Playing tabletop role playing games has been a huge part of my life for the past twenty years. I began as a player, my first game was Vampire the Masquerade and we played in a graveyard! From there I was hooked. In college I started running games and I quickly became one of the primary Game Masters in our group. After graduation we moved and found a new group of friends who loved all forms of tabletop gaming too! Soon enough I became one of the main Game Masters in this group as well.
I consider myself to be really extremely lucky in that all of the groups I’ve played in are a mix of men and women. Usually more men, but always a mix. Also, I feel really blessed that the majority of people I’ve played with have been excellent human beings and never made myself or the other players at the table feel less than or unwelcome. Of course there were a few guys over the years that were atypical of the game guy stereotype. They were rude, offensive, belittled the women at the table, and tore down the men at every opportunity.
Thankfully these cancerous players are no longer part of my core group. I absolutely adore the people that I game with twice a week. We work really well together and all want to have a good time. I feel that I could bring anyone new to tabletop gaming here and they’d feel welcomed and encouraged to keep playing.
Recently I had the absolute pleasure of being part of not one but two groups that were entirely female players, including the Game Master! Oh my gosh let me tell you how utterly amazing that experience was! It was entirely different, in every way compared to my previous experiences with mixed groups.
Today I want to discuss my personal experiences and opinions on the difference of playing with men versus women. Please! This is not meant to be an attack on anyone or any gender! Bashing men is as unwelcome as those cancerous players I mentioned before! I am just going to describe my observations, opinions, and experiences over twenty years of playing tabletop games.
I have been a geek for as long as I can remember. Always the only girl in the game shop. The only girl at the Magic the Gathering tables. One of very few girls playing MMORPGs online way back when they first appeared on the scene. I don’t want to focus on how it was twenty years ago, because things are so much better! However, I feel that we as people still need to grow and evolve, but we’ve come leaps and bounds with accepting all gamers.
At my games with mixed genders there is still this undercurrent of status based on gender. Thankfully with the people I game with it isn’t an intentional thing, but even unintentional it can make the female players at the table feel bad. In an attempt to keep this from being miles along I’ll only give one example. When there is a rules dispute the guys at the table speak up right away. If they were wrong and one of the gals provides the correct rule the guys have to grab the players handbook and validate the answer. If a guy at the table corrects the answer its just accepted without the need to verify if they’re right.
I’ve always been aware of this habit, but I’m pretty strong, confident, and outspoken. So, I never struggled with feeling like I was less than or not equal to the guys as I demanded it from them. Challenging their actions and making them realize I know my stuff. However, some of the gals at my tables are not as confident or they struggle with anxiety. They often feel the brunt of this gender status.
Taking a look at my two all female games, this is just not a thing. First, when we don’t know a rule we just say we don’t know. Together as a group we find that answer and move on. Or, if one of us knows the rule it’s trusted we are right and everyone moves on. There isn’t any status applied because someone has been playing longer or knows more about the game. It was wonderful to see how easily and naturally it worked out!
Both in and out of character.
The rush and excitement of starting a new campaign! It is so amazing, right? The Game Master sets the scene and the world and you are there with all of your books and a fresh clean character sheet! The world is yours to grasp, anything is possible! That first inkling of an idea swirls into your brain and you’re off! You are so excited to get back to the table and tell all of your friends about this new character that you want to add to the story! It’s just the best! Creating this new baby is one of my most favorite things to do! Sometimes I make characters when I’m not even going to start a game, because I love making new characters so very much!
Out of Character
Character creation sessions is upon you! When you get to the table and you excitedly tell the rest of the crew what you want to play and… Yeah this one is the hardest for me to stomach. I can defend my characters and because I am a stronger personality the rest of the group doesn’t constantly remind me of the fact they think my character idea is dumb and ridiculous. Time and time again I see the ladies at my table come in with this idea that the absolutely love and the men at the table belittle the idea because its something they would never play. As character creation progresses through the night they find ways to constantly make fun of the choice, the jokes get worse and sometimes meaner. Sometimes the gal changes the idea, because she can’t handle the guys constant comments. Other times they keep the character but have to then endure it through the rest of the game. It sucks, a lot.
I think the worst part for me is that the guys hide behind it being good-natured ribbing, that they would do to anyone at the table. And there is teasing and jokes and puns that happen aplenty, but it is different. That playful banter and teasing at the table can get a little intense, but it is rarely mean. The comments about a lady’s character that isn’t approved by the rest of the table, are worse and meaner, masked by the idea that they are just playful teasing.
