On Sexism, Feminism, and Miniatures Gaming

I was watching the Signals from the Frontline live-cast on Twitch, and one of the folks in the chatroom posted an excellent question – regrettably, I didn’t save it, but in essence the question recounted the posters experience with some folks using “rape” as an insult in the proximity to some young kids in the game store. The poster asked if this was just a one-off problem with a bad group, or if the hosts thought this was an endemic problem in the hobby.

I’ll be honest that I was disappointed with Frontline, who basically said it wasn’t a discussion for the podcast. So I’ll give my answer:

Yes. It’s a problem in the hobby as a whole. It’s pervasive, inescapable, and it’s not okay.

The very fact that I expect this post to be a little controversial is a problem, because I don’t think it should be – this hobby should be open and welcoming to anyone, regardless of their race, gender, gender presentation, sexual orientation, or really anything other than the desire to get together and play an overly sophisticated game of toy soldiers.

But right now, it isn’t.

I’ve been playing this game for a long time, and an undercurrent of sexism has always been there. It ranges from just the implicit assumption that a gamer is male (“Hey guys…”, assuming a spouse is female, etc.) to prize girls in short skirts at the LVO to semi-off color commentary about female-oriented factions in the setting (the various slang terms people have used for my beloved Sisters of Battle) to the widespread and prevalent use of rape and other sexual violence-related language to describe having lost an overly sophisticated game of toy soldiers. There are other, more toe-curling examples I’ve run into, but the short version is it’s rampant. That is not to say every gamer, or every game group does this. Indeed, the group I play with right now is, by and large, awesome about stuff like this.

 

The issue is I’m never surprised.

Not when it shows up at an event, or a comment thread, or a casual comment over a game. Nor is it exceptional – pathetically, this kind of thing doesn’t stand out.

And that is not okay. It’s wrong, for a number of reasons:

  1. Because it’s wrong. Just flat out.
  2. It’s bad for the hobby now. Some number of women (I know some of them) have bounced right off the hobby because they were made to feel unwelcome in it. You’ve lost potential opponents. Potential tournament winners. Potential painters whose work inspires you.
  3. It’s bad for the hobby in the future. I don’t have children, but if I do in the future, I’d love to pass my hobby on to them. To teach them about the game I love. But if I had a daughter? I don’t know that I’d do that to her.

That the hobby is presently male-dominated is not an excuse. “Well, when men get together…” is not an excuse. We, as a hobby, need to make it clear that there are no excuses for being exclusionary, for driving people out of the hobby.

Which brings me to why Frontline’s response on the podcast was so disappointing. It was a wasted opportunity. They hand-waved this off as something that they can’t really discuss, just some social thing, a local group problem, etc.

Frontline, for better or worse, has a pretty significant voice in the hobby. “Yes, it’s a problem, and no, it’s not okay” would have actually meant something from them. Every time it’s ignored, or you don’t call someone out because it’s just how they are, or “Boys will be boys”, or any other excuse to not stand up to it, what’s actually happening is you’re tacitly endorsing it. You’re letting people continue with the assumption that it’s okay, because no one said anything.

I think it’s especially galling that they took a pass on it after commenting that they thought it was inappropriate for (according to rumors), some judges at the ATC tournament in Tennessee to openly carry fire arms. They’ve talked about social aspects of the game before. That’s not why they let this slide.

It’s a problem, and it needs to be dealt with. So when your opponent makes a crack about your female models, uses “rape” as a description, or anything else – just do your part. A quick “Hey, could you not?” is enough to help.

Help make the hobby a little bit of a better place.

8 Comments


  1. Well said. Not a topic that is addressed as much as it needs to.

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  2. Lets deconstruct this post in the interests of controversy.

    The first point around the word rape around younger players I completely agree, not because I hold any particular grudge against a word but because they may not be old enough to use a said word with context. It is always about context.

    If I say to my opponent, ‘Man those space marines just raped those Orks!’ What is the context of that statement? That my genetically machined superheroes just sexually assaulted an alien greenskin? Is it more likely that I am using rape in its more traditional context of to plunder or despoil. If you are trying to pick fights with people about words, where their meanings with vary massively depending on context then you are undermining genuine abuse of language – which ties back to my point about why I agree that use of complex language is unfair around children. Being offended by a word is ridiculous, how a word is used is where offence can be caused within gaming.

