Ten things NOT to do around female gamers

This posting was inspired by the personal experiences of a female player in my regular Dungeons & Dragons gaming group. She shared that, in her previous group, there was a male player whose behavior made her uncomfortable enough to leave the game entirely. Fortunately, she accepted our invitation and quickly became an indispensable member of our group.

Although I was, and still am, saddened by the conduct of that male player in “the old group,” her story raised questions in my mind about how many female gamers we males drive out of the hobby through our actions and attitudes. It seems irrelevant whether these actions are intentional or not, for the result is the same: we lose a number of creative, intelligent people who would otherwise make a great contribution to our individual campaigns and the role-playing hobby as a whole.

Please understand, Gentle Reader, that the ideas set forth in the following paragraphs are presented as suggestions for making our games more comfortable for females. If male readers can find that none of the “don’ts” listed below apply to their campaigns, they may consider forwarding this post to other males who may not be as forward-thinking. The rest of the males – a group that included myself, in a couple of the ways described below – might take a moment to examine their perception of and conduct toward female gamers, for the benefit of everyone concerned.

To prepare this posting, I spoke with my female player and numerous other female gamers, including the RPG Blogosphere Celebrity Stupid Ranger. Although hardly a statistical sample, there seemed to be ten primary complaints these female gamers had in common about the behavior of male gamers. The complaints are presented in the list of “don’ts” that follows.

Ten Things NOT to Do Around Female Gamers

10. Don’t try to impress them. Sometimes, we males behave differently around women, trying to appear “tough” or speaking with vulgar language. Often, the severity of this behavior increases as our self-confidence decreases. Being a geek myself, I can say with certainty that popularity contests between insecure males seldom turn out in a flattering way for anyone involved.

“Female players are there because they want to play, and they’re present to play the game with you,” Stupid Ranger said. “We [females] can tell if you’re not being yourself, and it won’t reflect well on you.”

9. Don’t be condescending during play or when explaining rules to female gamers. Some of us – perhaps unconsciously – assume that female players may not know the game as well, simply because role-playing games are largely played by males. The reality is that if females don’t already know the rules (and many do), they are as capable of learning them as we were ourselves. Few things are as annoying to a female player than seeing everyone at the table assume that she doesn’t know how to play her character. If a female player wants help, she’ll ask.

8. Talk to their eyes, not to their breasts. It is not the intent of this post to suggest that breasts (or any other female body part) are not interesting; it is my intent to say that visual fixation on a female player’s body can make her uncomfortable. As tempted as one may be to stare, make every effort to look into a female player’s eyes when speaking to her, and try focus your visual attention on game elements. Remember that, as interested as you may be, many women are self-conscious about their bodies and aren’t particularly pleased about being stared at.

7. Don’t touch them, unless specifically invited to do so. This is self-explanatory, and is often included in social contracts used by gaming clubs. For the purposes of this post, touching includes both overt touching, like trying to put an arm around her or hugging her, along with “disguised,” but still intentional, touching. “Accidentally” brushing against her or touching her hand when reaching for an object are examples. If you do have accidental physical contact with a female player, apologize for it immediately. She will like you more when she  sees the pains you take to respect her personal space.

6. Don’t project your impressions about women onto female gamers. To be brutally honest, male gamers often feel awkward around women. Many of us have never been in a meaningful, romantic relationship with a female, and many more can count our “girlfriends” (if we apply the term loosely enough) on one hand. Many of us, then, rely on second-hand information about what women want and how they want to be treated. Some of that second-hand information is drawn from female characters we observe in books and films and, while we’re being completely honest, pornography. For males who view pornography, please remember that adult film actresses are actresses; simply because the roles they play involve women wanting sex at every opportunity – with anyone – doesn’t necessarily mean that all women do. The safest course of action is to get to know female gamers at your table as people first, instead of making any assumptions about their values or desires.

