There’s been an ongoing debate about the role of women in gaming for years…today on Twitter, someone thoughtfully posted these two contributions, one from Gary Gygax, the co-author of Dungeons & Dragons, and another from Jonathon Tweet, a later contributor to the system. The entire thread is entertaining, and linked below. I’ll add some personal thoughts as well (click the images to make them larger and more legible.
Left, Gary Gygax, creator of original D&D.
Right, Jonathan Tweet, creator of 13th and 3rd edition D&D. pic.twitter.com/8ZqNtgAJ88
— The Spindrift Crew (@caderaspindrift) August 24, 2020
Our gaming group varied in size from 15 to 39 at any given time, and there might be one or ten games running at the same time. While the groups were largely men, there were always a few women playing as well. Back then, they weren’t treated any differently than any of the guys, at least not that I was ever made aware of.
But granted, “Spook School” (which is what we were) is a different kettle of fish from the generak mouth-breathing basement dwellers who have populated mainstream game space for the past several decades. As you can see from Gygax’s comments, women weren’t people, but were, like the Ferengi would describe them years later, merely “females”.
I do not think I have ever heard a term that sets my teeth on edge more quickly than “females”. As someone else put it:
FEEEEEEEMAAAAAAAALLLLLLLEEEEESSSS AAUAUAGVVHAHAJDKFNFJDKDJDJD pic.twitter.com/qZZIv8xUmM
— 𝙵𝚘𝚞𝚗𝚍 𝙵𝚊𝚖𝚒𝚕𝚒𝚊𝚛 | D&D Inspired Coffee (@FoundFamiliar) August 25, 2020
There has been a trend, long in developing to replace “girl” and “woman” with “female”. The use of female to modify a noun for a professional, as in female doctor, can seem derogatory if it seems to imply that professionals are male by default. It’s considered by many to be derogatory, and reductionist; much as “that’s gay” has been used over the years to denigrate anything that the speaker deems “not manly enough to suit them. It’s much like reducing a person to the functions of their genitalia, and nothing more.
It’s not just limited to the sexism. Pretty much every form of discriminatory -ism known can be found in gaming; that’s one of the reasons that the companies involved are finally waking up and hiring sensitivity readers (I think a better descriptor would be awareness readers, but I’ll take it.) The “All Drow are Evil” motif is getting rewritten, as are several other racial tropes, and this is a good thing. There’s no reason why a farming couple from the Marches of Blackmoor might not have adopted an orphan Orc infant and raised them to be a Lawful Good upstanding Citizen. Or that a Drow might have been raised by someone other than worshippers of Lolth. (Why yes, I may be speaking about my current Drow Warlock, who was largely raised by Titania, the Summer Queen…)
Granted, my friends and I don’t play at our local gaming store, we meet at each others’ homes, and have for the past 30+ years, and that likely has made a difference in our experiences.
But I watch follow of the TTRPG streams and blogs, as do my (adult) kids and their friends, and I hear the feedback, and see the shitstorms on Twitter, and Tumblr, and Reddit … and honestly? If I was just getting interested in this pastime, and encountered all of this? I’d drop it in a heartbeat and go find a different game/hobby. I’d likely stick with LARP, or the SCA, or something along those lines. Or maybe just dive deep into Animal Crossing New Horizon and not have to really deal with other people unless I want to, and then only on my own terms.
And, yes, before anyone feels a need to proclaim it – not all guys are like this. I know that all too well, I’ve played with them for the last 44 years. To quote an old friend, “It’s perfectly fine to have a dick – or a cunt, for that matter. Just don’t be one.”