13 April, 2016


I've been playing tabletop RPGs since I was 17, and except for a brief period when we were in different states, I've played with the Rat the whole time. She was my first GM, and we played AD&D 2nd ed, and my first character was a fighter. And although I have played mages and priests and rogues and multi-classed and scads of other games besides AD&D...the straight up fighter is still my favorite.

See, my fantasy-self isn't the mage, with crazy powers and All the Brains. Or the priest, for that matter. I am the  priest/mage/magic-user in real life. Those are my stats.

No, see, my fantasy is the tank. The physically powerful and capable and don't fuck with me character. Deals damage. Takes damage. Deals a little more. The monsters come at the tank first, but that's okay! Because the tank's gonna kick their butts.

It's totally a power fantasy, but it's the power fantasy of control. To be safe. To keep others safe.

Being a woman in gaming is a lot like a old-school dungeon crawl. You never know where the monsters are, but you know they're there and you're gonna see combat. It's just a matter of when. You even know who they are.

So this:  "Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem" wasn't a surprise to me.

The Rat and I didn't do the gaming convention scene--in part because the one time we did go, to visit Nous and his then GF, we were Not Impressed with the crowd. (Nous  says he spent a lot of time at cons talking to "awkward" guys, trying to keep them away from the women at the gaming table.*) The other thing that prevented us from walking into that shitstorm was that we were, and are, wickedly introverted. The very idea of all those new people was exhausting and (for me) daunting as hell. Who the hell wants to play under those conditions? It's not fun! Let's go home and world-build.

The non/verbal shit, though.

The RPG club in college wouldn't even talk to us. I mean, we walked in to the first day meeting, the room of guys looked at us, the president wouldn't actually speak to us... it was amazing. Striking in its hostility. Like, put a sign on the door that says no gurlz and you'd have it.

There were two game stores in town. The one in the mall had a small RPG section and we went there most often for dice; the counter-help was blandly friendly. The guys lurking around the game section could be a little creeper-y. I learned not to make eye contact. Most of them wanted the Rat's attention (she was the more ideal physical type), but they'd make due with the short blonde sidekick. They'd get way too close and talk up in-game exploits like their characters were them. It was... awkward. And awful. I would have to physically leave to get the hell away from them.

The indie game store had a much bigger selection of books (and Magic cards), so we went there for those. Depending who was behind the counter... we could be ignored, or stink-eyed, or tolerated with barely-there courtesy. We didn't get as many no shit, there my 12th level necromancer half-elf was stories (I didn't); but the Rat got a lot more looks. I remember more than a couple oblique comments, too, about my unfuckability.**

Nothing to me. Certainly nothing to her. But we were meant to hear, and to understand where we fit. We certainly weren't gamers.

Which is not to say that it's all men who do this because duh. Lots of my gamer friends are, have been, men. White men, even. Not terrorists, but... well. Not exactly paladins, either.

So this: "For Good Men To See Nothing" didn't surprise me either. In fact, it rang even more true. Because I saw this a lot more. I saw my friends stfu rather than confront assholes, both in the game stores and not.

I once had a fight with an ex-boyfriend (and member of our gaming group) in which he tore apart the furniture while two other male friends (and members of our gaming group) sat in the back room, listening and doing nothing at all.

"We'd've come out if we heard anything, you know," one said later.

Any what? Screaming from me, instead of from him? Pain and fear instead of insensate rage? How exactly did they know the thumping was the chair's dismemberment and not me hitting the wall?  --I asked these questions.

"He wouldn't've hurt you," said the other, while not making eye contact. "He was upset."

This, this right here, is how men who don't act allow men who are trouble to get away with shit. This was all forgiven, by the way. When I expressed discomfort with being around this guy, well. You know. That was my problem. He apologized. He was sorry. I had to just, you know, let it go.


So one official black belt and years of eclectic aikido and kendo and blade-training all around the edges ... I'd still run away from a physical fight if I could (because I'm not stupid) but I feel a little (little) safer in gaming environments where I'm getting the creeper-vibe.

Because I still do. Local-ish game store here, middle-aged dude wanted to talk to me, follow me around, gain my approval ("No shit, there my chaotic evil mage was, and..."). Other dude asked Nous how he could help him while pretending I wasn't actually the one picking through the bookshelf.  These were not teenagers. These were our contemporaries. And, as with most men, bigger than me. Heavier. Stronger. ****

So yeah, I still play tanks in D&D whatever-the-hell-edition we're on. Because, at least in my fantasy, I want to be the person in the room that no one will even think of fucking with.

The monsters are still out there.

*He says awkward. I say poorly skilled predator.

**The Rat claims to remember none of this. She also can ignore people more completely than anyone I know, including my cats. I think it's her superpower.

***They weren't bad guys. But damn, did I learn a lesson.

****Thank all my various gods for online suppliers and the friendly comic book store across the street that has dice and understands why I need to try out every. Single. 20-sider to get the right one.