Perhaps you’ve seen the recirculating Modern Man article from 2013, How to Talk to a Woman Who is Wearing Headphones. It had been my intention to ignore this poorly conceived article, since I know that one should never attempt to speak to anyone wearing headphones unless:
- They are on fire
- About to be on fire
- At risk of some other bodily harm
- You are on fire and need help
However, I have been asked to explore how one should speak to a woman in a gaming setting. I believe that to be worthwhile since there’s a better than average chance you’re going to have to speak to a woman at some point. I say this tongue in cheek, certainly this blog can be applied to anyone you do not know but meet in a gaming setting.
First we’ll have to lay down some ground rules.
- I am a woman who can only speak for myself, through my experiences, and about my preferences.
- If you are a woman and you have had other experiences, this blog does not invalidate your feelings or experiences, please add a comment with your own experiences for a more enriched conversation.
- Nothing in this blog is a guarantee, I am not a “relationship” expert, just a person trying to help make the gaming community a better place for everyone.
- I use the terms “male” and “female” or “man” and “woman”, but I recognize that there are more options in the world than our limited binary terms current encompass. If you find yourself at a table with a player that you are unsure of their gender, assume that they are a human being and treat them with the same or more respect and courtesy that you would want to be treated with as well. This is probably the best guiding light of personal interaction advice I can impart in this blog.
Women in the gaming community
There have been several studies about the gender make-up of the overall gaming community (tabletop, online, platform, all the games!) which indicate that there are approximately as many women who self-identify as gamers as there are men. Anecdotally though looking around Sagamore or the PFS room at PaizoCon, I can say that I observed a lot fewer women sitting down at Pathfinder tables than men. Of course there are also going to be some tables with more women than men or with gender parity. But all of that said, there are still a lot of male gamers who seem to struggle with what to do and how to speak to a female gamer who sits at a table with him. Unlike a woman wearing headphones, a woman who is sitting at a gaming table is there to play a game and talk with the people at the table. So the good news is, if you’re unsure if you should speak with this woman, the answer is “Yes, you may speak with her.” The real questions are “what should you say to her?” and “what should you never say to her?” That’s where I’m hoping to help.
Things you can talk about
- Remember that women gamers are gamers. You can talk about the game that you are playing. It’s okay to show interest in her as a player or her character, if you are truly interested.
- Recap what happened during the last game session.
- How her week has been since the last game – BUT IF AND ONLY IF this is a woman you have known for more than a few minutes. If you are at a convention and just meeting her, you can ask how her convention is going and let her openness guide you. If you get a one word answer that does not invite further conversation, drop the conversation regardless of how well you know the woman in question.
- The weather.
- Mutually enjoyed sporting events or other cultural activities. Again, if you like football or musical theater, don’t assume everyone watched the big game or saw the new local Broadway production. If you put out feeler comments and there’s little engagement, let the conversation drop. You wouldn’t to listen to someone go on and on about something you had little interest in either.
- Anything that is not specifically sexual, political, religious, racial, or otherwise treads into the realm of “polarized” conversation.
- Talk with female gamers as you would a male gamer about gaming.
Things you should not talk about and other bad assumptions
- The women sitting at your table are probably not looking for a date, do not hit on or ask a woman at your table out on a date at the table. If you feel like you have a connection with one of the women you game with and would like to pursue a relationship, ask her out for coffee privately after game.
- If she says “No thank you”, then you have expressed your interest and you now know that she is not interested in going out with you at this time. The mature response to this reaction is to remain as you were before asking her out and not harbor any resentment, hard feelings, or any other emotions that might cause you to ruin your current level of relationship with her. If you change your behavior after being turned down, you will make things creepy and you may make yourself unwelcome in your gaming group. Don’t do that, be a grown up.
- If she says “That sounds great”, do not assume that she owes you anything other than to meet you for coffee. You must obtain her consent for all things you may wish to do with her, like future dates or other activities, which I have spoken about before.
- Do not hit on the female PCs or assume that a female PC wants to have a relationship with your PC (regardless of the genders of the PCs or players in question). If you feel like your PC would want to have a special in game relationship with another PC, speak to that player first in private and if that player is not receptive, then drop it. You control your PC, not the other way around.
- The women at your table are not looking to discuss their personal life in public. If you are close friends, those conversations are best reserved for private rather than public discussion.
