What it Means to Be a "Gaymer Girl"
Pride month is coming to an end but that doesn’t mean we stop thinking about it. There are a lot of things going on in the world involving equal rights for race, genders, sexuality and more but I can only speak to these subjects as an LGBTQ+ member and a woman. So, I want to write a little something on what it means to me to be a “gaymer girl” in a mostly straight Caucasian male dominated industry (like many industries).
This may be a more touchy subject compared to many past blog posts but I think it’s important to explore my feelings on being both a woman and LGBTQ+ member. First, I’d like to say my gender seems to be a bigger issue than my sexuality (surprise, I bet you didn’t see that coming). This might be because I don’t look especially masculine or gay. I don’t wear dresses often but you also won’t see me in male clothing (unless it’s a nerdy shirt). I’m not huge on PDA so you’ll never catch me on top of my partner or making “a scene”. So, I manage to slide under the radar when joining a gaming group or game table until I get asked if I’m single. Which does happen a lot. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a girl walking around alone in a sea of guys or what, but every convention I get asked at least once a day. I know people are looking for love and sharing a hobby like this is great but I’d join speed dating (not the designer version) if I wanted to be asked out.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a social butterfly. That can talk to basically anyone and sit down to try any game. I honestly have a hard time explaining what games I like because I will try just about anything. But I have noticed as soon as I get into the heavier games I start to get treated differently. I get more eye contact from the person describing the rules, I get check-ins constantly through the game by other players and I always get asked if I’ve played heavier games and if so, which ones. I’m not going to lie, it’s a pretty large put off. I know these things can happen to a new gamer as well but I’ve sat down for demos where no one had played the game and I was the only one getting checked on. I appreciate the concern but I’m a big girl and if I have a question I will ask it. Of course this is case to case. I feel like gamers can have a tendency to talk down to others who don’t play heavy games on the regular and it’s annoying. We learned in pre-school to treat others the way we want to be treated and yet this continues to happen.
I have talked to many women who don’t feel comfortable going to Cons alone because they are scared to be talked down to or judged for the games they like. Who cares if they only like family weight games? Every game played is a positive thing for the community as a whole. I don’t know why so much weight is but on heavier Eurogames. Like I can’t be considered a gamer if I only want to play or design casual games? Why does it matter? Most of the larger hobby game companies are producing games that have an easier entry-level because they are trying to bring more people into the hobby. Stop gatekeeping and let people try whatever game they want and don’t assume all girls just play mass market games.
Sadly, a female designer friend of mine has had many issues even designing a heavier Eurogame. She gets comments on Facebook threads that are not always positive when asking for feedback on her prototype. Some males have a tendency to be harsh and condescending in their comments. One post she made about her game asked how she can make her game more inclusive. And this was the response she got:
Not okay, this is not how you talk about women. Making a "menstrual patch" to add to a hacking game is not funny, just sexist. This is why women don’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas online or in-person. We need to work on monitoring these kinds of responses. In this day and age, men and women should be equal. And equal representation in game designs needs more than a "patch". I intentionally try to make sure different kinds of people are represented in my games. I either eliminate the need for race or I try to create a wide spectrum of different characters. XYZ Game Labs did a great job of having inclusive artwork for their game Arch Ravels. They feature different ages, genders, races and a character in a wheel chair! This is what I want to see in all the games I buy.
I have worked many game and comic con booths over the years and have been picked over other volunteers because they wanted a girl demoer. I appreciate the try but being a token doesn’t always feel great. I always have mixed feelings when I get asked to work a booth. I love doing it for the exposure, the perks and connections but typically I’m either the only girl or I’m one of two girls. I have agreed to work for a booth and then was asked to bring a friend with. So, I suggested some of my friends. The reply I got back was: “do you have any ethnic female friends?” This felt weird. I didn’t know the company owner, just one of the guys working the booth I met the previous year at GenCon. He wasn’t trying to make things awkward but his team was made of all white males so he was trying to diversify so he could sell his games. I ended up bringing a female friend who was white but spoke 3 to 4 languages as a compromise and she did amazing. Between the two of us we did sell more games then the boys.
