How to Get Girls to the Gaming Table – and Keep Them Coming Back

This is the first in a series of guest posts from independent game publishers on Livingdice.com. Today’s post comes from ArielManx of http://4windsfantasygaming.com/.  Please make her feel welcome and I have more guest blogging on deck in the upcoming weeks, so watch this space!

Trask

A few weeks after my husband and I joined the local gaming club, one of the male members came up to our game table to see what we were playing.  Upon noticing me – the token girl at the table – he started going on and on about how awesome it was to see a new girl at the club, and that the club definitely needed more estrogen, and that the next time I got together with all my girlfriends at the salon (he actually said “hair club”, but I’m going to assume that meant “salon”) I should mention the gaming club and try to get some more girls to join.

I believe the fellow had had a few beers by this point, and I have no doubt that his heart was in the right place.  But had I not already been a content and confident gamer-girl, happy to be at the club and at the game table, I might have run away after that “welcome”.

The question of how to get more girls into gaming comes up anywhere gamers congregate – at game tables, at cons, on internet forums.  I think the more important question is, once you get a girl to try gaming, how do you make sure she wants to keep at it?  Let’s assume that you truly, honestly want to introduce the women in your life to the great world of gaming – if you just want to get some girls at the table so you have something pretty to look at while you’re rolling your dice, this blog post is not for you.

Let me make the disclaimer that I do not, and cannot, speak for all women.  There are plenty of women out there who I don’t understand either, so don’t be discouraged, boys.  I can only speak for myself and my own experiences, and what I’ve observed with the other ladies I’ve gamed with over the years.  So here’s some food for thought on successfully getting girls at the table and keeping them there, happily (and honestly, most of these things can be applied to male gamers, too).

1.)     Don’t treat us like novelties.

Yes, the majority of gamers are men, but the gap is narrowing.  There were a lot of women at the last two cons I attended.  Plenty of women play computer or console games, which opens the door to tabletop play.  And as much as we probably all hate to admit it, books like Twilight have opened many women’s eyes to fantasy and horror, and a fair number of them want a more substantial story.  There are also more women in the industry – for example, our small game company (4 Winds Fantasy Gaming – http://www.4windsfantasygaming.com) boasts a female co-owner, and two-thirds of both our artists and contributing writers are female.  So it’s really not that odd anymore for women to have a spark of interest in roleplaying games.

That spark will sputter and die if a woman is made to feel like a novelty.  Don’t make a huge fuss over the fact that she’s female.  Just think of her as any other new gamer, and make her feel welcome.  Roll out the welcome mat, but don’t throw rose petals on it, you know?

2.)    The Old Boys Club concept might have to go.

Personally, I’ve always been one of the guys.  I grew up playing rough and tumble with my male cousins, and then entered a scientific field when I went to college.  I’m used to hanging out with guys more than girls, and I’m remarkably difficult to offend.  Not all girls are like me.  Any gamer –guy or gal – who feels uncomfortable at the game table will not want to come back.

If game night has long been your Guys Night Out, you may have to make some adjustments to make it more female-friendly.  This is going to vary depending on the female in question.  One universal recommendation I can make – for the love of all things holy, clean the bathroom.  Guys generally have no qualms peeing into a questionably clean toilet.  If I gag at the state of your bathroom cleanliness, I will not be coming back, no matter how awesome your game is.

3.)    The game has to be fun for everyone (or, get to know your players)!

I don’t buy into the concept that girls like different things than guys do when it comes to gaming.  I’ve known girls with no interest in combat, but I’ve also known girls who relish hack-and-slash like nobody’s business.  Some girls don’t care for the diplomacy and strategy aspects of roleplaying, some thrive on it.  For as many girls who want an in-depth plotline, just as many would rather not have to keep track of which NPCs are connected and how.  And all these things apply to male gamers as well.

If a male gamer at your table was really struggling with playing a wizard and keeping track of his spells, you wouldn’t deduce that it was because he was a guy.  You’d realize maybe he wasn’t good with details and would find a way to make it easier for him, even if that meant rolling up a new character.  If the female playing a paladin is freezing up every time she has to speak for the party, don’t assume it’s because she’s a girl.  Talk to her about it and find out what would work better for her.  Maybe she and the guy who’s having no luck with the wizard can trade characters and it’ll be better for everyone.

