“Hello from the other siiiiiiiiiiide”; except not really, because it’s been a year and this manuscript is taking forever to write, but I felt that a community update was necessary. It’s me, your favorite researchin’ bird! I have not fallen off the face of the earth, I just really underestimated the amount of tomfoolery that a federal hiring freeze was going to cause and how much support our exchange students were going to need this year. A refresher: last summer, your girl decided to do a study on the experiences of 200+ lady table-top gamers and you can read the logic for it here.
Purpose of the study (now I can talk about it without worrying about biasing my sample!):
A) Establish “traditional” demographics (so age, race, sexual orientation, etc.) along with game-specific ones (how long have you played, player vs GM vs both, what was your first game, etc.)
B) Establish whether or not mentoring relationships exist within the community and whether or not they served as moderators for levels of coping skills and social skills (two things that would serve as “real life skills” within a connected learning context)
C) Look at the levels of sexism women in the community have faced from other players and GMs, opinions on how important community was to them, where they’d like to see the community go in the future, whether or not they felt their gender had influenced their experiences as a gamer, along with asking why they were comfortable/uncomfortable with their current/most recent gaming group.
**Disclaimers: my work PC is currently in the shop so I don’t have access to SPSS/my data so numbers in this article are my best estimates/are probably a bit off, sorry. This research was conducted only with US residents so results might not apply to other countries.
1) Everybody’s Queer Up In Here And Other Fun Stats Trends
Much like my study on the cosplay community, there were a surprising number of queer and trans women in this study (read: higher than the 5% and 1% in “general population” samples but lower than the levels in the cosplay sample)! This is super cool because there’s something about niche hobbyist communities that seems to be drawing these typically marginalized folks. Research in the cosplay community has indicated that being LGBTQ is more socially acceptable within that community and “being someone else” may help them to solidify their identity as an LGBTQ individual.
The same seemed to hold true for female-identifying folks in the TTRPG sample. However, the opposite was the case when it came to race and ethnicity; well over two-thirds of the sample were White/Caucasian. Part of the reason games in general (not just TTRPGs) have issues with finding diverse audiences is due to a lack of representation/stereotyped representation of ethnic and racial minorities, something that was echoed in the qualitative responses from that population. A sizeable chunk of participants had been gaming for 40+ years (read: women have been gaming since the beginning). Most people in the sample had completed at least some college and most identified as players-only.
2) Dang, Sexism & Harassment Suck And Are Totally A Thing™
A small part of my soul dies every time I have to do really repetitive data analysis tasks (read: coding 200+ qualitative responses for 6-7 questions). A pretty sizeable chunk of it died when coding responses to the questions about sexism experienced within the last year and some of the other open-ended questions. I used a validated scale to measure this and tacked a qualitative item to the end of it asking about other instances of sexism participants may have experienced at the hands of other players or GMs.
I had purposefully excluded two items looking at sexual violence because I’d applied for expedited review with my institution’s review board. However, the number of people reporting those things on the qualitative section of this measure and others was disturbing. While the levels of sexism experienced within the last year were relatively low in this sample (yaaaaay!), that may have been due to the fact that many of these women had experienced lots more sexism in their early years of gaming (booooooo!), and had taken steps to avoid those experiences in the future; which leads me to my next point.
3) Lady Gamers Are Resilient As Heck
Typically, when people experience lots of aversive events related to doing a thing, they stop doing that thing. Lady gamers say, “To heck with that,” and keep gaming despite (and oftentimes to spite) the people that would like them to remove themselves from the hobby or to just “shut up and deal” with poor treatment because “that’s what it means to be a gamer.” To cope with negative experiences, lady gamers in my study employed a number of strategies to keep themselves safe: gaming only with close friends, not gaming at conventions/game stores, only playing online, not engaging with the community as a whole either online or in person, only playing with other women, and there were a few people who were thinking of leaving the hobby entirely because “things never change,” which is a damn shame.
It’s also upsetting to me that lady gamers need to jump through so many hoops and often choose not to engage in the larger TTRPG community as a self-preservation measure; this means they’re losing out on one of (in my opinion) the best parts about the hobby. These tactics might also explain why people are so quick to say that women don’t game; they’re just not vocal about participation and their opinions because those things often lead to harassment and violence.
4) If You Wanna Grow The Hobby, You Gotta…
Get with my friends! And be inclusive! My eyeballs are gonna bleed if I have to code “less gatekeeping” or “more inclusivity” one more heckin’ time. The end of qualitative coding is in sight but these were by far the most common themes from the “where would you like to see the community go in the future” question and the open-ended response related to current/most recent group comfort. Honestly these things apply to hobbies beyond just TTRPGs; people are reluctant to change and share their thing with other people because then it won’t be “their” thing anymore.
This is especially true if it looks like their thing is becoming mainstream, because being ostracized for being a participant in the thing, is a part of their identity. It’s true that with new people and varied perspectives involved, your thing will, indeed, change, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s different, sure, and it might take some getting used to, but in the end, variety’s the spice of life and there’s going to be more people who enjoy the same thing as you do. Remind me again why we’re still pulling this gatekeeping business?
There’s a lot more to the study than this but I felt like these were some of the big takeaways from it. Fingers crossed, the whole shebang will be coming to an academic journal behind an exorbitant paywall sometime soon. If you want more info on methods or results, I’m happy to talk shop!
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress all under the same convenient handle.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.