5. Don’t assume she wants a relationship with you because you weren’t immediately rejected. Virtually all male gamers, myself included, have been at a point in life when it feels like we’re just not worth being loved, as evidenced by the resoundingly negative rejections we’ve experienced. Suddenly, this charming young lass visits our game table; she seems to enjoy our company, wants to hear about our characters and even drops her head on your shoulder when she laughs. While that level of rapport is unspeakably better than our prior rejections, it does not necessarily mean that she’s in the market for a boyfriend, or even that you might be a candidate for the position. “Friends first” is probably the best way to go, in order to avoid confusion or embarrassment. If she wants a romantic relationship with you, she will leave no doubt in your mind.

4. Don’t let any romantic or sexual interests you have appear in the game. Even if you are attracted, there are few things as lame as role-playing your attraction through your character’s attempts at touching, flirting with or otherwise romantically engaging her character. A subset of this sort of behavior is asking the female player to describe what her  character is wearing, and making suggestions about chain mail thongs and other immodest or impractical clothing that is so common in fantasy art. She will see through that behavior – especially if it is described as “only role-playing” when she confronts it, and it will likely annoy her.

3. Don’t assume that female characters (or players) are helpless and in need of rescue. Unless a female player makes it clear that she is playing a damsel-in-distress, allow her to play her character as she sees fit, just as you would a male player. If her character needs help, she’ll ask for it. No one likes being treated like a second-class hero who needs to be rescued all the time.

2. Don’t ask her for a date, UNLESS you are emotionally prepared to be refused. There is nothing improper about asking to spend time with female players outside the game; in fact, ladies may respect you more for taking that road instead of staring at their bodies (see No. 8), touching them without permission (see No. 7), treating them like they’re already girlfriends (see No. 5) or engaging in imaginary flirting (see No. 4). Remember, though, that if you’re not ready for possible rejection, you have no right to ask; she should be free to answer however she wants, without it affecting her relationship with you or the rest of the gaming group. If you’ll be crushed if she refuses and the game becomes uncomfortable for her, everyone involved loses. If you’re not sure how you may handle her refusal, wait until you have a better grip on your feelings before asking.

“You reveal a lot about yourself through role-playing,” Stupid Ranger continued. “You’ll learn a great deal about her through conversations with her and through the way she plays her character, and you may come to personally understand each other well. But remember, understanding doesn’t always equal romantic compatibility.”

1. No means no. Persistence is an admirable quality, but not when it comes to frequently asking for dates after having been told she’s not interested. Have enough respect for her to honor her wishes.

Stupid Ranger is more of an authority on this topic than many female gamers, because she is engaged in co-writing a book on gender differences in gaming with the enigmatic “e” from Geek’s Dream Girl. The two actually commissioned a formal survey on women in gaming, and virtually all of the “don’ts” on the list above are supported by preliminary findings in their research. 

One element of the research that wasn’t reflected in the don’t list was the gaming environment – the actual location where players meet. It’s no secret that women and men have different standards for cleanliness, and sometimes male players meet in places where females aren’t particularly comfortable. Before inviting a female player into a crowded, dark, dingy basement, give some thought to how your mother may feel spending time down there. The same idea applies to toilet facilities.

“Darkness is a factor that affects women in a slightly different way than men. Some women would rather have plenty of lights on and know how disgusting their surroundings are, than have the lights out and not know what’s creeping out there,” Stupid Ranger laughed. 

She mentioned that darkness can also be uncomfortable for a female player joining a group for the first time, sitting in a dark place with a bunch of strangers, especially if she’s the only girl at the table.

Under no circumstances should this posting be considered a be-all, end-all guide to inter-gender relations at the gaming table. It is closer to a clumsy first attempt by a male player who doesn’t want to see females marginalized in the gaming community.

This post may, however, provide a reasonable starting point for discussion upon a topic which affects many groups, but never seems to be openly addressed. Feedback on this post, particularly from female gamers, would therefore be greatly appreciated.

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40 comments on “Ten things NOT to do around female gamers

  1. Max.Elliott says:

    I can’t even express how disappointed I am to find myself agreeing with the need for this article to have been written.

