actual devil worship. As a non-believer and child of limitless imagination, I think you can probably guess how offensive I found that as a teenager. It ranked right up there with the absurd assumption my step-mother made from point A to point R (for ridiculous) that just because I wrote an X-rated note to my boyfriend (which his mother found) that somehow that meant I was planning to elope and get pregnant and drop out of school. I was insulted, to say the least.

I feel all my male geek friends should feel insulted, too, that there still exist skeevy assholes the likes of which are described in the article I linked to in the beginning of my post here. Sleazy, gross bastards who can't take no for an answer and give other male gamers, who are not at all as insecure as the stereotype, a bad name. It's sad, and not quite as funny as I'd like to say, that most of my online role-playing/writing friends are female. Even the ones who write/portray male characters, as I do, are mostly run by women.  I think because even I am uncomfortable playing/writing with men. At least... heterosexual men. My gay friends have never given me cause to feel uncomfortable, and that's sad.

I hope for a brighter future. One in which my daughters can take part in these games and past-times that I have so enjoyed most of my adult life without fear of harassment, without being made to feel uncomfortable. I hope, beyond hope, that they'll be able to log on to the next greatest installment of Halo for the Xbox Gabillionty without some dickwad telling them to "get in the kitchen" and "make me a sandwich."

1 comment:

  1. Commenting on my own article to make an amendment. I DO have male gamer/writing/role-playing friends who do NOT make me uncomfortable. You know who you are, though. I just wanted to make that clear.