Slay­ing Gen­der Dragons

Ottawa Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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.

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