    Guys, I’ll grant we sometimes don’t get out so much, but if you want to date, try treating the ladies like people.

    • Alric says:

      Me, too, Max. Any idea why nobody talks about it?

      • Max.Elliott says:

        No idea; it could be that things that embarrass our associates also embarrass us to think about as humans?

        I have to say that this behavior works in both directions. Girls, most males are more than mindless hunks of flesh for you to toy with, and it is not really fair to prey on the less socially adept. I’m going to take a second and ask Alric to research a similar article for tips for ladies. So, Al, please, good sir?

        There have been a few maladjusted females in my gaming groups over time, including on memorable lady that stalked each male in turn, clockwise around the table, until the last two of us realized she was going in order and left the country for a few weeks. I kinda miss her waiting outside my house to follow me…. EVERYWHERE. The GF at the time was rather less amused.

        Or the Lady who’s main method of gathering favor was flirting excessively with players. Making promises she truly did not intend to keep in order to gain something, either in game or out. I kinda miss her too, she liked to sit in my lap. I was the least interested male there and I think that worked to gather special attention as the safest primate at the table.

        I’m thinking this article is teaching me that I like maladjusted females in my game, and that I should go shower the shame away. A married man like me enjoying the random attentions of the fairer sex! Can you believe it?!? Still, I’ll be back Sunday for my weekly does of crime and mayhem.

  2. I must be blessed with decent company because I cannot imagine the issues mentioned coming up without an uproar at the table. It seems to be the baseline of human cross-gender interaction.

    Perhaps I’m just not enough of a cynical mysanthropist. It blows my mind that these issues are based on actual experience. Yuck!

    • Alric says:

      Our group would never tolerate such behavior either, Alex – which is one reason why my female player has found her D&D home in our campaign. Sadly, just because it doesn’t happen in our games doesn’t imply that it doesn’t happen elsewhere.

  3. Stuart says:

    My gaming group is all in their mid to late 30s with families or at least long-time girlfriends. We don’t currently have any women in the group, but I’m quite sure these things wouldn’t be an issue if we did.

    Although I don’t doubt there are younger guys who could benefit from reading an article like this. 🙂

    • Alric says:

      Strange you should say that, Stuart. My female player’s experience bears that out. She is in her late 20s, and left a group of 20-somethings. Our group is composed of grognards in their late 30s and early 40s; nearly all of us are (or were) married, and all but one of us has children. My player immediately commented that our group has a different atmosphere.

  4. Mike E. says:

    It does sadden me that these things happen and complications arise between female and male players. My group is really lucky. I’m running 2 different DnD campaings (a 3.5 and a 4e) with the same group. There are 5 guys (including me) and 2 girls (one is my g/f of 7 years^_^). We all get along really well and don’t have any of that uncomfortability. I think my male players really value from having female players there because they are more level headed and thoughtful then my male players tend to be;) And believe me.. I THANK them for that. Sometimes they will also throw caution to the wind and go along with something reckless, but they are usually a good voice of reason when a male player shouts, “lets rob, kill, or maim it!!”

    I’m also lucky because on our next session, on the 31st we will be welcoming another female to our gaming table and I really am looking forward to what she will bring and add to our group.

  5. Mastermind says:

    Haha, it’s funny because I think I do all of the above. Sorry ladies.

    • Alric says:

      Hi, PM Mastermind, and thank you for reading my blog.

      Thank you also for being mature enough to recognize some of the behaviors described in the post in yourself. There were a few issues that I felt badly about when I was writing the piece, particularly about assuming that they needed help with the rules.

  6. Alric says:

    To Max –

    I would have posted this in the comment thread where the suggestion about writing a “what women gamers shouldn’t do” post, but the comment threading feature on WordPress seems to only allow for three comments per thread.