This will take some trial and error, but if you can find a way for everyone – male and female alike – to build a character they enjoy playing, they’ll like the game and want to keep coming back every week.

4.)    Don’t force it.

We’ve all seen the girl who games only because her husband or boyfriend does, and she looks like she’d rather be anywhere else but at the game table.  Nobody should be sitting at the table if they don’t want to be there.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, no matter how accommodating you are, no matter how much help you offer, a girl just won’t catch on and get interested in gaming.  That’s OK.  It’s no fault of hers, or yours, it’s just how it is.  Don’t make her feel like she has to keep playing (“If you quit, the party won’t have a spellcaster anymore, and they’ll be doomed!”).  Making her feel guilty might keep her at the table, but she won’t be happy, and what good is that for anyone involved?

So, the next time you’re trying to get a gal interested in gaming, keep these suggestions in mind and see if they help.  I’d love to hear your experiences or any other comments on this topic.

trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

17 thoughts on “How to Get Girls to the Gaming Table – and Keep Them Coming Back

  • October 14, 2009 at 11:15 am
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    Hi! Great article! Not bad, for a girl! (heh joking! Joking! Don’t kill me!)

    My own gaming table has me, my fiance, and another couple, so there are always at least two women at the table, and they both like to game on their own. They started their own PBP game a while back and would game whether the guys were into it or not.

    I think the shift began way back with the introduction of Vampire back in the early 90s and has gained steam since then.

    I also tend to think that the shift from games as a challenge for the players to games as a challenge for the characters has had something to do with it.

    While it’s true that you can’t just lump all women into one category, there are still trends and tendencies and it’s my perception that new games focus more and more on elements that appeal more to women, or at least more equally to women and men.

    You can decry stereotypes all you like, but there are reasons that fewer women liked Dungeons and Dragons during 2nd edition and before than like 3rd edition and after. There are reasons that Vampire, and Live Action Vampire in particular, drew record numbers of women into the hobby. Whether it’s mechanics based, setting based, or just a cultural shift in geekdom, more women like roleplaying gaming now than liked it in the past.

    I just tend to credit the rise of narritivism and the decline of gamism.

    • October 14, 2009 at 1:50 pm
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      Oh, I don’t deny that a lot of women tend to gravitate toward Vampire: the Masquerade, and LARPing. A lot of women just love vampires (including me, though I’ve never played a vampire game). Whatever draws anyone to gaming is a good thing. 😉 They may be drawn by one thing, and then find the door opened to so many more games. My love affair with RPGs actually started with 2nd edition D&D. Once I had my first taste of a Magic Missile, there was no going back…

      I do like your thought on games shifting from player challenges to character challenges, and being more focused on narrative – perhaps that is indeed a draw for some women. Then again, I also once gamed with a woman who had no interest whatsoever in the story, and really only got excited when it was time to roll dice and hit things. I have to admit I found it a little odd myself!

      Ultimately, what it comes down to is that every gamer – male or female – is different, and it’s one of the challenges of the GM to find a happy balance that lets everyone enjoy the game.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • October 18, 2009 at 3:38 am
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        “Then again, I also once gamed with a woman who had no interest whatsoever in the story, and really only got excited when it was time to roll dice and hit things. I have to admit I found it a little odd myself!”

        That sounds like my mom actually. Yeah you heard right, I got my mom to play D&D (and also Spycraft later).

        At first she was all like: “I want a Druid. I like those cute animals and that she can heal the whole group.”

        So I made her a healing-centered Druid. Little did I know that she’ll dash to the enemy in every battle and tries to down them with her Meleé weapon. She even started to suggest the most aggressive solutions to stuff, which got many strange looks from the other players. Like blowing up a clock tower in the middle of a city, because it was rat/wererat infested.

