Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I go to Origins for the conversations, and the winner was one of the big ad hoc roundtables on Sunday night. Great talk for lots of great reasons, but the thing that really struck me came afterwards, on the way back to the hotel. Amanda Valentine, editor to the stars, remarked on how much she had enjoyed the conversation and, notably, how much she had felt a part of it rather than excluded because she was a woman. Now, on the face of it, this was great - I'm really glad that was the case, and I can safely say that it was not because anyone made any special effort to accommodate her. It was just the sort of conversation where people are thoughtful and respectful and topics wander the map, and that's kind of as it should be.

But my heart sank some. Not because she was wrong - she wasn't - and not even because in this hobby it was something that merited mention. Rather, it made me think about the makeup of the conversation. It included over a dozen people at various points, only two of which were women.

This is a little disturbing to me because, up to that point, it had been a pretty much perfect conversation in my eyes. Noting that gap called out two things. The first was a blind spot on my part, and while that's always jarring, that's just something to live with and learn from. The second, and perhaps more interesting and actionable item, was my asking of myself who else should have been there.

See, the rub is that I actually know a number of female game designers, writers and the like, and they're pretty awesome (and despite appearances, only _some_ of them are named Emily). Of those I know, very few were at Origins, so it would have been hard for them to get in on the conversation, which is a decent intellectual answer, but emotionally leaves me wondering if I'm just facing another blind spot. I met a lot of guys at Origins, but I can only think of three women (Amanda, who came with Evil Hat, an editor from Outrider Studios whose name escapes me and who I met in the context of speaking to her husband, and Miranda Horner, who has a list of RPG credits as long as my arm) I spent any time talking to.

It is entirely possible to write this off as a function of the gender ratio at the convention, which I presume to skew male without any real evidence to back that up. The temptation to do so is rooted firmly in the squoodgy uncertainty that dwelling on this evokes. If I think about this in terms of bringing women into gaming, it's this huge, impossible problem.

But thankfully, that's not it.

See, the reality is I'm a selfish bastard, and I'm in this for cool ass conversations with cool ass people. I WANT Emily Care Boss, Jess Hartley, Filamena Young, Julia Ellingbone, Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat, Amy Garcia and many, many, many, many, others to be in on these conversations because they make it more awesome. I don't worry about the absence of women in this conversations for some abstract reason, I worry because I fear there are awesome people out there who I'm not dragging into the circle because I don't know about them! (I worry about it with guys too, of course, but when it comes to guys, let's just say I have a very wide shot selection.)

So, help me sate my selfishness. Who should I be following? Who should I be looking forward to dragging into crazy ass conversations at cons? Who should be on my radar but isn't (possibly because I'm a dumbass).


  1. I'll start my recommendations with the excellent Anna Kreider! Mostly because it'd be easy to read your whole post as a little patronizing.

    It's hard to discuss this stuff on the Internet.

  2. Argh. Obviously, that was not the intent, and if it seems that way to anyone a) I apologize and b) I give up.

  3. Stories like these remind me of how lucky I am that my fiancee games, and that so do most of my friends' girlfriends/fiancees/wives. Our games almost always have at least one woman and regularly 2 or more. Sad this is the exception and not the rule though.

  4. Rob,

    I am mostly outside of the game industry, so I don't have recommendations. I did want to give a contrasting view of your post overall to Jason Morningstar [and Jason, I just want to give a different point a view, not attack or devalue yours). It is true that anyone can impose any tone (patronizing, angry, ironic, etc.) on a piece of writing, especially on the internet (which seems to induce its own special form of madness on people). However, I don't think that a fair reading of your post in context puts you into the category of patriarchal patronizers. Sure, someone could spin your post and make it say something you did not intend, but I don't think that it could be done fairly or accurately.

    The post comes across to me as honest, sincere and positive. The gaming industry is a place that needs inclusion, benefits from inclusion, and should thrive on inclusion. However, we are not living in a perfect world, so things have not worked out to be as a level as they should be.

    However, as you point out, things don't need to be "level" just for the sake of equality. It should be inclusive because things are more awesome that way. If we don't attract the broadest range of talent and imagination who knows what we will miss?

    Diversity sometimes feels like too abstract a concept in terms of its benefits for many of us. However, your post makes it clear that, when we make sure there is room at the table, we get more awesome ideas, more creativity, and more synergy than we could otherwise.

    Your focus, from your anecdote, is on including more women writers, designers and gamers based on your particular recent experience at Origins. But, I know you would agree that we always are working to not only get more women to the table, but more of everyone, whether the difference be in our ethnicity, religious backgrounds, or any other status or category that arises to build artificial barriers between us.

    Gamers are, or should be, thinking and creative people, and the flow of ideas (both helped and hindered by the internet) only builds our creativity and fun when we draw from the widest pool of ideas.

    For me, that was what your post was about, and for me, that's awesome and right on the money (which is why I read this blog).