- Do not explain the rules of the game to a female gamer at your table, unless you are expressly asked, then answer the same way you would if you were answering to a male gamer.
- Do not assume a female player does not know the rules of the game (don’t assume that of anyone sitting down to play the game unless they tell you otherwise).
- Do not suggest that a woman (or anyone, for that matter) is interpreting their character “wrong”. PCs can be very personal and not open to interpretation from outside commentary.
- If you believe a rule is being played incorrectly, handle this with your GM’s personal preference – some GMs will let a rule stand as is for the duration of a scene and then address changes in the future, while others will adjudicate rules on the fly and change midstream. If you have never experienced this issue at your table, err on the side of expediency and wait until after game is over to bring questions to the GM. This goes for any player at your table, regardless of gender.
- Do not imply in any way that a female gamer is not a true gamer/nerd/geek.
- Do not tell jokes of a sexual nature. For that matter, it is best to avoid off-color, vulgar, or jokes in bad taste of any variety, we are trying for a welcoming and inclusive gaming environment here.
- Do not use gender, racial, or any other derogatory slurs at the table, but you really shouldn’t be doing that anyway regardless of who is at the table.
What should I do if someone is being inappropriate?
You should use your voice and you should use it calmly and directly. When someone is being inappropriate, you should never remain quiet, because silence is taken for agreement. There are several ways to handle an inappropriate player based on your own relationship with said player.
If you are at a table and a player that you have a good relationship with is being inappropriate in the middle of game play, an “Excuse me?” goes a long way when said with the right tone and shade. If the offender isn’t picking up what you’re laying down, then take them aside during a break or after game in private. Do not embarrass or call people out the first time publicly for a lengthy discussion, because they are also still a human being that deserves to be treated with respect (until they prove otherwise). This person may be your friend and you may not want to end your friendship. However, if your friend is being jerk (warning: there is adult language in this link), you might want to reconsider why you are friends.
If you do not have a good relationship with the player in question, you can still engage the “Excuse me?” and then involve the GM, this is their table and they should be holding players accountable and responsible for their behavior. You can call for a break if you feel things are out of control and speak with the GM immediately.
You should support the person who is the target of inappropriate behavior. Make sure they are alright and unharmed by the situation. Harsh words or inappropriate statements can trigger unwanted reactions and leave a person shaken. The best thing you can do is just listen to the person get those emotions and thoughts out. You don’t specifically have to “fix” anything or offer advice. It has been my experience that women frequently need to “talk things out” but men need to “fix the problem”. Ask if there is anything you can do for the person and if you receive a request, honor it.
Notes to the GMs
You are the final arbitrator at your table and you set the tone for what passes as acceptable. You should never use any female characters (regardless of who is playing them) as plot devices – no kidnapping to “rescue the princess”, no raping, avoid fragile, delicate, or other degrading female specific tropes. Remember a female player is here to play the same action adventure roleplaying game the male players at the table are playing, not to be hijacked and fridged.
If a female player (or again, any player) comes to you and expresses concern about the behavior or comments she is receiving from other players, take her seriously and treat her concerns with respect. She is, after all, a human being who deserves to be treated as such. We recently joined and subsequently left a private gaming club due to a long email exchange that included several members speaking about how they disliked a certain female gaming celebrity, offering to falcon punch said celebrity, and getting slutty college girls to join the club. I spoke out about how those comments were inappropriate and I was told by the leadership of the club that they would not regulate the speech of others in the club. We left the club. People, regardless of gender, will leave your game if you permit inappropriate behaviors to occur at your table.
This blog got away from me a little, as so many of mine do. In the end, all role players come to the table for the same reason – to have fun in a land of shared make believe. If you talk to other people in a way that is better than you hope to be talked to in return, you should be alright. When in doubt, be on your best behavior. There is more to discuss on the topic of player interactions, if you have any further advice, thoughts, or ideas. Please leave it in the comments here so we can discuss it!
While I hope you did read all of this, I can boil the advice here down to just a couple bullet points.
- Treat everyone at your table with respect, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.
- Do not say or do anything to a female player that you wouldn’t say or do to a male player.
- If you have to stop and wonder if this is a good idea, it is NOT a good idea and you should not proceed.
I would like to thank the women who were my sounding board for this blog, everyone has a different set of experiences. It is important to remember that something that works for one may not work for everyone. Together we can make the gaming community a more welcoming place for everyone to enjoy.