        I later gave her a half-orcish barbarian and she was super happy. =)

        • October 19, 2009 at 4:27 pm
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          I think you just might win the award for Coolest Mom Evar. 😀 Way cool!

  • October 15, 2009 at 5:53 pm
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    I’m a woman in my mid 40’s and I’ve been gaming since I was 11. I just don’t even understand why people think women don’t like, or won’t like, to game.

    In my group right now, we’re 2 women and 4 men. One is my husband, the others are an old friend, and a father and son (age 12, so maybe not quite a “man”, but close enough!).

    That’s the smallest male/female ratio we’ve had in a long time. Most of my one-off games consist of 3-5 women and one or two guys. It does help that I work in a predominantly female profession, and many of my gamers are my co-workers, but still…

    My rule is that if a woman games, she’s a gamer first, a woman second. And that’s also true of the guys; they’re my gamer friends first, guys second.

    • October 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm
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      “My rule is that if a woman games, she’s a gamer first, a woman second. And that’s also true of the guys; they’re my gamer friends first, guys second.”

      Exactly! Gamers are gamers, regardless of gender, and whether or not they’ll want/like gaming has nothing to do with being male or female.

      Wow, you have had a lot of other gamer girls at your games! I’ve usually been the only one, or one of two.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  • October 15, 2009 at 8:32 pm
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    I’m the primary female in my group and I totally love everything mentioned in the article. We actually had a lengthy discussion on women in gaming on our last podcast. I was truly happy when one of the other members on the podcast said that he doesn’t think of me as a woman when we game. I think that’s a really important consideration.
    Also, I particularly like what was said about a girl struggling with her character not being a girl issue, but I would add to that. It’s not always a new to the game/rules issue either. I get that a lot in our group because I’m the newest one to the entire tabletop RPG world. Which completely glosses over the fact that I might just be mixed up with the details or what not. If some one actually took the time to talk to me about why I’m having issues, I may decide a different class/race/alignment might suit me better.
    I think one thing that detracts from this type of helping discussion is that when a newb to the game is male (sorry for the sterotype) he probably wants to figure it out on his own, or he’ll ask for help. When the newb is a a woman the other men in the group slip into ‘fix it’ mode which really hinders the learning process.
    My question is how/where to find other women gamers? Preferably somewhat similar to myself that aren’t already playing 2+ games . . . so I can find my DnD BFF.

    • October 15, 2009 at 9:53 pm
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      Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed my article. 😀

      As to where to find other women gamers…hurm. That is a tough one. It’s sometimes hard enough to find gamers, period. If there’s a gaming club in your area, that would be a good place to start, or check out any games that might be running at your friendly local game store. Also, I know the Paizo forums (and I think ENWorld, too, maybe even WotC) have boards for finding local gamers. It’s worth a try!

  • October 15, 2009 at 9:05 pm
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    Been gaming for some 30 years now, and for most that period, I’ve had women in my campaigns, played in campaigns that were shared by women, and played in campaigns run by women. And, for a long time when I was in High School, we shared a space with another gaming group which was GM’d by a woman. While they’ve run the gamut of age and profession, you definitely couldn’t lump them together into a single category. And several, most definitely, had as much fun with a good ol’ fashioned hack-n-slash as the next guy. The one thing I can say, is that a game with women does have a slightly different dynamic, but that’s a good thing I think.

    • October 15, 2009 at 9:59 pm
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      Oh, indeed, when a girl (or two) joins an all-guy gaming group, the dynamic does change a bit. And I have no doubt the same would be true if a guy joined an all-girl group. Either way, it’s a good thing.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • October 18, 2009 at 2:43 am
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    Hi

    Before I start I do not mean to offend anyone with this its just a general observation, triggered byt the ‘hair club’ comment.
    I have ben gaming for more about 30 of my 42 years on and off and I think the problem with a lot of gamers is lack of social skills generally. Certainly in the UK and the time or two I have been to the USA there have been a lot of people at cons (mostly males) who have never left their bedrooms except to go to the bathroom, school and cons. They are often highly intelligent people but maybe have a holier than thou attitude because of their rocket science degree, and because of that degree spent too much time in a lab talking to animals (or breathing odd chemicals) instead of having a beer and talking to people.
    They tend to be the ones who are most likely to put ANYONE off gaming (my son 15 went to a con after begging for a couple of years to go with me and the wierdos put him off…including female wierdos, he can barely put up with my mates 8-))and there are people at cons who I don’t ever want to sit at a table with.
    So I do not necessarily think its a girl thing. Just that a girl in a gamers environment is an opportunity to talk to one of the strange creatures with a lumpy chest and no beard without having to leave their own comfort zone.