    You raise an interesting point about the conduct of some female gamers, Max. For my part, I would rather conduct myself in a way that is respectful to women, independent of their behavior; at least, that was the intended spirit of the post. In the event that a lying, manipulative woman joins our game and begins disrupting people’s relationships through flirting, I would confront the lying, manipulation and flirting, irrespective of gender.

    That is one reason why I’m disinclined to write a piece instructing women how to act; the other is that the sort of female gamer we are discussing is probably well aware of what she’s doing, and is unlikely to change that behavior due to a posting of mine.

    In the case of males, though, I was of the mind that many of us may never have thought about our conduct towards women in our games. I know I never did, until I wrote this post. Since male gamers are generally sensitive fellows, I thought that, once a punch-list like this went to print, some male gamers – including myself – would make some positive changes.

    • Max.Elliott says:

      I’ll agree on all points.

      I wish the comments system was better, or at least didn’t pretend at nesting.

      One should _always_ conduct oneself as a gentleman.

      I’m not sure either girl realized just how destructive her actions were. The first happened decades ago and we were all young, 16 and 17 years old. We had no idea how to react. The second girl didn’t last too long with the group. I do agree that such a post might not do any good, and one from a different perspective, like “girl-gamers to beware” wouldn’t foster a spirit of cooperation.
      The post did remind me that I might be too forgiving toward the actions of others though, both male and female. I withdraw my request for a second post.

      I’m still thinking about why this kind of thing doesn’t come up in conversation though. The gamers I know are all a little “off” socially, but otherwise are open and sensitive souls. Why are we not talking to each other about how to treat ladies in any number of social circumstances? Is it some awkwardness carrying over from real life? Some programming failure in our choices of media? Anyone ever hear of a study being done? What would make a ‘mature’ gamer like myself listen to a younger gamer tell a degrading story and not try to broaden their horizons a little?

      I mean to say, I already mentor my friends in a number of areas, and have my own mentors in turn, why not tell people about opening doors, bringing flowers, and the kinds of things that led my wife to marry me? I’m by no means a master seducer, but it might be nice to try to make thing better instead of standing back.

      • Alric says:

        Here, Here.

        And you raise a most interesting question about why we gamers seem to be open-minded about most issues, but we never seem to talk about this issue. Maybe it is a little programmed insensitivity from our media – or working in fields that have predominantly male employees with limited interaction with females. That might be a topic for a future post…

  7. Michelle says:

    To this list, I will add one more: Don’t make sexist jokes – they aren’t funny.

    I’m the DM for a group of all women, the Dungeon Divas. We have a fabulous time together. Over the last two years, we’ve had several members come and go (about 10), but we are mostly the same core group of 5 women who started together.

    We are not exclusive of men – in fact, our newest member is male, and one of our early members was male – it’s just that we were all newish players and wanted to learn together without the gender roles being an issue.

    And now for the sexist joke part. This group started because one woman was playing with another group (all male) and they made a joke about her character getting captured and gang-raped.

    Nothing ruins the fun like making jokes about things that aren’t funny.

    There are many things that are male dominated – calculus classes for an example – and women in these situations are usually already feeling isolated. Likewise, there are many things that are female dominated – quilting for an example – and men in these situations would also feel isolated.

    I think the most important thing to remember is that male or female, we are all _people_ and we all want to be treated with respect.

    Play on!

  8. Tyraziel says:

    Alric,

    Great post! It is sad though that people do treat women in disrespectful manners especially at the gaming table. A follow up article would be to have the gamers in your group switch gender roles in a game to see the interactions, or you could just write up an article about role playing the opposite gender. Not only that… if you’re nice to the girl in your gaming group she might introduce you to her friends if she’s not interested in you!

    • Alric says:

      Hi Tyraziel, and welcome.

      Now _That_ is a unique motivation for making extra efforts toward making females comfortable at the gaming table. If you make a good impression, the value of your stock as a potential boyfriend goes up! Very clever indeed.

