Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Girls! In Our Games?!

I have to confess that I have no idea whatsoever where this whole “Girls aren’t real gamers” bullshit is coming from. I have theories, and I have suppositions, which I may well share at the end of this, but for now, I just want to offer up a corrective against the small but strident natterings of some of these chuckleheads online who love to speak in Trollish and yearn for the downfall of society so that John Norman’s vision of the planet Gor can finally come to pass. Side note to the chuckleheads: all of those multitude of fantasy paperbacks from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, you pick those books to inform your sub-culture? Part of your problem right there is that you have no taste.


I am not apologizing for my gender, here. I can’t. I know we’re very nearly half-orcs to begin with. We’re smelly and gross and sweaty and that’s on our best days. It’s a tough sell, to try and get women to hang out with us. Well, it used to be. Nowadays, Nerd Girls are everywhere, and they like the same exact things that we like, too. This should be a Golden Age for the Geek Nation, but there’s always one guy at the back of the room who’s pissed because of some other random and very specific thing that is his damage and his damage alone, and he keeps trying to take over the meeting to tell everyone about it, and this is why we can’t have nice things.

Mom?! You're playing
Dungeon?! 
Coming of age in the 1980s was trying, to say the least. The adults in the 1970s were in the death throes of the Sexual Revolution, and if the nascent porn industry was to be believed, one only had to live next door to the right kind of person to get invited to orgies. All of this was lost on us, 12 and 13 and 14 years old, held together with criminal amounts of testosterone and Cheeto dust. We were geeks, but we weren’t ascetics. However, our arsenal of skills was limited: sports? Not likely. Wait, did running from bullies count? Cars? Not really. We needed cars, sure, but that was so we could go to the local comic shop every week and attend conventions. We sure weren’t into fashion or aspects of Yuppie culture, because that would have cut into our comic and book buying funds.

Pile on top of that a new, weird morality that came about in the age of AIDS. Forget the clap. Forget Dad’s old Navy stories about STD’s. The media made it very clear that if you had unprotected sex with someone who walked through the same room that a homosexual once stood in, you would probably get AIDS and die the next day. That’s how they made it sound. We were young and dumb and had no idea what we were doing.

Two girls at this table. One of them is
Jamie Gertz. Don't tell me you wouldn't
play D&D with Muffy from Square Pegs
because I won't believe you.
What we did have was a variety of skills that have only recently begun to bear any kind of monetary fruit: writing, illustration, acting, painting, etc. You know, art skills. Now, you tell someone, “I write books and comics and games,” and they go, “Oh wow, that’s amazing! Buy me a drink and tell me all about it!” Back in 1985, when you told someone you collected comic books, they would wrinkle their nose at you and go, “Comic books? Those are for kids.”

In the early to mid 1980s, finding girls that I really had something in common with was difficult. I have several exes who are comic book readers NOW, after having dated me, but at the time, it was extremely hard to find like-minded women. It just was. When I started attending conventions in Dallas, I was shell-shocked at the number of women who were not only into comics, but who were into the same comics as me, hanging around and talking to creators and being just as nerdy about this stuff as me and my friends. Full disclosure, here: the ratio was still around 80/20 boys to girls, but that was 15 more percentage points than I’d ever seen before in my life.

Thankfully, but not surprisingly, Dungeons and Dragons has always appealed to female geeks. It was aimed at girls from the get-go, or at least, they were included in the advertising. I spent most of my RPG playing years in Waco, Texas, and a small suburb of Waco called Robinson, Texas. In the 1980s, the population of Robinson was six thousand. In Waco, it was a hundred thousand. It was large enough, all together, that I did not want for people to play D&D with. I had a lot of friends who had small groups that played in and ran games for. Later, I collected several groups together to play different games. That was in the suburbs, man. Rural suburbs, at that. After I moved to Waco, I continued to have regular playing groups that I participated in and hosted, right up into the mid-90s.

Only one girl in this ad,
but she's clearly the party
leader.
The point I’m making is this: I knew enough geeks that I had girls and women in the majority of my games for years. It was never more than two women at most, but they were also never unwelcome. These were friends of mine. Why wouldn’t I want to play games with them? Besides, many of them turned out to be among the best players I had—always interested in helping the story along, great with backstory and details, and up for putting their characters through the wringer, so long as it was interesting. Far more literary than, say, the obligatory combat monster, who was known for falling asleep during the game and waking up when it was time to fight bad guys.

I am positive that most of the men reading this right now are nodding in agreement. I know this because, over the years, I’ve had this conversation with dozens of guys my age, and in particular, about how hard it was growing up Geeky versus right now in the Twenty-first century. This is usually followed with some lamentation about how if we could go back and do it over, only twenty years later, and with the same knowledge in our heads, we would be dating Olivia Munn and Felicia Day.

It does not compute. Not to me, and not to just about every one of the Gaming Guys in my various social circles. Why why WHY would you, as a dude in your late twenties with zero prospects and a meager YouTube channel, make the decision to alienate every member of the opposite sex who likes the same things that you do? What possible reason could there be?

New ad, same group with Jamie
Gertz. Also, Alan Ruck!
I could cry “culture of victimization” or “culture of manufactured outrage” or even “rampant privilege and entitlement run amok,” and there’s probably a grain of truth to all of those toxic head spaces. But what I think it is, more than anything, is social media itself. Specifically, our recent predilection to hop online and seek out fellow like-minded enthusiasts of whatever it is we’re into, and then burrow deep down into the marrow and cocoon ourselves in a burrow of The Right Ideas and cocoon ourselves in The Correct Thoughts. In these kinds of bubbles, it’s very easy for a couple of charismatic people to take a leadership role, or become the voice that everyone looks to for validation or vindication.

I think this all mushroomed out of video game culture, which requires only technology to participate, and not social skills or face-to-face interaction. When it’s all words on a screen and voices in your ear, those ideas—however retrogressive and stupid—become more powerfully intimate and alienating all at once. We are passive participants online, limited only by what everyone is watching on YouTube or reading on a website. And that’s how a small number of chuckleheads have managed to put forth the idea to a lot of other guys that no, they don’t want girls in their games, and women are bad because they might actually win. That’s not me. That’s not any of the adults I know. And yet, this pernicious thought is still out there, making the rounds, and popping back up like a spastic Whack-A-Mole just when you think it’s gone for good.  

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