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Remember this survey my friend is doing? Here are my answers. If you’d like to participate, there’s still a little more time!

1. How long have you been gaming?

Since high school, I’d say. My family actually played board games fairly regularly when I was growing up, but it didn’t quite feel the same.

2. List the games that you enjoy or have enjoyed playing (table top or on line rpgs, computer/videogames, MMOS, board games LARPS or others)

All right, it would be a long list, but if we’re literally just going with games that I have enjoyed: (off the top of my head, the ones I found most memorable)

  • MMOs: Ultima Online, Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft
  • LARPS: Vampire: the Masquerade, Mage, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Changeling
  • Tabletop: Serenity, Mage, Werewolf, Shadowrun, a couple different homebrew games, Legend of the Five Rings, Paranoia
  • Videogames: Anything Final Fantasy (except for FFVIII and XIII) but particularly Final Fantasy Tactics, All Silent Hill but 3 and 4, All Fatal Frame games, Katamari, Heavy Rain, Trauma Center, Suikoden 4, Harvest Moon, Bioshock, Portal, Soul Caliber, Kirby’s Epic Yarn
  • Board/Card Games: Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Ra, Settlers of Catan, Cards Against Humanity, Things, Dominion, Munchkin, Ticket to Ride, Small World, Carcassone, Twilight Imperium, Agricola, Puerto Rico, Mansions of Madness

3. Tell the story of how you started, what or who drew you into gaming? How were your first gaming sessions? Etc. etc.

I think what really got me started was Magic: the Gathering in high school. I was a lonely nerdy kid at the beginning of high school, and having a permanent seat at the M:tG table meant that I had a social group that always welcomed me. So that’s what really set up gaming as a way to socialize with other people, and it gave us a starting point to start bonding because it was a springboard to talk about other intensely nerdy things.

4. Do you enjoy playing with others or alone the most?

I prefer to play in a group, and I actually like team-based games the most.

4b. If you have a clear preference, could you please motivate why you prefer one over the other.

For me, gaming is very much a social activity. I’d rather just have other people around for it, whether they’re competition or not. And I’ve felt that way more and more strongly as time has gone by. I used to play a lot of video games, and most of the time those are solo endeavors. At this point I’d rather just hang out with someone else and watch them play a video game (or play while they watch) rather than just mash buttons by myself. I played WoW for years and years and was part of a fairly tightly knit guild. That meant even when I was doing things solo, I was still always socializing with others, or felt like other people were around.

5. If you play or have played in groups, do you have any preference on gender balance in a gaming group? (somewhat equal in gender ratios, mostly females, mostly males) Please motivate why you have a preference, if this is the case.

It really depends more on the other people. At this point, I’m used to playing with all male or predominately male gaming groups, because that’s how it always was from the beginning. In high school, 90% of the time I was the only girl playing M:tG during lunch. But I’ll admit that it’s nice when there are other women in the group. And actually in the case of MMOs and LARPs, unless I’m in group with nothing but men I know, my preference is to have several other women in the group. It means you have someone to watch your back if the guys start being jerks. In an environment where I know all of the other people really well, the gender mix is less of a matter for concern.

6. Have you ever experienced, in any gaming setting, being treated differently as a gamer because of your gender. Please tell the full story if the answer is yes.

God yes. I have more examples than I could really share in this space. So I’ll just bring up a few major ones.

To begin with, the reason I ended up with the M:tG nerds in high school instead of the D&D nerds (and in the high school nerd hierarchy, D&D actually rated above M:tG) was because I wasn’t welcomed into the all-male D&D group. And some of the M:tG group played D&D as well, and the interest I expressed in it was pretty soundly smacked down. No one ever came out and said it was because I was a girl, but that was the feeling I definitely got. Though who knows, maybe if I’d been a girlier girl instead of a flannel and combat boot wearing wannabe dyke, I would have been more welcome. I don’t know.

I got creeped on occasionally when I LARPed in the Camarilla, and that normally only occurred when I was playing a character that required me to wear a corset. Go figure. That really wasn’t so bad, particularly in comparison to how some of my friends who were less physically intimidating were treated at times.

Where I’ve encountered the most gender-based treatment has been, without a doubt, in MMOs. I would say that’s likely because it’s a much larger sample size, and also because in the smaller worlds of organized LARP and the lunchtime M:tG table, someone being that much of an asshole is harder for the group to ignore. (Though I have seen it happen.) When it’s the huge player base of an MMO, and particularly when you’re doing random groups and can be fairly certain you won’t encounter someone again, I think that takes the brakes off.

That said, in the course of doing random dungeons and raids in WoW, I’ve been called every name in the book. I’ve been kicked from groups specifically because I was a girl. I was repeatedly skipped for loot because I was a girl and none of them were my boyfriend. (No, really, ask your boyfriend for that armor you need.) I’ve had my intelligence insulted and heard more dick “jokes” and rape “jokes” than I care to repeat.