  9. I agree with number 9, it’s the only one on the list tht applied to what i’ve experienced. I also agree with what Michelle said about the jokes, although they do happen even when playing with good friends. I think that the other things mentioned haven’t happened to me because i started gaming with good friends of mine and was (still am) with a good friend of theirs. However, i can understand the need for the 10 don’ts as not all girls are fortunate enough to play with friends and/or their significant other.

    • Alric says:

      I’m glad to hear that your negative experiences are limited, PB. Although you’ve planted a seed for another post in my mind about mixed gender group dynamics… stay tuned.

      • that should make for some interesting reading…another interesting dynamic is those of newbie and not, although that too could have strong gender issues, hmmmm

  10. Swordgleam says:

    Most posts with generalizations about female gamers usually piss me off, as a female gamer myself who usually has nothing in common with them. This one, I was sort of “meh” about until you hit your last three points.

    Dead on.

    I had to stay out of a game shop when one of the part-owners couldn’t understand “no.” I can’t even go near that end of town any more, which is too bad, since I liked that game shop a lot.

    • Alric says:

      You honor me with your visit, Swordgleam, and welcome.

      I’m glad that at least some portion of this post echoed part of your experience. The list was compiled from speaking to several different female gamers, so I didn’t expect all of them to have meaning for everyone (you do, however, earn recognition for being the first person to “meh” on the RPG Athenaeum).

      And let us hope that no woman ever joins a game to find all ten issues are present.

  11. Jack Colby says:

    I feel kind of awkward reading this. Not because I or people I know am guilty, but because we aren’t, and I really am disappointed in the tone taken with it, assuming all men and all women act certain ways. I game with women frequently, and they really are not different from guys in the way they game, and the guys don’t treat them disrespectfully at all. This sounds like an immature teenager problem, not one for reasonable adults who have grown up. And it’s certainly not a guys/girls issue… it’s just common sense in the real world of dealing with people, regardless of gender.

    • hi jack…thing is although you know reasonable adults who wouldn’t act in that manner, some people really just don’t posses any common sense that’s why i think this is just good reading for all, regardless of gender.

    • Alric says:

      Thank you for reading my blog, Jack, and for taking the time to comment.

      I’d like to direct your attention to the second paragraph of this post, which contains the sentence, “If male readers can find that none of the “don’ts” listed below apply to their campaigns, they may consider forwarding this post to other males who may not be as forward-thinking.”

      Clearly, you’re in the forward-thinking category, so most of what followed wasn’t directed at you. I probably should have stated that point more emphatically, to better identify the intended audience.

      Before talking to my female player about this issue, I thought these sorts of behavior represented was a maturity problem, just as you did. After conducting a few interviews with female gamers, though, I got the sense that it was a wider problem than I had thought, even among adult gamers.

      Lastly, I tried to present this not as statistical fact, but rather as a starting point for discussion; if you got the impression that I was lumping all male gamers into a single group, I failed to do so, and for that I offer my apologies.

      I do hope to see comments from you in the future, Jack.

      Thank you.

  12. Fork says:

    A lot of comments so far seem to focus on whether or not the article applies to them specifically, but I think its more of an age question. I’d say that there was a time for all of us when we were immature and needed someone to tell us this. When I started gaming back when I was 14, girls back were very much an unknown and this article speaks to that.

    Sadly, I’m well aware there are guys in their 30s who still don’t get some of the points made here. Especially the hitting-on-during-the-game problem.

    • Alric says:

      Agreed on the age factor, Fork. My current group is composed of a bunch of older, married (or divorced) guys, most of whom have kids, so the hormones have calmed down a bit. In the past, though, we have had a few single guys who want to date everything they see. Not a pretty picture.

  13. Petrelli says:

    Nice post! I try to keep my game as female player friendly as possible 🙂

  14. Very well written post. Excellent points as well.

  15. […] Ten things NOT to do around female gamers « The RPG Athenaeum Linked from @mimidancer and useful for some subset of gamers… (tags: gaming culture dating geeks) […]

  16. Da says:

    I think that these 10 things could be condensed into one positive sentence:

    TREAT FEMALE GAMERS EXACTLY THE SAME WAY YOU TREAT MALE GAMERS.

