Slaying Gender Dragons
A friend of mine got the game for his birthday in 1979. We knew nothing about what this was — no one did, because we grew up in Perth. But we figured it out and started playing. We’d sit at someone’s kitchen table and slay dragons and rescue princesses.
At the time, I was the only girl. I had mostly male friends back then. My sister had no interest in it, neither did my one girl friend. I was never ridiculed by my public school friends, but it was also something I didn’t really talk about because stuff was coming out in the ’80s about D&D being subversive and dangerous.
My first character was Rosy Lightfoot, a halfling rogue. We tended to play characters that reflected our own gender types.
I went to college in Saskatchewan, and my first day there, I was sitting at a cafeteria table and overheard two guys arguing about what kind of damage a two-handed weapon does. I piped up, “It can never do more than a D12.” And they looked at me ... and I continued, “If you use it one-handed, it only does 1D10 damage.” They just stared at me. After introducing themselves, they invited me to play with them. Soon after, I made friends with two other women, who joined the group.
Playing with other women changed the game. The guys I played with growing up, I was like a sibling to them. So there was never any romance in the game because that would’ve just been weird. But at university, some of the players started dating — and so did some of the characters — and that introduced romance. Growing up, the adventures tended to be more hack ’n’ slash, which was less appealing to the group at college because there were more girls. Instead, there was a lot more role-playing. It changed the game for me. Since then, I’ve always tried to have girls in the groups in which I play.
Eventually, I moved back to Ottawa and met my future husband. One day we were walking past Fandom II and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind going into the store. Six months into dating, and we had not told each other about our past hobbies. By this time, there was a stigma attached to gaming, so we hadn’t mentioned it. I wasn’t going to tell him I was a gamer, and he wasn’t going to tell me he was too — until that moment. So I said, “I love this place.” We went in. The owners knew me. And later on, he told me that he almost asked me to marry him that day!
The advent of White Wolf and the role-playing game (RPG) Vampire: The Masquerade brought women by droves into gaming. It made the game much more approachable for females by focusing less on rules and settings that females didn’t know much about and focusing the game more on roleplaying — acting.
It also revolutionized the artwork, which, for most RPGs, had been very male-centric — what you’d call gratuitous, the chain-mail-bikini look. Up to this point, female characters were also weaker, so players didn’t always want to play female characters. In Vampire: The Masquerade, females were as strong as males — they were equal. This game also made it so that it wasn’t gender-specific. Homosexuality was acceptable. It made gaming — role-playing — much more acceptable to everyone who wasn’t white male. Vampire got them out, and females stayed and started playing other RPGs like D&D, which, in its latest edition, is much more gender-fluid, including characters that are homosexual.
While the D&D scene in Ottawa is thriving, that hasn’t always been the case — especially outside Ottawa. My bad experiences with the game were some years back. … In the U.S., I had a player — a man in his 30s — who, when he realized I was going to be the group’s Dungeon Master, got up and left, saying he didn’t believe a girl could DM.
At the time, I was also volunteering for a gaming company, working their booth. I had a number of experiences where men would only try to talk to me to get my phone number and my hotel room number. They would brush me off whenever I tried to talk about the game — they just thought I was a booth-babe.
Now I run D&D Adventures League out of Fandom II. On Wednesday nights, I have four Game Masters, two of whom are female, and 24 players of which usually six or seven players are female. And once a month, I run demos, which tend to have a higher ratio of females.