DBAD! Gatekeeping and Exclusion in Table Top Gaming

 

On January 21st , Mike Mearls Posted a tweet that stated “Funny how many of the same ‘fans’ who insist on gatekeeping via rules complexity and lore density also have a problem with women in tabletop gaming. Hey guys! You’re fired from D&D. Find another game.” Many of Mike’s followers took this to mean that the same people who hate on new players because they aren’t “playing the right version” are also the same people who think women have no place at the table, essentially saying that both of these viewpoints come from the same genre of asshattery.

Recently a YouTube channel, “The Quartering,” posted a video entitled “DnD Creator Claims Women Are Too Stupid To Play,” where the speaker speaks about this tweet. The implication of this video was that “Mike Mearls was trying to say that you can’t have a complex game that women will play or that 5E is simpler in order to attract women who would normally be put off by complexity. He goes on to imply that Mike Mearls is just trying to be a “Social Justice Warrior,” and how he hates social justice culture. He attacks Mr. Mearls’s degree from Dartmouth because it’s “just a Geography degree,” as well as points out that Hogwarts is not a real school just in case anyone watching his channel didn’t already know this. He attempts to discredit Mr. Mearls and does a sincerely bad job at it.

As I was researching for this article I came across information about “The Quartering” that exposed that this creator simply exists to troll people and has been viciously trying to attack multiple Wizards of the Coast communities such as D&D and M:TG ever since he received a DCI ban for questionable behaviors. I have chosen not to reveal that behavior in my blog because I personally don’t think that this person is worth our time but I will tell you that about 5 minutes with Google will give you all the information you need. Upon finding out this info, I questioned whether it was worth writing a rebuttal at all. I didn’t want to give up the attention so badly craved by responding but, another part of my research led me to interviewing many women and non-binary gamers about gatekeeping in general as well as exclusion based on gender in the TTRPG world. With the responses I received, I wanted to make sure the information was put out there. I’m not going to add much to the responses to the questions I sent out below.  I’ve chosen to use code names as I don’t want to invite other readers to harass these contributors.

         1. What system do you primarily play?

Jester: I play a variety of systems. Most of my regularly occurring games (Wednesdays, two irregular Sunday campaigns, a potential Saturday campaign) are in 5e, but I also have 1+ year of experience with Dungeon World.

Goose: I primarily don’t play DnD but I started gaming with 4th edition. I’m mostly playing a lot of Ben Lehman’s Polaris (not the French cyberpunk one, the other one), some Firebrands, and a bit of 5e in pick up games now and then.

2. Have you ever been made to feel unwelcome at a public table because of your gender?

Jester: I have only ever played online with friends. I live in the middle of nowhere, and so have not had the chance to play in person since I started playing regularly. I have been in situations when there was a *possibility* of playing at a public table – when I was younger, i.e: in high school – but I always declined doing so, because the people who were playing (all men) had attitudes that were either creepy or directly hostile to women. I’m talking casual jokes about women only being good for sex, describing female characters only in terms of the size of their breasts and how scanty their clothing was, rape-“jokes”, etc. I didn’t feel safe with them.

Viper: Not at a public table, no. But I have had an experience walking into a store where I was made to feel unwelcome because of my gender.

Goose: I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable at a public table because of my gender (or perception of my gender as female). It’s really uncomfortable to be the only non guy at a table, especially in an unfamiliar situation. I’ve been made to feel unwelcome because of misgendering despite me clearly stating my pronouns. It’s something where when you show up to the table you feel like you have to know everything or you’re going to be kicked out.

3. If so, were the offenders male?

Jester: Yes. While women and non-binary people aren’t exempt from the possibility of being creepy and gatekeeping, the people who have made me feel unwelcome in geek spaces have, in my experience, invariably been male. As a contrast, all of the women and non-binary people *I* have encountered in this hobby have been welcome and inclusionary and WANTING to get more people into the hobby.

Goose: Yes.

4. Did rules complexity ever come up in this situation?

Jester: Sometimes it has, yes. When I started playing in 2016, it was with good people who were patient and good at explaining rules and such, and it was no problem then. But prior to this (i.e: college and earlier – I’m turning 30 this year), the “oh, you wouldn’t understand” excuse has been used repeatedly to keep me shut out. Both in terms of rpg rule-systems and lore. No attempt at explaining was ever done; it was mostly just casual dismissals.

