I am a geek girl.
I love comics, Dungeons and Dragons, World of Warcraft, and Magic the Gathering. I have been participating in these activities since high school, but usually in the comfort of my own home and the homes of friends. When I first started playing games I tried a few times to go to ‘gaming spaces’: comic book stores, gaming tournaments, and drop in play sessions. My experience was always the same: bad.
The first few times I went to drop in play sessions, I felt like the guys there had never seen a woman before. They snickered. They stared. The crept up next to me and dropped some ridiculous pick up lines. I was incredibly uncomfortable.
When I went to my first HeroClix tournament, I experienced a whole different kind of uncomfortable: gaming mansplaining. I was immediately surrounded by guys asking me if I knew what I was doing. They checked out the team I’d put together and started making comments about what they would do and what I should do. As I played, they would stop and explain nuances of the rules to me, no matter how many times I told them that I understood the game.
As I continued to game in spaces that were dominated by men and boys, I discovered that the easiest way to navigate the space was to be ‘one of the guys.’ I pretended like nothing they said bothered me. I was lewd and crude right along with them. I basically let them sexually harass me and laughed it off so I wouldn’t seem like a drag or a nag.
These repeated, uncomfortable experiences eventually caused me to abandon public gaming spaces.
I know this experience is not unique. Throughout the years I have met a lot of women who refuse to game in public gaming spaces because of the sexism and harassment they’ve experienced there. This is completely unacceptable. It’s time we stop assuming that gaming spaces are male spaces and tolerating casual sexism in these spaces.
Here are some things that gaming spaces can do to improve women’s experiences in these spaces:
1) Host women only gaming sessions
The immediate response from gaming space owners and organizers is usually that there wouldn’t be enough interest in women only events, but I assure you there are women out there interested in these games who are staying home because they don’t feel welcome in your gaming space. Find a woman who knows a particular game well and ask her to host an event.
She can teach women how to play the game if they don’t know how or she can just be a supportive organizer for women who do know how to play the game. Women can attend these events to make new friends who game and to learn new things without the worry that a creeper will be checking out their ass. Building a community of women gamers will expand your customer base as well, especially if you’re the only gaming space in the area hosting women’s events.
I’m not saying you need to kick out the guys all the time. Hosting a women only event once a week or once a month is not a big ask and it will enhance the community in ways you couldn’t imagine.
2) Create an atmosphere where women are respected
Atmosphere is one of the biggest reasons women abandon public gaming spaces. Even if overt harassment isn’t occurring, disrespect is almost always occurring. If you see someone treating a woman poorly in your gaming space, speak up immediately and let them know that is unacceptable.
Encourage all those participating in events to assume that women attending the events know how to play the game rather than mansplaining from the get go. If a woman does ask how to play a game or asks a rules question, encourage your regulars to answer kindly and patiently instead of rolling their eyes and saying “Ugh, women” under their breath.
Encourage your regulars to ‘play nice’ with women who are new. A lot of women also leave gaming spaces because their first time playing a game a guy who just wanted to win crushed them in a humiliating fashion. We’re there to have fun too. Please don’t ruin our fun with your dick attitude.
3) Enforce a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment
Sexual harassment in gaming spaces is real and it’s unacceptable. I’m not trying to perpetuate stereotypes about creepy, nerdy guys, I’m just speaking from my experience of being sexually harassed in these spaces. As a gaming space owner or organizer it’s your responsibility to make sure that harassment isn’t occurring in your space.
If you hear someone making a lewd comment about a woman in your gaming space or hitting on her relentlessly when she’s clearly not in to it, speak up loudly and immediately. Let the offender know that behavior like that will not be tolerated in your space.
If a woman tells you that she is uncomfortable in your space or that she is being harassed, don’t your dare tell her to “lighten up” or suggest that she “learn to take a joke.” First, this is incredibly bad business. Second, it’s a garbage, misogynistic attitude. Take her complaint seriously and confront the person or people harassing her.
If a particular male continues to harass women, ban him. I don’t care how much money he spends with you or if he’s a long time regular. Kick him out. An anti-harassment policy is worthless if it isn’t enforced.
Gaming is no longer a male dominated space; it never truly was in the first place, anyway. Women love gaming just as much as their male counterparts and they deserve to take up just as much space in the gaming world. It’s up to the owners and organizers of gaming spaces to make this possible. Do everything you can to make your space woman friendly, and I promise your gaming community will greatly benefit.