Warning: Two of the links in this post describe some very ugly gender-based and racially-based harassment and abuse. It is grim, infuriating reading, it gets pretty graphic, and definitely should be consumed with discretion. That said, if you can bring yourself to read those accounts, you should. It’s important to know what we’re dealing with, in detail.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:28 (ESV)
I am a ball of privilege.
I’m a heterosexual cismale. I’m white, from a middle-class family. I am significantly healthier than the norm with an immune system that greets pathogens with “DIE, INTERLOPER” a lot of the time, a body that heals quickly, teeth that have been described by my dentist as being “like rocks” and eyes that still don’t need corrective lenses despite the fact that I’m almost 40. I’m of above-average intelligence. I don’t have any major mental health issues. I don’t have any chronic physical issues at all. All four of my grandparents made it to at least the age of 90 and two of them are still alive. I’m a member of a mainline protestant church. I live in a small, boring town with virtually no crime. And possibly most outrageously at all, on top of all of that, I have been far more fortunate than I could ever deserve with the quality of people in my life. My parents are two of the kindest, most decent people I have ever known, and I’ve been fortunate to have dozens of wonderful people around me throughout my adult life in particular. I am very, very fortunate.
That privilege has shielded me from a lot of very unpleasant things. It has also probably contributed to a certain sense of moral outrage about what happens to people who don’t have an impenetrable force field of privilege like I do. And one of the things that makes me the very angriest is hearing stories about what happens to women in tabletop gaming spaces.
I’m pretty soundly on the record as being very much in favor of women at the gaming table. Virtually every gaming group I’ve been in has had at least one or two women in it, and therefore it’s never seemed all that odd to me, but apparently this thing that seems obvious to me is not quite so obvious to everyone else. There is a nasty, festering tumor of something that goes beyond mere gatekeeping rotting away at the guts of the hobby. A malign cultural force that tells women and minorities that they are Not Welcome at the gaming table. And it disgusts me.
During the time when we were playing our Shadowrun game as a group, Grant and Krissi had to rely on a suboptimal audio set-up, which meant that the other player and I often couldn’t hear Krissi very well. Around the time we got our D&D game off the ground, they ironed out the audio issues and we can finally hear Krissi clearly now. And that has lead to more than one post-game conversation between the other player and me about what a heartbreaking tragedy it was that we gamed with her for years and didn’t get the full experience. Because Krissi, not to put too fine a point on it, is awesome. She’s an amazing tactical thinker. She rewrites Disney songs with lyrics about our adventuring party. And you don’t have to dig very deep into the blog posts about our game to see what an amazing roleplayer she is – Pulled From the Flames would never have happened without Krissi. The hopefully now-famous “arrow incident” that gave us all such good character development? Also down to Krissi.
And it’s not like Krissi, great as she is, is this rare, exotic creature. Jenny has been a fantastic addition to the hosting staff – Grant and I are both incredibly grateful for the level of experience and fresh perspective she provides. (She’s also great fun to game with, though I’ve only had the pleasure once.) Her own mom, Shannon, started her on gaming before she was even in school and runs amazing con games. Sarah Lynne Bowman has contributed a lot to gamer culture by becoming a serious academic and writing a bunch of very insightful articles (and a book that’s worth your time) about roleplaying. Katrina Ehrnman-Newton came on the show and did a fantastic episode about prophecy with us and routinely comes up with great ideas on the podcasts she does with her husband Kris Newton. Laura, my good friend and occasional editor is a dedicated and really fun gamer – and one I really wish we could add to our group’s regular roster (let’s have a moment of silence for the scheduling issues). Emily Care Boss is one of the most highly-regarded indie game designers working today and is also apparently a wonderful, gracious person. I’ve sat with dozens of other women at gaming tables, and on podcast episodes, and heard them speak about gaming or read what they’ve written about it and it’s all every bit as good as anything a male gamer, podcaster, or writer could produce.
By the way – I don’t have the level of first-hand experience with non-white gamers that I do with women, sadly. That force field of privilege and the social circles that come standard with it keeps good people out sometimes too, much as I wish it weren’t so. But I can point you to the excellent Backstory podcast for more exposure to diverse voices in the hobby (and all the awesome stuff they make and do). But the same principles apply. The conduct I’m angry enough to write an out-of-cycle blog post on sadly gets applied to other minorities, too.
Regardless of whether the person who is being made to feel like an outsider is getting that treatment because of race, gender, or some other consideration, the Christian response is pretty obvious, though: overcome hostility with welcome, and don’t allow that hostility to go unchallenged. See the scripture quote at the top of this post for inspiration, if need be.
I want everyone in this hobby. We need everyone in this hobby. The women and minorities who want to game are as much real gamers as I am. And if I catch you trying to chase off good, decent, well-meaning people who just want to enjoy our wonderful hobby, I will trap you in my force field of privilege and we’re going to have some Words.