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.