With the ladies, that character creation session, it was blissfully wonderful. The ideas everyone had were laid down and it was amazing to see how supportive everyone was. There wasn’t an idea that was bashed or criticized, even the ideas that were a little out there, it was all accepted. Suggestions were given, complimentary ideas, helpful tips for that particular character type, and just all around just niceness. No idea was put down or made fun of. No concept was picked apart like it was less than or the player made fun of for wanting to try something different or unusual. It was the best character creation sessions I’ve ever been a part of.
The comments thinly veiled as playful banter continue in character too. The women at the table often have their ideas critiqued, criticized, and torn apart. Any idea that seems to be a little silly or an action that the guys wouldn’t do themselves. Or the very same idea could be suggested by another guy at the table and that idea just rolls. It is so very rare that the guys at the table are questioned about what they want to do in character. The teasing that happens goes back to truly good-natured ribbing for them.
The lady’s game? Yeah, we still do that silly and sometimes stupid stuff. But it isn’t questioned or criticized, we laughed and teased of course. Not one moment where someone made another person at the table feel less than or stupid for what they wanted to do. Sometimes after other games there’s this feeling of anxiety because you have to defend your ideas so often, but after my games with the gals I had this high, this feeling of how amazing the teamwork is at those tables. I had no idea it could feel like that and now I’m hooked!
Getting into character is perhaps my most favorite part of playing tabletop games. Which is why I love being a Game Master so much, I get to embody so many different people. Then getting to interact with other players and build these epic stories that have feeling and flavor and depth! Isn’t it wonderful! Spending hours crafting a story, the history of this character you’re going to play for many months. Giving this character life, quirks, and personality. Only to get to the table and put on your voice, the accent, and mannerisms and… a few try but are shy. But, mostly the guys at the table want to battle. They rush through the role play sections of the game to get to the dice rolling and fights. I know that this is not just guys, but it is predominantly true of the guys at my table. It really takes my immersion away from the story. And all signs of roleplaying disappear.
Sometimes the Game Master in the group does his best and puts voices on and different mannerisms, but it isn’t reciprocated by many at the table. There are some instances where we can get the whole table to be their characters, but those moments are few and far between. Maybe its because the ladies at the table are more apt to write a decent back story for their characters that lets them feel their characters better? I don’t really know, but I do truly believe that if you spend time writing a detailed outline or a story for your character you know who you are and can easily immerse yourself into that character.
Now, at my two tables with just women playing, wow it was totally different! There were still many who were shy to really get into character. However, when one or two of us were in character it was encouraging to the others and we all tried voices or tone or mannerisms that embodied our characters. Voices were complimented and it was so much more welcome to just try something. Whether or not that voice or tone or mannerism worked wasn’t the point, it was that we all felt comfortable and welcomed to try new things. I felt so connected to those characters, it was utterly amazing.
Here are just a few things I’ve noticed that don’t warrant a whole category of their own. Mostly I want to call out some of the amazing things I’ve noticed at the table with all women players. Firstly, there is just a deeper level of creativity among the players. I know I keep saying this, but the mixed groups I play with the majority of the Game Masters are wonderfully creative and I enjoy the stories I play in. However, the players don’t always make deep and interesting back stories or even come up with good names. With the gals the stories and general creativeness of the characters, NPCs, and stories are just so rich and beautiful!
Lastly I want to touch on world building. When I run a game I have always done homebrew worlds and stories. With that comes a lot of lore, maps, pantheon, NPCS… a large information dump onto the players. At the mixed tables this information is at best skimmed but normally ignored. All that time and effort I spend to make the world feel as rich and real and immersive as possible wasted. That’s the type of world that I want to be a part of! The lady’s table? Oh man what a huge difference! They take that information and red it, absorb it, and run with it. They build amazing stories that add to the world and make it even more magical. It felt so amazing to provide them with all this information that I’ve spent weeks on and to see it come to life in their hands!
I would like to take a moment to reiterate that I really do adore the groups that I game with, men and women. They are all really great people and I consider them amazing friends that I feel honored to have in my life. And the above mentioned items don’t always happen and with the current mixed groups aren’t intentionally mean. All of this is just what I’ve observed over the years and how I feel about my experiences.
The things that have really bothered me I’ve talked to the offending member one on one outside of the gaming table. The majority of the time it gets resolved and things get much better! I have never felt like I couldn’t bring up my concerns to my fellow players and Game Masters. However, it isn’t always my place to speak up. I do what I can as a stronger woman player to protect my friends at the table that aren’t as strong willed as I am. Usually, if I talk to a player about a concern I can see it getting better, but not always. All the players are humans and we as humans are flawed. Thankfully my friends are all trying to be their best gaming selves.
Thank you all for coming on this reflective journey with me! What have you noticed is different about playing with men and women at the table? Are there differences? Let’s talk!