    That’s that; no need for ten over-generalizing points. Why would you even need to think about gender when gaming?

    • Alric says:

      In answer to your question about why it’s sometimes necessary to think about gender while gaming, I think my friend’s experience – essentially being harrassed by a male player with other players present (and who did nothing to stop it) – illustrates why these questions need to be considered. As was mentioned in the post, not every mixed-gender group has these problems, and in an ideal world, they wouldn’t. From the nature of your questions, it’s pretty clear that your group doesn’t suffer from this issues, and I was glad to get that impression.

      The “overgeneralized” points were a list of specific behaviors, shared with me by female gamers, that they didn’t like. They were provided in that format because male gamers displaying those behaviors need, in my estimation, to have it clearly spelled out for them, since the hints these ladies dropped – including the not-so-subtle hint of their departure from their groups – didn’t get the message across.

      Lastly, I respectfully disagree with your summary statement about treating female gamers the same as males. If anything, the ten points illustrate the opposite. While female gamers are certainly equal socially, they are not identical emotionally, and I think many male gamers inadvertently make some females uncomfortable by not taking their different emotional wiring into account.

  17. Onion says:

    Haha great post!

  18. hwald says:

    I wholeheartedly second this entire post. I think it pretty well covers all the comfort issues that I am concerned with as a female gamer. It’s really an excellent list, and I wish all male gamers would read it. Heck, they should include it in the 5.0 PHB! I’m being somewhat facetious, but really. Even in groups that are respectful of women’s boundaries, I think it’s important for people to be aware that this kind of thing is something that women worry about.

    One additional topic that ought to be considered is the issue of sexual jokes, both in-game and out-of-game. Many women (myself included) enjoy a good sex joke occasionally. However, the distinction needs to be made between sex jokes and sexist jokes
    (the latter is most certainly not okay). Also, I think in most cases it’s best to let the girl in the group take the lead when it comes to the level of sexual banter. Kidding around is just fine, but when I’m in a group of people I’m not completely comfortable with, it makes me a little uneasy.

  19. Chris says:

    I think its sad that this needs to be mentioned and I have to admit I think a number of the people in my group would benefit from reading this. We currently don’t have any females in our group but we have had a few in the past. While noone in our group is maladjusted in the nerdy lack of sex or relationship sense there are still some basic rules of ettiquette to be followed-and not only by males. While I tend to agree that most of the problem is likely with males, there are a couple things that come to mind-out of experience-that should be said from the opposing sex’s point of view; so ladies, When I show up to play I’m wearing pants or knee length shorts and a shirt that covers my entire torso and shoulders, I most certainly am not wearing skimpy, revealing, or skin tight clothing-despite having six pack abs and a well toned physique-some dorks work out too. While I don’t ask that you show up looking like a bag of potatoes I would ask that you don’t pretend to be oblivious of human biological drives. If you don’t want me staring at your breasts don’t show up with the fashion equivilant of a big flashy neon sign pointing to them. If you want to see how distracting some women dress picture a man wearing short shorts and a spaghetti top-even if hes out of shape or ugly its still a hell of a distraction.

    Unwanted touching, I understand that women are far more often victimized by sexual harrassment and crimes than men are, but within the context of gaming it is just as reprehensible for you to touch me as it is for me to touch you-hands off! Remember, a basic evolutionary trait is that males are simply not as selective in choosing mates and most of us have to fight back the urge to have as many as possible-so please, don’t make that more difficult to drive from my mind during the game by giving me any sort of light caress or dropping your head on my shoulder-sometimes the most innocuous touches can be misleading-or even just arousing; and besides even if you do like me or we are dating its not ok to be groping my leg under the table during the game.

    These are two really simple things that would help alleviate a lot of the tension, because its not just the responsibility of males within the group to make sure any females are comfortable-the females can do some very basic common sense things to make that a lot easier on us.

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