Oops! Apparently I've accidentally deleted all of my images. I'll see about fixing that soon.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Women in Wargaming: In My Shoes

I sadly feel compelled to preface this post with this: I don't usually post up my strong opinions on such subjects as the internet can be a harsh place full of haters and trolls. So I have generally kept to my sewing and painting and other non-feather-ruffling subjects. But this is my outlet, my place to say my piece, even if no one is listening. 
If you choose to comment, please be respectful of each others' viewpoints and opinions.

When I try to search for women in wargaming on the internet I usually end up with mostly two things: scantily-clad cosplayers/ "booth babes" and the female characters in various armies. Instead what I want are groups of women who love wargaming and gaming in general with which I and other women could find comraderie. But they are few, far between, and many seem to be alone in their areas.

When my husband and I first got together I quickly found myself enthralled with some of his gaming. Specifically, the passion with which he spoke of his games of Warmachine/ Hordes excited me enough to go to the mall where our local gaming store was located at the time to watch several games. Now, that may seem a small thing to you, but I don't do malls. In fact I get totally freaked out by crowds and have pretty bad social anxiety, and so I tend to avoid places like malls and other crowded venues. So it should be noted that I thought the game was pretty cool.

Of course I didn't pick it up right away or even ask to learn. There were no other women gamers as far as I could tell. I saw it the way I still often see it: an important way for my husband to go hang out with his friends and relieve some stress by pushing little metal men around a board. In fact, the need for stress-relief is what got me started painting.

After a rough day at work my husband used to find himself greatly relaxed by a couple of hours of painting his minis. As things got worse and worse at work several years ago I found myself needing a non-sewing outlet and wanted something we could do together. So I started reading through his books, his No Quarters, and absorbing as much info as possible about how to paint. It only took one night of painting together for me to be hooked.

I had long loved the stories of Madrak Ironhide and his axe Rathrok (aka WorldEnder). The fluff tells of the Trollbloods and their struggles to keep their homeland from being overrun. The stats in the game consistently keep them pegged as the slowest, the downtrodden, the underdogs. But they are far from weak and are known specifically for being 'tough' to kill.

Madrak was my first model and remains my favorite.

Several years and many painted models later I still don't play. That is not to say that I haven't played at some point. I finally asked to learn and my husband, an experienced pressganger, tried to teach me to play Warmachine with his other faction, The Protectorate of Menoth. The lessons did not go well. There was a lot of yelling and frustration (me, not him). It was not fun for either of us. But I've continued to follow blogs and podcasts and in-person games over the years and still find myself drawn to Trollbloods, still find myself wanting to play. So a few months back I asked, nay begged, my husband to give me another shot at learning the game, but this time with the Trolls that I had been following, painting all of this time.

It went much better than the previous Menoth sessions had, but I think it was 100x more stressful for him than for me. It was enough that I don't plan to ask him to play with me again any time soon. But I still want to play.

I'm not the only female who wants to learn to play. One of his coworkers has been listening to him and a friend talk up the game for months at work and she decided she wanted to learn. So last night they took her over to our local game store to run her through a quick (2hr-ish) demo. Knowing how testosterone-laden it can get in there I decided that I needed to go. It can be very intimidating being the only female in a store full of men, and I didn't want something so easily-remedied to turn her off the game.

I noticed right away she was asking the same questions that I had, she was looking overwhelmed about the same points as I had been. At the end she was asking me to play a game with her some time, so even with the huge amount of info you thrown at her at that first game she was still excited to play again. woot.

On the way home I talked to my husband about how the game is taught. He and his friend have very different teaching styles, but both styles (and indeed every game I've ever seen taught by anyone to anyone) has been the same in some respects. It is a rapid-fire mixture of necessary info, extraneous info, and "here's this cool thing you can do."

Now when you're teaching this to teenage boys with their quick-fire, advertiser-ready brains* this is perfect. I've seen my husband teach more than a few young men and then watch him be so excited he bought his faction and paints and everything right there on the spot. I'm not so sure this isn't a small impediment to drawing in and retaining female gamers, though.

So much of what seems to be going around online about how to get and keep female gamers seems to be about changing the game, changing the models, or changing the artwork. And while for some games that have overly sexist artwork or storylines that may be true, for most I really think that focusing on those things totally misses what the real problems are.

Our local gaming group(s) are mostly nice, respectful people with only a few overtly sexist/ racist people. And when I went to GenCon this last year** I found this to seem to extend to nearly every group there, not just the WarmaHordes players. Yet women still seem like a significantly small percentage of the population in miniatures gaming. I would love to see some actual data on this, but I don't think anyone has ever done a proper count and I, frankly, lack the resources. (PP, you don't; could you do this please? not for GenCon but for the regular local gaming groups)


In fact, after GenCon it was suggested that I should maybe just do boardgames. Now, no offense to boardgames, 'cause there are many boardgames I love, but that's bullshit. I want to play this game. I like this game. This is the game that I paint for. This is the game that I follow. This is the game I want to play, and I'm smart enough to learn it. And so is every other woman out there who wants to learn it.

