Girls and D&D: Why Not?
by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)
What comes to your mind when you hear the term “tabletop roleplaying games?” Do you envision a group of nerdy, zit-riddled, teenage boys sitting in a dark corner of the basement around a table covered with mounds of oddly-shaped dice, stacks of weird books, and the floor littered with scores of Twinkie wrappers and empty soda cans? What you perhaps didn’t immediately think of were the girls sitting in that circle. And why would you? For years, tabletop roleplaying games were the domain of guys. Years before it was cool to be nerdy, when the world was afraid of 20-sided dice, there was a certain stigma associated with gaming. And for numerous reasons, the activity appealed mainly to folks of the male persuasion.
Then the something happened. I’m not what sure where it was, or who was involved, but a girl-perhaps two-got interested in pen and paper roleplaying. These Valkyrie vanguards willingly descended deep into the bowels of the earth where the true path of geekdom ultimately lies (the basement, in other words). They descended, I say, and the inhabitants that dwelt there were afraid. Oh yes, the Dungeon Master, the Cleric, the Paladin, all were silenced, and gaped open-mouthed as girls, real live girls, stepped into their midst, dice in one hand, and a Player’s Guide in the other. On that night, in that basement, the gaming world was changed forever.
I’m not sure how it became axiomatic that women were either not allowed, or didn’t have any interest in playing tabletop roleplaying games. I mean, sure, the vast amount of artwork of women in the “fantasy” genre featured fur or leather bikinis, and plate mail that would be disastrous in an actual battle. The most feminine aspects of the female form were unrealistically showcased: doe-like eyes, pouty lips, and the huge…tracks of land. All of which were absurd, of course, but there they were. But despite the unhealthy view of women inherent in the artwork, real women began to play, and they brought with them something that was missing: a fuller perspective.
Regardless of what (some) men may think, we need that perspective. The presence of girls in gaming sessions actually makes the sessions more human. At the risk of gross oversimplifications and pop-psychological diagnoses, let me say it this way: girls perceive, and act, differently than guys. And these differences add so much to the gaming experience. This is not necessarily saying that girls are less violent, or more “nurturing” and all that with their characters. Some of the most ruthless, backstabbing, cruel, player characters I’ve ever come across have been played by women, and they were technically the “good guys.” Rather, it is a different way of thinking that they bring to the table, and this is good.
No one could argue that women are just as capable as men at being master storytellers. Just look at JK Rowling, Madeleine L’Engle, Dorothy Sayers, Flannery O’Connor, and Mary Shelly for example. In the gaming industry, it is no different with storytellers like Nickey Rea, Jackie Cassada (Changeling: the Dreaming, Jennifer Hartshorne (Vampire: the Dark Ages), and Lisa Stevens (CEO of Paizo Publishing). These women create interesting, nuanced characters, and worlds populated with those wonderful and memorable characters. What’s more, these characters are brought to life in roleplaying games with well-crafted adventures and campaigns.
So, if you’re a girl who’s thought about tabletop roleplaying games, go for it. If you’re a guy with a girlfriend, or wife, invite them to play. If you’re a group of guys, don’t be afraid that a girl coming in will upset the cart. It’ll be ok. Worlds may collide, domains may be “invaded,” but that can, in fact, open up some of the best gaming experiences you’ll ever have.
But I cannot leave without a word of caution to couples who game together. It is just a game. When the dice are put away, and experience points awarded, you have to remember that you still love each other, and that elven barmaid, or farmhand, in the adventure was not a substitute for you. And just because your characters disagree about which path to take, doesn’t mean you are no longer compatible as a real-life human couple. It’s a game, a story. Tell it; then go about your real lives.