There are many perks to having a female demoer. They tend to be more approachable to newer gamers, families and other females. Females don’t tend to come off quite as strong as a male when it comes to selling a game. We can be more patient (or at least fake patience) when demoing and dealing with difficult players. We are much less threatening in how we do things. I know many of these qualities are stereotypes but stereotypes are based in truth (sometimes). I think having at least one female on your team really does increase your chances of sales. You just need to find a respectful way of asking people to join your team. I have started to gravitate towards volunteering in Board Game Broads Facebook Group when publishers post that they are looking for help. If COIVD hadn’t happened I would have worked Origins for First Fish Games and for GenCon I was going to work for Weird Giraffe Games. Both are female run game publishers.
Let’s really put an effort into including girls into the hobby. That could mean having them volunteer for your booth, give them first choice at game pitching times during a con, invite them to industry dinners/meetups and ask them to join you in playing a game. Even I get nervous asking to join a bunch of people about to learn a game. If you have an empty chair, invite a lone stranger to join. Worst case scenario they say “no” but you know you tried. It’s a lot easier to accept an invite when you’re alone then ask to join a group.
I mentioned being a girl has been a larger issue entering this industry then being gay earlier. I think this is mostly because it’s easier to tell that I’m a girl. Many people are still surprised when I say I have a female partner. In some ways I like that. I like that I don’t scream gay. Unlike other minorities this is a part of myself I can choose to hide or show to the right people. I didn’t come out until the end of college and I had a lot of support. I had maybe two or three instances of being unaccepted by family and/or friends. I’ve removed those people from my life.
I wear the “gaymer” ribbon at every convention I attend so people know I’m comfortable in my own skin and I love when I see others wearing the “ally” ribbon. It’s nice to know that if I need support I have it. Labels can be scary but when they are done with good intentions and in a way to support a community I’m all for it. I feel like we need more ribbons in support of #blacklivesmatter, all minorities, females and more. We all need an ally in our life or at a convention.
The gaming community has been welcoming from the designer stand point. Many publishers encourage minorities to submit their game designs for review. I have always been encouraged to speak on podcasts about my sexual orientation to help normalize having a female partner versus a male. I know I am more of a rare case because I have friends that don’t feel comfortable being this publicly out. They look to role models in the industry and complain that we don’t have enough podcasts, streams or blogs dedicated to the LGBTQ+ perspective on games. I don’t know if I need a dedicated LGBTQ+ channel but a few more people dispersed onto different shows that are openly gay would be great. I started listening to the Dice Tower podcast three years ago because they had two female hosts. Listening to someone like me really did motivate me to dive further into the hobby. I want that for every kind of person. We need to bridge the gaps for females, LGBTQ+ and minorities. I want to demo to more groups like the ones I playtested with at C2E2 in Chicago this year. I want to see a variety of people stop by to try all weights and themes of games. We have started this conversation in the industry so let’s take action! Let’s actively work to become more inclusive, tolerant and respectful in the ways we interact with one another in the industry.
I want others to feel confident enough to introduce themselves and play some fun games without worrying about being talked down to or discriminated against. Let’s make this happen. Here’s a few small things you can do to make a big difference:
Invite new people to play games with you.
Don’t assume based on race, age or gender. Teach a game like you would to your best friend and see if they have questions.
Wear an “ally” ribbon at Cons, it’s a small thing that really does make people like me feel more comfortable.
Give minority and female designers a chance to to pitch their games to your company.
Try to balance out your demo team with different types of people and be conscious of how you are inviting people to join.
Play games with kids, they’re the next generation of gamers. Teach them to be welcoming to all types of people.
Don’t ask girls out at the game table. You can ask them if they want to play another game and see where that goes. Girls want to feel welcomed and not like they are getting picked up at a bar.
Invite your friends to game meetups and conventions. The more the merrier!
Invite minority designers and gamers onto your blogs, podcasts and streams. We need more representation! The Girl’s Game Shelf does an amazing job at this.
Designers/illustrators, include more diverse characters in your games. We need to see all genders, races, sexual orientations, body shapes and ages represented. Don’t be another reason girls have a complex about having small boobs and not being a size zero.
I’m sure there are more things you can do but know that it isn’t other peoples jobs to tell you what you can do to help. Be the change you want to see in the world. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. You can never really know what it’s like to be a minority. Just support them in whatever way you can.