Goose: It hasn’t directly but I’m always afraid that it’s going to. I’m not great at remembering all of the rules of games with a lot of mechanics like DnD, especially because it’s not the game I primarily play. I’m much more of a story person than a rules person. I’ve definitely gotten frustrated and gone quiet in games where the rules hadn’t been clearly explained and more experienced people at the table were shouting down my ideas.

5. How do you personally feel about the tweet in question from Mike Mearls?

Jester:  feel Mearls has a solid point, because as *I* read it, his point isn’t that women are too stupid to understand; it’s that people *assume* women are too stupid to understand, and therefore don’t even bother trying to include them.

Viper: I think that the tweet from Mike Mearls was very timely. I think that many people, unfortunately, men, fall back on rules complexity as a way to keep women out of their hobby. It’s an easy way to scare people and try to defend their excuse.

Maverick: Real talk, I couldn’t make it through five minutes of that video. I think it’s a stretch to say Mike Mearls’ tweet is saying women are too dumb for D&D. But although I think his heart is in the right place with this tweet, he sure could have worded it differently. Rules complexity and lore density are not a problem for women in particular. Those are problems for any new players. I think it’s OK to want a game to be complex because mastering the rules and the lore is part of what makes it fun. But people should also be willing to help others get involved, and that willingness shouldn’t be limited to just helping straight white men.

Goose: I think it’s fine. He’s making a point about how making games more accessible to people who aren’t usually seen in gaming circles is making the people who like DnD because it’s a rules and strategy heavy boys club angry. He’s not saying “Now that I’ve dumbed down 5e, women can play”. He’s saying “Now that DnD is easier to understand, more people, including women, are going to play, and gatekeepers should find something else to do with their time.” I started with 4e and I absolutely hated it. I still don’t like 5e but I know that it’s a lot easier to follow and to play than 4e was and I feel much more comfortable in it even though I haven’t been playing it as long.

6. How do you feel about people who degrade players of newer versions of a game because they believe that the rules are not complex enough and that somehow new players are inferior to them?

Jester: They’re garbage. That’s the kindest thing I can say about it. Degrading people for *not knowing something* is garbage behaviour, especially when it’s something as niche as rpgs. That newer editions of D&D are more accessible is a *good* thing, because it ensures the broader popularity of the hobby, which is good for *everyone*. You’re not an inferior player because you’re using a more accessible system – or even a system that isn’t D&D. This is a *roleplaying game*, right? It’s not about how hard the rules are: it’s about going on imaginary adventures with your friends. Choose whatever system helps you do that best, *whichever system that might be*.

Viper: I hate this. I hate it so much. It’s like they forget that they too were new! I have only been playing DND for a year now and haven’t had a chance to play older versions. That doesn’t make me less of a player or doesn’t mean that I enjoy the game any less. Older versions should be respected, but so should newer versions. 5E has made it so much easier for new players to come into the game because it’s easier to just pick up and play and people should respect that.

Maverick: I think it’s childish to mock other people for doing something they enjoy. Geek culture is so varied and diverse, there’s room for everyone here. As someone who has played through a progression of systems, I’ll say that each system has its good side and bad side, but I enjoyed them all. The progression to 5th Edition D&D feels like it lends itself to more time spent in the story and less time doing weird math in your head. I mean, THAC0 calculations created more pause in gameplay than they were worth in my opinion. And it’s possible that people who have walked through those systems can look at 5th Edition and say, “Wow, that’s way too easy.” But it’s still a really complex game. Cut people some slack.

7. Have you ever experienced the above? And if so was gender brought into this.

Jester: Yes. I have occasionally gotten caught up in debates (and I’m using that word lightly) with people who insist that 5e has somehow “ruined” the game. And I have certainly encountered attitudes that dismissed me for being a woman who “only got into it” because 5e is easy.

Viper: I’ve had people make comments that seem a bit sly, that perhaps I should try other versions before making judgments. Thankfully I have never felt that gender played a part.

