What with all the #gamergate gaming misogyny in the media recently, I thought I’d address the issue from a tabletop perspective:
How can gamers make tabletop gaming friendlier for female players?
If you’re a guy, here are some things to think about if you have a woman (or girl) in your group, or would like to not drive them away.
Don’t talk about the woman’s clothing. The teenage daughter of a friend of mine in the gaming industry joined a gaming group that was all teenage boys. Eventually she was told that she wasn’t allowed to wear tight clothing to the game because it was distracting. Eventually she was also told that she wasn’t allowed to wear loose-fitting clothing because it was distracting (not loose-fitting as in “I can see down your shirt,” just regular clothes). Seriously.
Don’t talk about the woman’s appearance. It’s not relevant to the game, and she almost certainly isn’t doing anything to her appearance because she wants you to complement her.
Don’t make rape an element of the campaign. At a Gen Con “DM horror stories” panel one year, a female gamer said the DM had her female character raped and impregnated by drow elves and she was forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Seriously.
Don’t make sexual harassment a part of the campaign. NPCs don’t need to hit on the female player’s character just because she’s there.
Don’t imply, suggest, insist, or demand that sexual favors (or dressing in a revealing way) from the woman are required in order for her to be allowed to game, or that such things would give her an advantage compared to other characters, or that her character only survives/is successful because of the promise or delivery of such things to the GM or other players. Seriously, it happens.
Don’t make sex or birth control a part of the campaign. If the female player wants her character to have anything to do with that, she’ll let you know. Her gender is not an excuse to introduce it. This also means don’t mind-control her character (even with charm person), don’t put her character in situations where she’d be drunk with a male, and so on; it’s a problem if you do it in real life, it’s a problem if you do it in a game.
(And if your response to that previous pointis, “oh, it’s just a game,” you need to realize that every woman probably has been sexually harassed, followed, or groped at some point in her life, and possibly has actually been raped. You are not a therapist, and you don’t get to decide that a player should just “roleplay through” their issues. If you have a friend whose brother was decapitated in a car accident, you wouldn’t make decapitation an element of your campaign.)
Don’t create a promiscuous pregen character for the female player. If she wants to play a promiscuous character, she’ll make that choice.
Don’t use the word “rape” in any context other than a sexual violation. In other words, don’t say, “man, we totally raped those orc bandits!” It’s offensive. It’s disgusting. It’s hurtful to anyone who has been raped, and to most people (particularly women) who live with the threat of rape on a daily basis. Just don’t use that term in a casual way. Yes, historically it also has other meanings, but in modern use it’s not really used for that any more. Just add it to your list of words that shouldn’t be in your casual vocabulary. You’re a grown-up, you can be considerate of other human beings.
All of above goes for the other players as well as the GM. Don’t let the other players introduce any of the above to the campaign. If the GM has a barbarian in the inn grope a female player character, the GM is a jerk. If a fellow player has his character grope a female player character, that player is a jerk. And so on.
Also, don’t assume that the woman doesn’t know the game. She might have been playing longer than you have. If she’s new to the group, the person who invited her to the group should have an idea about how much she knows about the game, and be responsible for answering any rules questions she might have.
Basically, don’t be a jerk. Treat everyone at the table like they’re human beings with feelings.
Talk to your players before the game, whether they’re men or women. Talk to them one-on-one (in person, via email, whatever), so they don’t feel pressured by the presence of other players. Get to know the players and the limits of what they’re comfortable with. If you want a “dark” or “adult” game, make sure the players are okay with that. Gaming is a shared storytelling experience, and it’s supposed to be fun. Don’t create a situation that’s fun for you but is going to be uncomfortable or traumatic to another player.
Relevant side point: My upcoming book Goody White’s Book of Folk Magic has spells that deal with pregnancy and fertility. And I include this statement in the book: “Before you introduce pregnancy themes to your campaign, discuss it with your players and make sure that everyone is comfortable. Above all, don’t be that jerk GM who decides that a sexually active female PC must become pregnant (as part of the campaign storyline or for any other reason).”
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