    Cheers

    Ian
    (Just off to spend the afternoon with his own sociopaths)

    • October 19, 2009 at 4:38 pm
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      Cons do tend to bring all sorts out of the woodwork, that’s true. My first con was an eye-opening experience (“I didn’t even know you could pierce that part of the body!”) and indeed, there were some weirdos there. But overwhelmingly, everyone was nice, even if some didn’t have the best social skills and a few could have used either more deodorant or less cheap cologne. And there were lots of ladies there!

      FWIW, my degree is in atmospheric science – not quite rocket science, but in that realm. While I did indeed know a fair number of your stereotypical scientists who couldn’t hold a casual conservation to save their life, in my experience plenty were very social, very fun-loving, and had varied interests. I know I’m kind of off on a tangent here, but the “rocket science” comment cracked me up. 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • November 1, 2009 at 1:36 am
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        Glad it made you smile that was the intent.
        I would love to get an observational comedian to a con or two. Maybe the sit-com ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is close…sci-fi geeks rather than gamer geeks but still struggling with awkwardness when the girl next door comes round…

  • October 19, 2009 at 8:05 am
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    Depends on the con. Some cons are plagued by the skeevy hygienically challenged men, others it’s the gothapotami or women in Princess Leia’s slave outfit outfits, or hairy men dressed as Sailor Moon, (or worse. I still have trauma flashbacks of 300 pound ‘slutbunnies’ in pink leotards and ears with rayguns. Sometimes gamer inclusivity and tolerance goes too far) and at still others it’s the furries badly in need of Febreeze.

    But some cons, (DragonCon in particular) you get a lot of really cool people in really cool costumes or awesome t-shirts who (generally) bathe and who (generally) wear age and body type appropriate clothing. You won’t catch me in anything revealing. It’s cloaked and armored characters for me!

    Still, gamer social skills have been on the rise lately, partcularly since the aforementioned advent of Vampire. Sure, standing around with black fishnets on your arms, a bad dye job, and a regency-era cassock and combat boots and brooding until the Denny’s night manager asks you to leave isn’t exactly high on the social-skill o-meter, but it’s better than a lot of what came before, and it is getting better.

    • October 19, 2009 at 4:43 pm
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      I’m pretty sure you’re replying directly to Ian Hayward, but I have to chime in. 😀

      My con experiences have been filled with – for the most part – “normal” people. There were a few who were just plain strange, or who needed a bath (or at least deodorant) or less cologne, and yes, a few were lacking in knowledge of social decorum. But most of them were just regular folk, just like me. I think you’re right that gamer social skills are on the increase – I think people are coming into gaming with those social skills already in place.

  • October 19, 2009 at 2:50 pm
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    I’ve been gaming since AD&D, 25 years or so. The one point I would add, to keep women coming back is address sexism in the game. Have a discussion about how patriarchal the world is going to be, whether 50+ % of NPCs will be female, female role models in the game world. Set up something that works for the DM roleplaying male and female NPCs, and for the players. While women accept that D&D is mostly a male dominated game, it doesn’t mean that the game they are in needs to perpetuate the negative female barriers in today’s society.

    • October 19, 2009 at 4:55 pm
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      That’s a fair point. I’ve never had issues with a GM who couldn’t/wouldn’t run female NPCs, and I’ve played with enough men who run female characters that it’s just never felt like a male-dominated game to me, but I’m sure it is an issue at some game tables. It all comes back to the ultimate rule: everyone at the game table has to be comfortable and enjoying themselves, or the game is a failure.

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