8. What are some issues that you have experienced in table top gaming that you believe are based on your gender.

Jester: I have walked into gaming stores and found every single person in there staring at me. I’ve had people assume that the things I’m buying – rulebooks, dice, etc., – are presents for someone else (a brother, a boyfriend, etc., etc. – anyone who is not me). I’ve had people assume that I don’t know the rules when I mention I play something. I’ve had endless variations of “Um, ACTUALLY”‘s directed at me over a dozen different things. Assumptions that I haven’t read the Player’s Handbook. Assumptions that I don’t know what half-orcs/tieflings/dragonborns/warlocks are REALLY like. I’ve even had people tell me that my stuff is “cute” but it’s not like it’s “REALLY D&D, you know?”. This is an attitude that exists in all kinds of nerdy spaces, by the way: as a woman voicing an interest in nerdy things (comics, video games, tabletop rpgs, etc.), I have been the target of random marriage proposals and inappropriate sexual comments from male nerds just for mentioning my interest in games. I’ve been told by people that they can’t BELIEVE I know stuff about this, because I’m a GIRL – and that’s not subtext. It’s been literally said, sometimes online and sometimes in person, that my being a woman is what is boggling their minds. I’ve had to listen to, and watch, Neanderthal men in this hobby (and in comics, and in video games, and in so many places) insist that women are rare in this hobby just because they don’t get it/just aren’t into this kind of thing/don’t have brains equipped to deal with the complexities of the hobby – when we’ve always been here. We’ve always been gaming, we’ve always been drawing and reading comics. It’s just that we’ve been doing it in our own corners, because men have made us feel unwelcome, or even unsafe.

Viper: I have seen and had, personally to me, men speak over me in instances where I’ve been on advice panels. I dont think that it’s intentional, which in some ways feels worse to me. I feel like some men think that they just have to be louder or that they have to correct things that I say, even if it’s the same exact thing. I have also experienced uncomfortable jokes made at the expense of my gender. I’m lucky in that, at my tables I’m playing with friends and people I trust so I’m sure that it’s not intentional, but it’s still hurtful that some people think that even as a friend jokes at the expense of my gender can be made.

Maverick: In my first game, there was always the sense that I was “the girl.” No one said it out loud, but I was in a room with a lot of older guys who had been playing for years, and here I was 17 years old playing a bard, stumbling over the math and tearing up when my character hit zero HP. I was lucky that they were all nice about it and willing to help. But I kind of felt like a burden, or like I was only allowed there because of my boyfriend. That may have been me projecting, but I can’t be sure. I’ve been very careful since then to not be the only female at the table. Every group from then to now has been a good mix of gender, and in most of them I was experienced enough to help others understand the rules.

Goose: A lot of the issues I have are just that I get misgendered and I get perceived as female which means that either I’m afraid to speak up and ask questions or I feel like if I do ask questions that I’m slowing everyone down. It’s something that I’m trying to get over but it’s hard to get over the fact that I still feel like I don’t belong at the table sometimes, especially if the table is comprised of men. And I match the stereotype of “non-man who doesn’t know how to game shows up and asks a bunch of dumb questions” and that makes me feel bad because I know there are women and non-binary people out there who know DnD like the back of their hand. I’m just not one of them and it’s frustrating to feel like you have to be exceptional to play a game. And I know it’s a thing that a lot of men don’t think about in terms of making their games welcoming to people. It means a lot to say that your game is friendly to inexperienced gamers. It means a lot to have people introduce themselves with their pronouns and to make sure that people respect those pronouns.

 

 

Now I can never say that the above opinions and experiences are the same as every non-male gamer or that this is the norm in every public gaming environment. What I can say is that if four people who have never met or talked to each other before have had similar experiences, there could be a problem. Now I’ve always loved the D&D community for how it makes everyone feel welcome and included and its ability to bring people together over a love of adventure. Most of the people reading this blog are probably completely innocent of the above issues. My suggestion for those who are would be to just be aware that it exists and to strive to build a community of inclusion and as for those who aren’t so innocent… ask yourself what it is that makes you want to keep other people out of your hobby that is constantly growing.

 

I’d like to extend a special thank you to all of the people who helped me gather information for this article.

What do you think? Send your questions to chaoticgeekyblog@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at @ChaoticGeeky

 

 

 

 

 

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