Women who want to wargame don't need (and hell most of us don't want) pink stuff added or girly-themed changes. I don't need a good cheesecake/ beefcake mix to feel a part of the game. I'm just like everyone else that plays the game: I want to take my little metal guys and try to kill your little metal guys. Rawr!

If we're asking to play we've already decided that the game is worth our time, our efforts, and perhaps our hard-earned money.*** I just think maybe the method of teaching (this is still vaguely standardized by Pressgangers, yes?) needs to be tweaked at some point. Hell, not just tweaked, revamped completely. But I'm not a teacher; I don't know how to fix it. I don't know how to make men not talk 'down' to women when they teach them but still change up the demo a bit when the normal demo experience might be offputting or overwhelming.

What I'm issuing is not a solution but a call to action: as a global gaming community let's try to find out 1) what the actual barriers to entry into the gaming world are for women and 2) well-reasoned ways to diminish them in ways that don't diminish the games we love.

I'd like to make it clear that I am not responding to a particular article that I have read but am responding to my experiences in the gaming community as a whole. They are not your experiences, they are mine. In our area I feel like I am the only 'gamer wife' that doesn't think of models as 'toys' or the gaming as a waste of time and money. Whether it is true or not, that is how it feels. I don't totally fit in with the women (I don't wear makeup, carry purses, enjoy shopping, and I can't usually enjoy events that are centered around food because of my dietary restrictions), and yet I don't feel like I play well enough to really be a part of the guys' group. It can be very lonely.

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*data is starting to show clearly that in general men and women access "different sections of the brain for the same task" (here is one article, if you want to know more, esp about the different way that teens' brains react to advertising there's a lot of info out there, here is Google) so maybe not teaching every potential gamer with the exact same method could be helpful?  Are other people (both male and female) being left behind because of other learning disparities? idk.  

**See my earlier posts fromGenCon last year if you're curious.  It took me several years to work up to being able to go to such a crowded place. I'm willing to do that for this game and a couple others. It's not a small thing to me.

*** Remember that women still make less than what their male counterparts make over most of the world, so when I say hard-earned I actually do mean that the data shows that women have to work longer for the same dollar amount than men do.
US 2012 report here
UK report here

Some of the articles that I found.  I don't necessarily agree or disagree with any/ all of their views.

Chick Hammer An article from the perspective of a woman who plays 40K. "Remember that we're here to participate in a hobby we all enjoy. After all, that's what hobbies are about and should be an enjoyable experience for everyone."

Lady Gamers "Instead of assuming she doesn't understand because she's female, give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, maybe she is just a beginner and really does not get it yet… but with a little friendly help she may turn out to be a great player to game with later on."

The Frontline Gamer A (presumably hetero bc omg so many boobies on the page) male perspective (UK) "wargaming is stubbornly clinging on to its role as the 'last bastion of male geekery' while in other geeky pursuits women are storming the gates."

Steam Powered Gamer a perfect example of focusing on warcaster gender etc as the issue "Imagine that you have a daughter of the same age as your target audience. Would you want her to play this game? What would this game be telling her about women?" Although the first commenter humorously points out the apparent hypocrisy of such a statement by this particular blogger.

Bell of Lost Souls has a short post with no data to back up posit. beware of the comments, some helpful some not, but still overall focused on the number/ type of women portrayed in-game. very troll-y.

My Geek Voice suggests women need to pretend the "warlock/warcaster is the mom and the rest of your army is your babies" (what!!? no!! srsly??! ugh)


  1. I'm excited to play a game with you! I love algebra and equations on paper, but I cannot perform mental math as quickly as I've seen the guys. I'm slow and deliberate, which makes their fast play very intimidating. If you run across a gameplay cheat sheet, please forward it my way. :0)

  2. My daughter is in college studying computer games development and she finds the same attitude there, everyday being the only girl on the course. She too has social anxiety and some days finds it very hard to attend. In fact this is a two year course but she is making plans to change courses for next year, she does not think she can handle another year of it. However she does love comic-con and attends when ever possible, here we are comfortable, dress up, and act in a fantasy world for a short time. At these events she comes alive while meeting like minded people.
    On a further note from my work in education, we all have different learning patterns, if one method does not fit the student, it is up to the teacher to find another. It is so cool that you have found someone to learn with, have fun gaming.


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