Women Who Game

I am reading through the Rules Cyclopedia in short bursts. To the women who were gamers in the 80s through 90s and stuck with it and kept gaming:
I truly salute you. It takes a real love of the game that not many have, to do what you have done. That is, to keep gaming with the wind pushing against you. The language in the Holmes, BECMI and AD&D rule sets is needlessly masculine, and I don’t mean just a little bit and I am not exaggerating “Needlessly“.

 

I am trying to imagine how it would feel if I sat down to a game with a table full of women. Then I read the rules and the entire text was “she” based, my character would be limited based on gender, and I STILL would return for weeks, months or years to play the game. Sometimes even with the men or boys ridiculing me for not “getting it”. I’m slow, but I really am starting to “get ” it. Maybe this article is long overdue from Fail Squad Games.
Women who game TRULY did and do love the game, because you are still here and playing after all this time.

The Authors

Before I continue, I would like to make it clear that this is NOT a personal dig at the original authors of any edition of D&D, BECMI, AD&D. I know many of them and have a deep respect for them as creators of my favorite game, and ultimately my career. I hope they consider this article as a constructive critique if they haven’t changed with the times, and as a sign post to personal growth if they have.

The Excusing Text

In all the old school books like Rules Cyclopedia, BECMI, and AD&D there is a paragraph that reads something like the following (from Rules Cyclopedia):
Pronoun Note
The male pronouns (he, him, his) are used throughout this book. We hope this won’t be interpreted by anyone as an attempt to exclude females from the game or to imply their exclusion. Centuries of use have made these pronouns neutral, and we feel their use provides for clear and concise written text.

As a young teen / preteen reader this made perfect sense to me. I accepted this and never understood why girls or women would feel any twinge of issue with anything about the game. Ok, I could kind of get the chain mail bikini thing, even back then. but hey, images of Elise Gygax sold me the book IN a chain mail bikini!

Was it really THAT bad?

Yeah, it was that bad. As an adult, and an RPG producer in 2018 re reading the text, even I find it distracting as an aging white male. It really is that bad. Come at the text as if you were your daughter reading the book and it sheds a little light on it. Let’s look at a paragraph, there are so many, but I’ll just pick ONE. Rules Cyclopedia page 7

A Magic user is a character who wields magic. He has little or nothing in the way of fighting ability,  and in the early part of his career he has little in the way of magical ability either. But as he gains  in experience, he becomes a powerful character and can wield powerful spells. The magic user’s prime requisite is his intelligence.

For that one paragraph a masculine tense is used SIX times. there are only 61 words in that paragraph! Only the very first sentence doesn’t reference the magic user being male. This paragraph isn’t a cherry picked exception in the book. It’s a standard example of the text.

I know what you are thinking, “Oh dammit! another article by a ‘Social Justice Warrior'” or some such crap. Please, stop right there. This is an article by a long time gamer and a publisher of games and most importantly a DAD to a young woman who likes to game. I am writing this article mostly as a father, secondly as an author, and thirdly as someone who wants everyone to game at my table.

So how do you fix that?

I wanted to write, but the texts I read with the gender pronouns seemed the only logical way to build a sentence. When I first started writing in the genre, I recalled those excusing paragraphs, but something didn’t sit quite right. There were growing pains in the gaming world and a number of solutions came up.

  • Use she instead of he everywhere. [The same issue but in reverse. this just feels like vengeance]
  • Use he / she [ ok but clumsy to type and read. What about those who are neither?]
  • Use he in one instance, then she in the next. [Yeah, this happened around the 3.0 – 3.5 days and it is AWFUL to read and confusing as hell!]
  • Use they or proper nouns or reword the sentence to not need a gender. [This is the Fail Squad Games fix and many other OSR publishers are getting on board]

So how would the sentence above read if published in a Fail Squad Games module today?

A Magic User is a character who wields magic. They have little or nothing in the way of fighting ability and in the early part of their career have little in the way of magical ability either. But as the magic user gains  in experience, they become a powerful character and wield powerful spells. The magic user’s prime requisite is intelligence.

It takes about 15 minutes of thinking when you first start writing this way. It makes more sense, the text actually reads smoother when written this way. It is more “clear and concise written text.” The Game master is either “GM, they, their”. Why assume he/his/him at all? After about 1,000 words in, this is the natural way to write and when you read gendered text it’s almost painful. I cringe when I see new authors in the RPG genre writing this way.

Characters with a gender are of course referred to as their gender in the game, it’s a simple, easy thing to do that makes your product better.

Helmets off to the Women

All through this, there are women who loved the game so much, they let this slide. Even when the rules set their maximum strength less than their male counterparts. I always found this troubling and in poor design even as a teen player.

Here’s to you for sticking with the hobby. Here’s to you for gaming through in an instance where, if the tables were reversed, I doubt many – if any-  men would be left standing. I salute your strength of character. I salute you for your love of the game and some who changed perceptions from the inside out. I also humbly apologize for anything you have endured to get here. I love BECMI, truly love the game. I love AD&D, all its authors, artists and contributors. I don’t like this one aspect of it and what it has done.  It was absolutely not necessary to write this way. It is my job as an inheritor of the hobby to fix it.

I will still play the games. I will ALSO continue to produce gaming supplements for the old systems and their clones. I WON’T be using that language in any Fail Squad Games product. I hope I can invite those who aren’t on board, to get on board. You’re on a sinking ship if you think you MUST write he, him, his a half-dozen times in a brief paragraph of 60 words.

What this Isn’t

This isn’t the chain mail bikini debate. I know Tarzan, Conan, Red Sonja, and Caldwell’s babes. This is a pronoun debate. A simple change in literary thinking that improves our hobby as a whole. As a young reader, I didn’t realize what this does to a line of thinking. As an adult dad, I do. As they say in Goonies, “This is OUR TIME! Down here!”

This is OUR time. We are inheriting this hobby from the previous generation. it’s time to fix this. With a couple of minutes of thought, any text can be written without the he, his, him bit. I don’t care that it was used my Shakespeare, Defoe, or any others for centuries. It’s not an excuse to use it now. It’ REALLY is not an excuse to purposefully use it in a hobby that wants to be inclusive. If anything, gaming incorporates the disenfranchised and this language should be something that our hobby leads the way in changing.

I welcome your comments below. If you think you must write with gender *fight me* I’ll rewrite your example text.

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8 Comments on “Women Who Game

  1. In the new edition of Bunnies & Burrows we are using the arbitrary “he” or “she” throughout, and it feels pretty natural to do so. As we near completion, we intend to do a global pronoun count, so we can go back and do a little balancing if necessary. We’ve tried to avoid any suggestion that one gender or another is assumed for a certain profession (class). Admittedly, there are more human genders than are covered by just these two pronouns, but for the rabbit world they seem to suffice.

  2. I prefer the use of “they”, as you do, Lloyd. I know that I will suffer the slings and arrows of grammarians more pedantic than I am, but so be it.

  3. Yeah that’s the fix I prefer. Alternating genders of examples is fine too, as long as a give passage is consistent. I noticed the same problem with 3e stuff being confusing because they’d alternate pronouns within a passage.

  4. As somebody pointed out, “they” in this instance is grammatically incorrect. There’s noting really pedantic about correct grammar; it is what it is. “They” is a plural pronoun that doesn’t match the singular antecedent. The better way to write this would be to make the antecedent plural, too (change the magic user antecedent to magic users and fix the verbs accordingly).

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