It got to the point that when I was doing randoms and the group insisted on voice chat, I just told everyone my mic was broken. A lot of guys play with female toons, so that often got me out of the worst bullshit. Though a lot of people also assumed I was a woman when I was playing a healer because, I don’t know, healing is girly? And even when I didn’t own up to being a girl, I got to listen to a lot of shit talk in voice chat where, if I made a mistake, they immediately began to guess it was because I was a girl or had girl-like qualities. Or if I didn’t manage to heal the tank, it’s because I was a stupid girl and not because he pulled too much trash at once. And all girls suck at playing games because I made a mistake. Or the guys would just shit talk at each other about things like, “Oh that mob just pounded me so hard, my vagina hurts.” I actually dropped several groups because I just couldn’t handle listening to them talk any more, it was too gross.

And of course, it was also always fun when we pulled non-guild members in to raids and they started trying to talk shit, before they realized that the raid leader (normally me) was female. I had several alternate characters in other guilds, and I noticed that guys tended to be a lot less free with their misogynist trash talking when the guild leaders were women. I also seem to remember at least one of our guys getting a ration of shit for being in a guild where the top two officers were both women, but don’t quote me on that one.

I played FFXI before I ever played WoW, and I never really had those same problems. I don’t know if that’s because the crowd in the game was just different, but I also normally played a character that was male in that game. (As opposed to WoW, where I actually liked the female character designs better, even if they had the most stupidly skimpy armor.) I was a tank in FFXI and even when I screwed up, I don’t recall anyone ever pinning that on the failings of my ladybrain.

7. Do you think there is a general difference in style or culture between female gamers and male gamers? (if yes, please elaborate)

Yeah, female gamers are a lot less likely to talk about their vaginas than male gamers are about their hypothetical ones, as far as I’ve observed. Honestly, most of the women I’ve ever played with in MMOs were a hell of a lot calmer than the guys, and less likely to turn into ragey assholes if someone made a mistake. (Though I’ll own up to getting frustrated at times when I was a raid leader. However, one thing I never did was insult someone’s gender because they fucked up, though I don’t know if that’s a woman thing or a just not being an asshole thing.)

I’ve seen some women engage in classic trash talking, but it was actually fairly unusual and mostly occurred in PVP (something I avoided). Particularly in WoW, there was definitely a feeling of women trying to stick together. I had some really sweet (but incredibly sad) private chat conversations when there was another woman in a particularly dicky group and we were both just trying to get through and ignore what the guys were saying.

8. What about the games themselves, have you ever experienced that games or game developers cater to a specific gender? (if yes, please elaborate)

Seriously, just look at the T&A in every videogame ever. I might swing both ways like a garden gate, but those character designs were most definitely not made with my gaze in mind. (And no, the over muscular male character designs do not count. I challenge anyone who has ever claimed that to actually find a critical mass of gamer women who actually find those attractive.) Most of the videogames I have ever really loved (exceptions: Portal, Fatal Frame 3, Silent Hill 3) have had male protagonists. In most RPGs (with exceptions I can count on one hand) the female characters are secondary to the male, and their personal plots are really just there to help the male main character develop… if they don’t just get made outright into damsels in distress.

There’s also a lot of stuff like what happened in Heavy Rain, which was a game I actually liked. But the one female playable character, Meredith Page, starts the game having an incredibly rapey nightmare that involves her running around in her underwear, which wasn’t something that happened to any of the male characters, and ends up with the main character in two of the endings. I just get really tired of rapey stuff and breaking down and crying stuff; it’s something that really never happens to male characters.

9. Recent studies have shown that about half of all gamers are female, and yet some male gamer groups have expressed surprise at these statistics. Why do you think this comes as a surprise to many? Could female gamers be less visible in various settings, and if so, how come?

Well, I’d think we’re less visible in a lot of MMOs if nothing else because we’re flying below the radar in order to avoid being badgered by people while we’re trying to relax. I’ve also done some board gaming at conventions, though it’s been a few years. Back when I did do that, most of the gamers were male. I don’t think that’s necessarily because more gamers in general are male; I think it’s because male gamers in general are more likely to be willing to be gamers in public, and to game with groups of people they don’t know.

There were quite a few women in my WoW guild, and several of them would not do random groups because they just didn’t want to deal with the toxic environment; they stuck with the group of people, male and female, that they knew and trusted to not be jerks. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s like that in real life at conventions and competitions as well.

Games are supposed to be fun. Feeling like people are waiting for you to make a mistake so they can tell you to “go cry about it, little girl” or make declarations about how women can’t play games because you lost is very not fun. Hell, even listening to men insult each other by basically calling each other women is upsetting. It’s stressful. Why be stressed out when you want to have fun?

10. Would you please share your favorite gaming anecdote here, if you have one.

To this day, the most fun I’ve ever had gaming was at an ICC when I was still in the Camarilla. It was at the werewolf game, right before this epic final battle. I’d gotten special approval for my character to do a ritual that would basically give everyone who participated one free willpower retest during combat. And we did the ritual for real; I walked around to every played and put a streak of black down their nose and said the words and by the time I was done, I had no goddamn voice left. And then we all howled. To an outsider, it was probably the dorkiest thing that has ever occurred. I felt like I could take on Hell itself, and I hope everyone else did too.

Originally published at The sound and nerdery of Rachael Acks. You can comment here or there.

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