EDITOR'S NOTE: Buy Rat Queens, pictured here. It is amazing.
If I had a dollar for every time a fellow nerd’s jaw hit the floor when The Heavy Metal GM said that he has not one, but TWO women at his 13th Age game table every week, I would be a very rich lady. Before you ask, no, I’m not there just because I’m his significant other, I’m there because I am a Very Scary Murder Hobo Cleric (patent pending) who is damn good at her job, and because I genuinely enjoy playing the game. People are usually pretty quick to complain that they can never get female players to stick around for very long, so I decided to write up some pointers for doing so.
I’m writing this with the assumption that you want women at your table to balance out your game, not because you want to get into their pants; if your interest is in the latter, move along, this is not the article droid you’re looking for. These tips are also pretty universal, but ladies appreciate them! Also – creeps come in every gender, and I’m using “that guy” as a gender neutral term.
1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T FIND OUT WHAT IT MEANS TO ME~!
Simple stuff like not talking over people, listening to their ideas & taking them into account, not invading the personal space bubble, no making fun of someone’s IRL race/gender/sexual orientation/religion/national origin, no name calling (unless you know them well and they can take some friendly ribbing)… you know, the stuff you were supposed to learn in kindergarten? That goes a super long way with anyone, and especially with women. Everyone’s guilty of breaking these rules every now and again, but making a habit of it can be really detrimental for GM & player morale.
2. DON’T BE THAT GUY.
“That guy” is the usually well-meaning but still kinda creepy nerd that usually sets off what I like to call the “Spidey sense” and makes women want to run for the hills. This is usually accomplished by that guy staring at certain parts of a person’s body for a bit too long, making an off-hand rape joke (side note: not cool, at all, ever, lose 1,000,000 trust points from every woman in the group), spending a bit too much time describing their character’s sexual exploits in the brothel… you get the picture.
Usually people like this are just a little socially awkward and don’t really mean any harm, but as predators are everywhere, you do get some people who know exactly what they’re doing and get their jollies from making other people uncomfortable. If you realize you have been unintentionally engaging in That Guy behaviors, an apology to those affected will go a long way.
3. DON’T LET OTHER PEOPLE AT YOUR TABLE BE THAT GUY
If you see someone engaging in That Guy behaviors, CALL THEM ON IT. A simple: “hey, that’s not cool” about a remark made in front of the entire group or taking someone aside to tell them not to stare at another player’s bits is usually enough to curb it without anyone’s ego getting too bruised.
If you as the GM notice another player becoming uncomfortable, it’s your responsibility to ask them what’s up (privately is usually best) – your job is making sure everyone is having fun. A lot of people (myself included) are loathe to bring issues up to the GM, particularly if they’re the newest player in the group, and especially if they think complaining about another player’s behavior will lead to them being booted from the group. If one player is making someone else uncomfortable, talk to them about it – and if they don’t behave, it’s time to boot ‘em. Respect for your fellow players is important, & if Joe/Jane Schmoe doesn’t have it, then they’re not worth playing with.
4. HAVE A SYSTEM IN PLACE FOR PEOPLE TO STOP THE ACTION & REWIND IF SOMETHING THAT’S HAPPENING IS “SQUICKY” OR TRIGGERING.
“Squicky” is something that I believe was originally coined within the fanfic community (I believe it’s a conjunction of squeamish and icky), but refers to stuff that’s really aversive and uncomfortable for someone but isn’t a trigger. So, for me, something squicky would be animal abuse. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for me to think about and I’d rather it not pop up in any games that I play, particularly if I’m in no position to stop it. I have a hard enough time killing basilisks (even after being forced to make last gasp saves because I tried to pet one and it tried to end me), all right?!
By triggers, I mean, real, actual triggers for people with real, actual PTSD (which is really, really common, as in 8,585,500 people according to the 2014 US census and data from NIMH). Triggers are something that remind a person of their traumatic event, and can make it feel like they are re-experiencing that event, with a whole host of psychological and physical symptoms. Since these are supposed to be short, you get my nutshell opinions on triggers & I’m not going to give you the long as heck list of symptoms that can occur during an episode; you want more nuanced stuff, you know where to find me.
TL;DR version: it’s not a joke, mental health stigma makes talking about these things way harder than it needs to be, the whole point of playing games is to have a respite from the real world and have fun, being triggered is the exact opposite of that, capisci? DO NOT give that person a hard time, back that action train up, reroute, and move along.
5. ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE GOING TO SCREW UP.
You are going to hurt people at your table. This is a fact of life, and it’s okay! We all make mistakes. As long as you’re learning from them, it’s all good. Admitting that you done goofed can be difficult, and your first response is often trying to defend yourself; usually along the lines of “it was just a joke!” But, here’s the deal: one, you need to know your audience before making those types of jokes (i.e. I’m fine with inserting the GAAAY seal gif everywhere even though I’m queer, but someone else might not find it very amusing). Two, there is no such thing as “just a joke”
Humor is used to define in and out groups and if you’re making a joke at the expense of the demographic characteristics of a person, then you’re making it seem like you accept the –ism that goes along with that. (TL;DR version from someone who’s an expert on this: https://twitter.com/5thcircappeals/status/763098172633657344; this guy’s actual dissertation on this topic: http://jsse.revues.org/406) The best thing to do is bite your tongue when you get the urge to defend yourself, apologize (“Hey; I’m really sorry I made that joke; I didn’t realize that it would be hurtful to you, I’ll try to be more mindful in the future”), actually mean it, move on, and try to be better next time.
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.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.