The Many Faces of Gaming -- or, whose table is it, anyway?

Image property of Geek Chic 
So, today I found a thoughtful and well-written piece by Eytan Bernstein published over at Kobold Press called "The Many Faces of Gaming: Female Gamers." I appreciated his thoughtful and considered approach to the topic women in gaming, but even as I read it, and thought about how people I admire cared enough to approach this topic with care and consideration (Wolfgang and Shelly Baur are both friends and awesome people, for example, and I have nothing but good words for Kobold Press)... something bothered me. Again, no slight toward anyone behind the article. It just... it's like a splinter you can't see, you know? It's not anything you realizing until something rubs up against it.

So I thought about it a lot, and finally, I realized what it came down to. Eytan's piece is careful in counseling how to deal with women gamers from a male perspective and ensure that your gaming group is an inclusive, welcoming place. There's nothing wrong with that. That sort of piece needs to exist, and in fact is a necessary message within the community, though his piece is nowhere near the first time it's been mentioned. My problem with it, though... well, let's come back to that.


You see that image of the table above? Geek Chic is the company that makes that table. It's handmade. It's amazing. My husband and I have a dining room table from them, as well as one of their coffee tables. They are, bar none, the best furniture we own. You will have seen them at Origins or GenCon or PAX or any number of other conventions, or on Tabletop, Will Wheaton's show.

These, my friends, these are GC's Eight Hour chairs. They are magic to sit in. They have lumbar support. They are all you could want chairs to be. They are my huckleberry, my Xanadu, my Shangri La, my mystical Amazon superhero armor -- I want them so badly I can taste it. They are my jam. I cannot afford them yet, for I am only a sad grad student / game designer, but one day, oh yes, they will be mine. Mwah hah hah. I have gaming furniture lust and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Yeah, baby. Ahem.


So, in reading Eytan's piece, the one thing that pokes at me like an invisible splinter. In the world his article describes... that table above is not my table. A guy owns that table. I am a guest, a visitor in that guy gamer world. I don't actually belong there full-time. I will never own that table. I will never own or desire those chairs. I get that he totally didn't mean it this way, but it remains there all the same. Gamers divided by gender. Differences that have to be negotiated. Spaces that belong to someone else. "Female" and "male" gamers.

(Before I move on from that point, I should say that I do appreciate that "male" is used as well as "female" -- it's at least a step in the right direction, rather than assuming "gamer" = "male," which did not happen here.)

While I appreciate the steps toward inclusion and welcoming as guests, I suppose I feel rather... glossed over. Not by Eytan, but rather by the community that made this article necessary.

You see, I've been gaming since 1989. I've been gaming and playing RPGs for the whole life of the WWW (to put it archaically). I have characters older than Geocities, and if I'd been able to find players in the tiny town I grew up in, I'd have been gaming even longer. I know women who've been gaming longer than I have, and I know lots of other women who're just as passionate about it regardless of the amount of time spent in the hobby.

The only reason that "my husband and I" own a Geek Chic table rather than owning one by myself is because I was broke single parent for a lot of years (and a broke married parent for years before that), but it was never because I wasn't a gamer or because I didn't want one. And that's even a false equivalency, because owning a fancy gaming table is hardly a litmus test for being a real gamer (although owning a table at which one can game is a huge help). I married into co-ownership of the table, but it doesn't have anything to do with my gamer cred, just economic realities. I own a gaming table. I run (and even design and work on) games. I am a gamer, and maybe the guy who comes over to game ought to think of what it means to come into this space as a gamer, because gaming tables and spaces are not male by default.


As a woman, I have my own gaming space, and it's not automatically me fitting into a male hobby. I am part of a community of women designers. I game with other women. And if other women also game but are not as "out there" as I am... consider that there may be environmental, financial, and cultural conditions that may make it more difficult for women to open their homes to gaming groups (primary child caregivers, primary housekeepers, lower salaries and less money to spend, concerns about safety) rather than a lack of interest or being new in someone else's hobby/space. This is pretty much true, btw, for anyone who comes from an underserved demographic in gaming -- if the generic gamer in your head is a white, straight, middle-class guy, you might want to think about why that is, because "gamer" as an interest isn't a default only available to that race/class choice. It's not like elves and low-light vision in D&D, for example;  life doesn't work that way, and it behooves us to stop and think about why it might seem like that.

Anyway. My point is... I'm a woman who games, and I have gaming groups. I host. I have a collection of RPGs (and board games, and some card games, and I flirt with minis games on occasion). I have a table and I want awesome chairs -- FOR GAMING. And even more to the point, this is not a new occurrence. I didn't magically appear. I've been going to GenCon since the early 2000s, and I'm not the only one. Eytan was really thoughtful and careful about putting up that article, but it's 2015, people. He shouldn't have to be. It should be a no-brainer. Be nice. Be respectful. Share space and toys. Be mindful of other people's boundaries, regardless of gender or appearance or religion or race or anything else. Don't be a schmuck.

If a space is going to be inclusive, it must be communal. If it's going to be communal, it doesn't belong to any one person or gender. It is a shared space in which gaming happens, so everyone who enters and shares in that space to game is equal -- no matter whose table it is.


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