    Your next point about gamers using some terms as ‘Hey guys’ again this genuinely baffles me. Again if we look at modern interpretation of the terms guys this can suggest either male/female or both. I would never consider greeting a group of players who are a mix of majority males and frequently one female as ‘guys and gal.’ To me this implies i see a difference between the sexes when it comes to playing with little plastic men, that is sexist.

    I dont know what people carrying guns has to do with a whole lot of everything. If this post is about sexism and feminism then the targets of ire are poor at best.

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    1. Addressing your points in order:

      – I am extremely skeptical that people use ‘rape’ in its archaic sense of the word, and given it now has a modern meaning, you have to take that into context as well. And I’m absolutely certain they’re not using it in that context when they start using it when talking about my Sisters of Battle force, where the suggestions that usually follow aren’t so much of the “plunder and despoil” variety. I’m not offended by the word itself – what bothers me is the casual use of a term that implies sexualized violence when a fair number of female players (and a non-trivial number of male players, for the record) have experienced that. It’s part of making the hobby welcoming to people. There are dozens of other words that can substitute in with the exact same effect – just pick one.

      – “Hey Guys…” is an example, and while a simple one, also admittedly not the best – it was put in under the assumption that readers wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with the concept of male-as-default. Which is why I added things like assuming spouses are female as another problem. Because that’s the actual problem – a feel of “women don’t belong here” is pervasive in the hobby, from petty stuff to more egregious examples, and even petty stuff adds up over time (a concept known as microaggression). Though I will note that “Hey Everyone” or “Hey Folks” are both gender neutral, and don’t imply a difference in gender.

      – The point about carrying guns was to address the very specific circumstances this post was written in response to. Notably, that while the folks at Frontline were more than willing to opine about open carry at a tournament, when it came to talking about making the hobby less hostile to women, they immediately backed off and claimed that social issues aren’t something they talk about. Even though they just had. Basically, a little hypocrisy and a lot of missed opportunity on their part.

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  3. If the groups of people you game with use the term rape with any but it’s original term then that its not a feminist issue, or even a sexist issue. That’s a trivialization of something horrendous that can be suffered by any gender. I would suggest getting new people to game with and is the exact opposite of what I have experienced in Europe.

    I am going to avoid debate around gender neutral salutations because these kind of matters have good intent to unite but all they do is divide. I am a gamer, I want to play games with gamers, whether they are male/female or however they identify themselves I don’t care. It isn’t important when it comes to rolling dice and painting pretty models. Anytime this issue is brought up it does nothing to stop those with entrenched views of superiority of the sexes and just pisses off those who never had intent to offend. I go back to my original statement – context matters. When I say ‘Hey guys.’ it’s a salutation to a group of people. There is no emphasis on the guys element as some poor attempt at male posturing, if you search for insult or attempt to undermine you will find it in any element of the English language.

    In terms of male gamers initially assuming a female to be a spouse of a gamer what is wrong with that? As it stands tabletop gaming is principally for male players with an age range of 15-35 (at least for GW) as long as when a female player, or any player who falls outside of the norms is recognised as a gamer and treated as an equal once acquainted with others then where is the problem?

    I don’t go to many independent events, but I have been to every Games Workshop event organised in UK for the last 4 years and have never seen any overt sexism, or ageism or racial discrimination. All I have seen is gamers embracing a hobby.

    I am not denying sexism does not exist in tabletop gaming, I am certain it does but the underlying issue is very simple. The majority audience and therefore the majority purchasing power comes from young men, I cant comment on other forms of ‘Geek Culture’ but ultimately business is out to make money and as cynical as this sounds I think it comes down to a simple logic – if we target a female audience – potentially alienating and in some cases showing our current paying player base that some of them are stuck in the 1930s with their views towards women will this increase or decrease revenue? More importantly would any business be prepared to risk it?

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    1. Read your post – nice work. It is indeed good to see someone saying things. I’d be lying if I said the comments about this post on some other sites was both utterly unsurprising and more than a little disappointing.

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  4. As a farther I always offended when bad language is used around my son but the use of it is epidemic and find young mother s to be some of the worst. Have said that a lot of ladies lose interest in the hobby because the sea the hobby as just fun were as most old time games who get together with there mates for a game it a way of life . Most gamers are generally geckos at Hart and better education then the avage football fug .

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