February 9th, 2018

dungeons & discourse // not your healer.

Is anyone really surprised that gatekeeping is alive and well in the tabletop gaming community?

An all-female, actual play DnD podcast I follow, The Broadswords, retweeted the meme screencap on the left with the comment “Can we vomit any harder?” Of course, as soon as it was retweeted more than, like, five times, male gamers came out to question, “hey, what’s with all the hate?”

As many females who have played MMOs or tabletop games can attest, we are often relegated (see also: forced) to the role of healer. Usually this happens without an explicit conversation, it’s just (whoops!) the only spot left or it’s incorrectly assumed that the female player wants this role. This hierarchy of female healers and male tanks is an ongoing joke in the lady-gaming community — it’s a stereotype, but, it’s one that male players seem to assume we aspire toward. A cursory browse of a WoW forum post on the topic brought me to this (male-given) explanation for the phenomenon: “Well im a guy and in my personal opinion or my state of mind if you will, i think it might be because that girls have a ‘mother/protective’ like instinct to nurse or take care of others.” The following replies were mostly slight variations of: “motherly nurturing instinct? the lack of a primal destructive competitive edge for DPS,” ” tanking is ‘too much pressure,'” “mother instinct,” ” I think it is a “power/control” issue,” and, my personal favorite, “DPS on the other hand is very competitive. Your worth is measured in numbers. Girls don’t particularly like that.”  (all grammatical errors have been preserved for posterity)

Personally, I have never enjoyed playing a healer, but I’ve never enjoyed tanking either. I have always tended toward damage dealers or DPS (monk in FFXI / XIV and ranger in DnD), but many male players in my linkshell or gaming groups have asked if I could also level white mage / healer, basically because they didn’t want to — the underlying message being: it’s a girl’s job. And it’s hard to DPS alone, so I generally needed the support of a party or group. In the end, I usually quit due to the frustration of not being taken seriously.

I still see a lot of gatekeeping, in tabletop gaming especially. For example, there was a DnD group I was playing in — five males, who were fairly experienced players, two females, who were newer — and the other female player was essentially boxed out for being too “normie.” So, how can female players ever be expected to learn the game and improve if the barrier to admittance is already knowing the game? If they are too “normie” to be given a chance in the first place? Her voice was essentially silenced and she just wasn’t invited back after two sessions. In retrospect, I wish I had spoken up for her, but I too was new and didn’t want to rock to the boat.

I had a similar experience playing FFXIV where I went into a boss fight without (gasp!) watching a YouTube play through first, so I had no idea what to do. I was unaware that you were supposed to already know how to beat the monster before you’d ever actually encountered it. My linkshell mates (all male) kept yelling at me and interrupting me over chat. So, what I had assumed would be fun, turned out to be a very negative experience, resulting in them telling me I needed to watch more YouTube videos if I was going to play with them again. One must be omniscient, apparently. This experience was the impetus for my leaving the linkshell, and eventually the game itself.

I still have issues with being interrupted while gaming, usually during DnD when I am trying to have a character moment in-game. Players cut in with OOC questions, directing a query at the DM who is engaging me, specifically, in a scene. It annoys me to no end because I feel like my character moments and choices are overshadowed by others’, seemingly more imperative, needs. It’s not a gaming deal-breaker for me, but I don’t like being the only one who constantly has to repeat herself because no one was listening. (Sidenote: as a teacher, I get interrupted enough at my job. I don’t want to constantly deal with being talked over in my personal life too.) This thread on Reddit (it’s about 2 years old, but still applicable) about being a female DM and dealing with interruptions provides two potential solutions for such a scenario. Option A: “name, I’m explaining something right now, I need you to stop talking until I’ve finished with other name‘s situation so they can make the best choice.” Option B: “You are busy talking and don’t notice a battle axe tied to the tree in front of you.” I prefer Option B.

The group I DM for now is all male — with a twist — I run the table. They are also almost all new players and I am a newer DM — which is fun because the game feels low-stakes and convivial most of the time. No one is more “hardcore” than anyone else. We are all learning and making a few mistakes as we go. Although I was nervous to the point of nausea the first time, we have a good groove going and they are quite respectful toward both me, my role as DM, the story, and one another (well, OOC, the barbarian has some separate issues — haha). Plus, I love story-telling and developing weird, esoteric characters who inhabit my rather in-depth worlds — I never would have had the opportunity to experience this role and develop a passion for it if my partner hadn’t encouraged me to take a leap and become a DM.

To circle back to the meme itself, I am lucky enough to have a partner who is also my DM, and brought me into his group because he genuinely loves me and wants us to spend more time together. Some of the male players suggested I needed an interview beforehand, but he shot that down and said I was nerd enough for all of them. So, this Valentine’s Day, I feel lucky to be both the most important person in his life and his damage-dealing ranger who can speak to hawks. Suck it, gender stereotypes!