Women in Gaming: Unanswered Questions

New from Girls Workshop comes the all-new Hello Kitty line in the 40k universe.

Hello Kitty spoof of Warhammer 40K poster art

Joking aside, I was browsing through gaming articles and this one popped up. It brought up a lot of questions I have about the industry and hobby, namely, is there still an issue with the ol’ boy’s club in regards to gaming?

The article talked about a woman who was not only a wargamer but owned a miniatures hobbyist shop but whenever she went to conventions or meetups, she was bombarded by the same questions like, “Are you here to see your dad?”. 

The idea that she was a player was constantly overlooked or didn’t even register to her fellow wargamers. 

As a male, I did some self-reflection to see how I felt about the situation. In my younger years and definitely in a pre-Covid world, I was a socially awkward kid playing some games and geeking out.

I often went to ComicCon and conventions and ran around dressed up in really bad cosplay. I could fit in easily and didn’t have to justify my existence every 5 minutes…at the time nerdom wasn’t as mainstream as it is today. 

How awful would it be to show up to a gathering of peers and still feel like an outcast or other?

This begs the question, Is there still a lack of female gamers in the industry? If so, why?

Where are the ladies?

I can only speak from my experience, but during my travels as an ex-pat, I’ve met quite a few gamers all over the world, and (so far) there honestly seems to be a fair mix. The only real constant is the impossibility of getting a full party of D&D players together for a regular game as my fellow perma-DM and blogger knows. 

Again this is my own personal experience and communities are as varied and numerous as grains of sand. The last year or so has mostly been informal meetups, as major conventions and large gatherings were rather frowned upon in 2020 and beyond, so I can’t speak for the industry on a grander scale. 

At board game meetups in my youth, there was always at least one girl that loved tabletop games but… was also usually the girlfriend of the host — another stereotype in the gaming world. It’s the idea that women aren’t necessarily true gamers and that they’re only there because of their significant other. 

Looking at two experiences 20+ years apart, there are definitely more women in the meetups and gaming groups that I frequent now, but that definitely wasn’t always the case. 

The next major question is the, why? And even the, how? 

How did the hobby and industry come to exclude a whole group of people? 

Society as a whole, not individuals, deems what is acceptable. 

What’s on the Box?

We might answer the last question by asking another: What’s on the box?

We’ve probably all seen it but if you haven’t, take a look at this. 

Milton Bradley Battleship vintage box art

Can you see the gender divide? I’ll give you a hint. It’s between the living room and the kitchen. 

Milton Bradley Battleship vintage box art

Over at Analog Game Studies, Tanya Pobuda did a rather in-depth study on board game covers using Board Game Geek’s top 100 games, analyzing the representation of women and POC (people of color) on the box covers. 

This was in 2018, but the data still seems relevant today. To sum up her findings, I’ll leave you with a quote. 

“There is a disheartening study which points out that consumers are more likely to find a sheep on the cover of a board game than a woman.”

—Tanya Pobuda

This isn’t the only reason for the agonizingly slow growth of female gamers in the hobby/industry, but lack of representation in a hobby isn’t exactly inviting. 

While this is not always the case (and the good news is, it is improving with time) — it’s still not great. In the few instances where women are represented in the gaming world, it can also be unflattering or unrealistic. 

Let’s use Kingdom Death Monster as an example. It’s an incredibly innovative game with an insanely dark world that’s brought to life with detailed miniatures and artwork. Like this. 

Kingdom Death Monster Miniatures

These are, of course, the tamest miniatures in the box — and I know what you’re thinking.
“That’s not a fair example. KDM is specifically marketed and designed as a very adult game.”

That’s true. 

What about Sword & Sorcery, though? The loveable dungeon-crawler

Here’s Ecarus in full plate armor. 

Ecarus miniature from Sword & Sorcery

And here’s Shae in… ”clothes”? More like a goat-skull bra. And how protective are goat skulls anyway?

Shae miniature from Sword & Sorcery board game

This particular issue has been going on for quite some time. There’s an over-sexualization and underrepresentation of strong female characters.

Conversely… One Deck Dungeon FTW

An example of a push in the right direction (and the complete opposite spectrum) is One Deck Dungeon

All of the characters in this game are female. Not only that but they’re also appropriately equipped with armor and equipment that make sense. (And not in an 80’s hair metal band’s album art, “sense”)

One Deck Dungeon Board Game Box Art

The tank has tanky armor, the rogue has light clothes, the sorceress is in magicky clothes, and not a +2 chainmail bikini in sight. 

It’s so unique that when I was checking out video reviews, a large majority of YouTubers specifically mention the all-female cast. When someone portrays a non-sexualized version of a female character, everyone seems to pat themselves on the back for being so progressive. It could just be a litmus test of the industry, I suppose. 

Again, these are all just thoughts I’ve put to paper after reading an article and going down the rabbit hole that is the internet. I don’t have any grand answers or solutions. Just thoughts and a wonderfully strong female business and life partner that has also been in the hobby from a young age.

I am curious as to what you think, dear readers. 

How do you feel about the board gaming hobby? Do you feel like women are well-represented in your gaming group? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

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