This week I'm not doing all the writing. Why am I not doing all the writing? In part because I decided to paint, and if you know how my brain works you know that because I started painting I had to buy a new dresser, and a new light fixture...and probably some new sheets...
And you see where this is going, right?
Also, last week's conversation about the sexism I witnessed at Alliance Open House resulted in some stories, so today, I'm sharing stories.
Read quietly, and then promise that when you witness behavior like this you won't sit quietly anymore.
I have to say, I have not experienced much sexism whilst gaming. Maybe it’s being around the right group of people, or maybe I’m too naïve to notice that sexist behavior is actually occurring. Either way, there are only a handful of times where I have been called out or mistreated solely because of my gender.
When seated around the gaming table, you should only have to worry about is how you are going to run away with the victory—not another player blurting out some rude or offensive comment that leaves you feeling disparaged and them looking like a total ass. I have read about a fair share of sexist behavior around the gaming table, but have not experienced a ton myself. There have been comments shared that I admittedly have brushed off as innocent. However, looking back, I was only contributing to the problem.
Here’s an example: During a casual game of X-wing, a friend of mine and I found ourselves in a bind. The next move we made had to be perfect or else the Empire would take the win. I had the strategy laid out, it was unpredictable and crazy enough to work. I shared my plan with my teammate and prepared to set our ships for their next move. As I reached for the dials my teammate shared these fine words: “I’m going with the man’s decision,” and proceeded to execute his strategy. I couldn’t believe the doltish thought that escaped his mouth. Naturally, we were defeated after that big play.
(Shared with us anonymously.)
At a distributor show last year, the announcement rang out that the exhibit hall was closing and all of the weary publishers began organizing components back into boxes, rolling up banners, folding tablecloths, and gathering promotional materials. The smell of cardboard and adhesive from the packing tape began to fill the room. I stood over our new game, bagging the parts and pieces, when a retailer I’d never met came over to ask me about the game. It seemed a little unusual to wait that long, but I straightened up and spoke what I hoped was enthusiastically about the game play. I noticed he was watching only my face and not the game I was gesturing to as I explained the theme and mechanics. When I finished, he touched my arm and complimented my appearance. I thanked him, handed him a catalog, made some closing statements about the game, and stepped away to resume packing up the booth.
He slowly looked through the catalog and when we were leaving the hall asked if his store could be added to the store locator on our website. I said sure, if he had a business card, I would add his information after the show. At this point, we were walking down the corridor. He patted his pockets, said that he had left his cards in his car, and asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting for him to get one. I said I wouldn’t mind and stopped near the restrooms while he jogged toward the entrance of the hotel and out into the parking lot. Minutes went by, and friends were passing by, joking about me waiting by the restroom when there was no line, inviting me to the bar. I laughed and said I would be right there.
He finally returned and apologized for taking so long. He said he couldn’t find his business cards but that he had his contact information in his phone, if I wouldn’t mind adding it to my phone. I said sure, and we both pulled out our phones and swiped to unlock them. My home screen popped up innocuously. But on his screen was the unmistakable photo of an erect penis.
His reaction seemed to be swift embarrassment. He pulled the phone away, apologizing profusely, holding his hand over his mouth, and stepping away. I didn’t care. I was tired, unsuspicious, and goal-oriented. I just wanted to get his store information for the store locator and get to the bar. “It’s OK,” I said, trying to get him to stop reacting emotionally, “Mistakes happen.” He finally calmed down enough for me to get the store address and phone number entered into my phone. He apologized again and asked if he could get my business contact information, which for me is also my personal cell number. I was a little uncomfortable with that given his odd behavior up to that point, but I decided to go ahead because it’s what I would give any other retailer wanting to conduct business. We shook hands and parted ways.
About 30 minutes later, I was in the bar, relaxing, joking, and drinking with friends when I felt someone watching me from across the room. He was sitting at a table by himself, and when I looked over, he waved for me to join him. I shook my head no but smiled a little so as not to seem too rude. The rest of the night, I avoided looking in that direction but could hear text messages pinging away on my phone. I didn’t read them until I was in my room. He had been trying to get me to drink with him.
At the warehouse the next day, he slid up behind me and whispered something in my ear as he walked by. I have no idea what it was, but I spent the rest of the show making sure I was never alone and never in the same aisle with him. All I wanted was to be home.
When I did get home, I recounted the uncomfortable situation to my husband, who was irate. I hadn’t fully realized how manipulative the retailer’s actions were until I explained them and wasn’t on the receiving end in real time anymore. I’m generally level-headed and not prone to letting emotional reactions overwhelm my logic. I like to deal factually and effectively with problems, and I was getting upset with my husband’s insistence I do something further about what had happened.
In my view, the harassment or fumbling attempt at an inappropriate seduction was over. I was safe, nothing more to be done. And I didn’t want anyone else’s judgment about how I handled the event, then or afterward. It was all my choice. I no more wanted to feel compelled to act by my husband, as though I were his property and not my own agent, as I wanted anyone else’s opinion to affect my actions.
