Last Thursday I attended two seminars about women and gaming at Gen Con. The seminars at Gen Con were really one of the best aspects of being there. I don't often get to sit in with a group of people who know games and discuss issues inherent to the culture and,or process of gaming.
Girls Just Want to Get Their Game On
The panel for this seminar included women with a wide range of gaming experience. There was a panel member who works for Wizards of the Coast, a woman from Game Salute, All Games Considered, Married Gamers, and Geek's Dream Girl. They recorded the panel for Game Salute and handled the session as an open Q&A.
From this panel I learned that there's a trend for librarians to run RP's for kids. That's pretty exciting news for me. We heard stories ranging from playing Magic in the back of chemistry class to women feeling free to be ultra-violent in games to reduce stress in life. One interesting story came from a woman who played a female character back in the early days of D&D. During a session the DM brought out a male NPC who was from a culture that controlled women. From then on while this NPC was present her character was not allowed to look at him. Those are all the details I know, but wow, there is a lot to unpack with a story like that.
One last tidbit. I was excited to hear that the man sitting in front of me had written his dissertation on women, sexism and gaming.
Best Quote of the Seminar: "I'm here to Game".
Women in Gaming
I had to hurry to get to the next panel and was glad to see some friends had arrived as well. This panel again included women with a wide range of gaming experience. There was someone from Gaming Angels present, a PhD student, and several other professionals. My notes on this panel are a little patchier because we got there late enough that we had to sit in the back of a huge room and I couldn't always hear what was going on. (My hearing issue, not the fault of the staff).
This panel covered everything from gender issues in cross-play during LARPS to defining the hard core nature of those who play casual games.
Something that came up again and again was women being demanded to prove themselves both as competent gamers and even as women. Why do women have the burden of having to prove themselves to be as good or better at things? What makes men the default? These gender issues are not unique to games, but are prevalent in American culture.
Many women reported that Geek Culture was more accepting of people who are different than wider American culture. I was delighted to hear one panelist compare it to the Metal community. When I got into the metal scene I found the people to be the nicest people I had ever been around. Geek culture can be the same way.
This panel also discussed the phenomena of industries that look for gamers. One of the panelists had secured her position because of her experience with online gaming. The issues of management and technical skill that gaming takes can translate in the right industry to valuable skills as an employee.
Ultimately we seemed to agree that everyone had stereotypes that they needed to confront. I heard several women critiquing the appearance of other women and wondering how to relate to them. This is a hard issue. Hopefully, the internet and events like Gen Con are helping women connect with others. I argue that the internet is our greatest cultural potential for furthering true equality.
I hope panels like these happen again next year. It was eye-opening to hear from other people and get a variety of experiences and opinions discussed.