Then I started to wonder if this could be a pattern of behavior. How many other women had been or would be targeted sexually by this guy while trying to work? How many of those women would feel the power dynamic working against them as a publisher’s representative courting the retailer’s business? I decided the distributor needed to know, to add this story to any others or to start a record and be on guard.
The representatives for the distributor took it very seriously, apologized that I had been in that situation at their function, and took steps to prevent such behavior from occurring again to me or anyone else. This is the worst sexist thing I’ve encountered in the industry, and I felt capable of handling it. Furthermore, I trusted the power structure to respond appropriately, and it did. There have been smaller instances of sexism, usually a retailer or a gamer lacking confidence in my ability to demo a game to them, until I do. Generally speaking, I have felt valued and respected by both men and women in this industry and hope that I can help all people feel as accepted. We’ve got a great community that’s growing bigger and better every year.
(Shared with us anonymously.)
In my late teens I started attending gaming conventions and quickly fell in love with a collectible card game (that shall remain nameless). I threw myself in and enjoyed playing at events and tournaments, but one stands out in my memory. All the competitors were great. We had fun, we smack talked each other endlessly, and a friend of mine won the event. The prize: a special printing of an existing card featuring a full-frontal topless woman.
This was institutional sexism at its worst. This card required weeks or months of forethought and planning: purchasing artwork, doing a special print run, and distribution across the country. Tone at the top matters. This company said if you win our tournament your prize is an exposed chick. Full Stop.
This was the early 2000's, not 1975. I knew right then and there, this game company didn't care if I played. They didn't care if I won. They certainly did not expect either. Their tournament prize spoke for them; who they thought was going to play their game and who was going to be good at it. Talk about a self fulfilling prophesy. Enough time has elapsed now that the people running that company could have a daughter the same age I was when I played their tournament. And that card is still around, still representing them and their company.
(Shared with us anonymously.)
I’ve been working in this industry for just about three years now. Doing so has brought an enormous amount of joy and fulfillment to my life. However, it has also given me numerous eye-opening experiences in regards to how women are treated in casual and professional environments.
I’ll share a couple moments that happened in my “gamer” life instead of my “professional” life in the industry. I don’t know which life is worse, since the professional experiences are more muted (we are all trying to be professional!), but here it goes.
I was attending an open warehouse event hosted by a prominent war-game publisher. It was my first time there and, while I expected there to be more men than women attending, I was surprised to see that I was one of only three women in a crowd of sixty.
Nonetheless, I started setting up a WWII-based game with the friends I came with. One of the various game designers also attending the event approached our table and watched us as we set up.
After a few moments, I acknowledged and smiled at this man who was standing almost too close to me for comfort. Then came the question I’d so often made fun of: “So did your boyfriend get you into gaming?”
“Well… yeah, I guess so.”
He nodded, standing there with his arms crossed. “Would you say it’s more the rules or conflict that make strategy difficult for you?”
Excuse you? Why was I being interrogated? Why were none of these questions directed toward the guys playing with me? There was the potential for a productive and enjoyable conversation if these questions weren’t aggressively pointed at me exclusively.
On the last day of the same event, my group sat down with a different designer to playtest an upcoming game. It was a multi-hour game, focused on territory control and direct player conflict. Over three hours, we all learned how to play and tested the limits of the game mechanics. Some rules were complicated, but the designer was attentive and answered all of our clarifying questions.
We stopped after three hours, only halfway through the game, because the warehouse event was officially over and all the employees were kicking us out. Like the committed gamers we are, we stood around and chatted about how the game went - admiring the best strategies, remembering awesome moments, and giving the designer feedback.
At one point, the designer turned to me and exclaimed, “And you! You were brilliant! So intelligent for a woman. I mean, you even read the cards!”
Well, then. That immediately changed my perception of how the past three hours went. Was he judging me every time I asked a rules question? Did he begin the game expecting me to lose? It turned out my impression of him as a personable, encouraging figure was entirely incorrect.
I went back to the next event six months later, but there was only one other woman there that time.
Danni Loe-Sterphone is the Sales Manager at IELLO. She always plays with the green player pieces and her favorite games include Through the Ages and Agricola, even though there is card text (gasp!).
We're going to stop here for this week, but as I read each of these I became sad, and angry, and in some cases, shocked. I couldn't believe that this behavior exists, and then I got angry at myself, because when I thought about it I've been a witness to it, and now looking back I'm ashamed of how I reacted when I was a witness. I'm unwilling to give up this fight, but also don't want it to be the only thing we're talking about here. So, I'll continue to share these stories, depending on the length of the topic that I want to discuss, and we'll all continue to think about how crappy this behavior is and we'll do two things.
First, we'll work to make sure that we are never guilty of these behaviors in our interactions with anyone.
Second, we'll call people out on their shit. I will no longer be a silent witness, and I hope you won't be either.
Next week we're going to talk about a publisher sales mechanism that drives me more than a little nutty and, in my opinion, contributes to the devaluation of product in our industry. I love my publishing partners, but we're going to talk about this one little thing that annoys the heck out of me...