    I have one person you should look up, although she is not a game designer. She is, however, a gamer and a writer, particularly of comic books. Recently she did a one off in Red Sonja. Jen Van Meter. She also has her fourth Hopeless Savages series coming out "soon" from Oni Press.

    She is a Leverage (show and game) fan, by the way.

    Keep fighting the fight; don't ever give up.

  5. Rob,

    One other thing. I did not want to muddy my post with too many topics, but I spotted something that might be of interest to you, but it is off your topic here. So, I post seperately with hopes that this will be of enough interest to forgive it's irrelevance to the discussion you wanted to have today.

    Jen's husband, Greg also writes (the way Fred Astair "also danced") and he has somethign that might be of interest coming out in about two weeks: Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether ( As a steampunk web comic that has the panache of Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, I thought you might be interested.

  6. Ah, Internet!

    I know and love Rob and completely understand that he's not being a dick. But that's because I know and love Rob, which was my ... point.

    It's hard to discuss this stuff on the Internet.

  7. I suspect you know more female game designers than I do, and most of the ones I know you do already (several notable ones spring to mind).

    One of the authors of Elder Game is a woman; this is MMO design but there's definite overlap with tabletop there.

    I don't actually know what gender bankuei is, but this is a nice thoughtful blog with a lot of crunch that is written from a feminist perspective: Deeper in the Game

    Go Make Me a Sandwich, Border House, and The Hathor Legacy are all very good blogs for gamers and SF/F fans interested in feminism and intersectionality in gaming.

  8. Jason, despite my off topic comment, I want to make the discussion about the topic. I think that you are right that anything written, particularly on this topic, can be misinterpreted, especially with so many people subject to road rage on the information superhighway.

    I just wanted to say that, despite that risk, I thought that a fair reading, which most people (perhaps the silent majority) would give ought to be one that understood the positive and sincere thought behind what Rob wrote.

    I know your critique was also sincere and aimed at noting that this kind of discussion is hard and can explode into meaningless flame wars rather than constructive discussion.

    I just wanted to reassure Rob that, despite the possibility of coming off not as he had intended, that I thought his message could and did come through to me, and should come through pretty loud and clear to most folks.

    I don't want him to give up talking about tough stuff just because it is hard or could be misinterpreted. I don't want you to stop making it clear that we have walked into a minefield when that happens.

    I like the discussion here, and I like its contributors and when I have a different take on things, I want it just to be that I have a different take and not because I am attacking someone.

    But, as you say, it is hard to discuss this stuff on the internet. Thanks for reading and contributing.

  9. Well, Barbara Baj wants to get back in touch, but you know that.

    Lee Gold is awesome, but she doesn't go to gaming conventions. I don't know if Alarums & Excursions is of any interest to you, but if it is, let me know, and I can probably get you an issue or three, either hard or soft copy.

    I can list individual women gamers and GMs if you like, but I'm not sure that's what you had in mind.

  10. For people to follow, I am of course partial to Amy Sutedja and Julia Ellingboe of The 20' by 20' Room. :) Amy writes as a player and GM rather than a designer, but she's very sharp, and showed me a couple of Leverage RPG tricks.

    In addition to the justice issue, which is huge, I also take this personally because as I've set about recruiting women to write for the blog, I've run into more than one who got so beat down by Internet d00dz that she doesn't want to blog any more. That's bad for us because we're deprived of their insights. But it super-sucks to be the person who is so beaten down you don't even want to write about something you love.

  11. Blogger just ate my first comment. So frustrating.

    I can't speak for all ladies, but I didn't think your post was patronizing at all, Rob. I thought it was nice to see some talk about the most annoying part of being female, for me: the not being heard.

    One example (could provide more): there's a guy at the Endgame minicons who barely ever looks at me. Nice guy, could be cool, but you can't hear someone if you don't see them looking interested and leaning forward and drawing in breath and opening their mouth. There could be all sorts of reasons why this is! He does seem to look at the guys equally, though, and there aren't enough other women at the cons that I can rule stuff out.

    Jim is right that the beatdowns, particularly in the RPG forums, are fierce. I connected with some other great people before I got sick of, but once they left they stopped blogging about RPGs... Though there was this one thing from peaseblossom, about the ridiculous response to some Female-Friendly initiative there:

    Mechante Anemone and Simone Cooper don't seem to talk online about RPGs so far as I know, but they do run (or help run) great cons, Emerald City and ACNW. Does Lydia talk about RPGs? We of the Bay Area regret the loss of you guys.


  12. Lydia doesn't write about gaming nearly enough, which is sad.

    And, man, yeah we miss the bay too.

  13. I can't believe you didn't include Cynthia Celeste Miller on your list. Cartoon Action Hour and Slasher Flick are arguably two of the best examples of pure genre emulation in game design as well as just being super fun games.

  14. Hi, Rob. Jason is right in that talking about this stuff on the internet is hard. Invariably someone is going to read this as patronizing or otherwise read uncharitably. But I just thought I'd chime in and say that I didn't read it that way. Thanks for writing a heartfelt post, and please don't give up.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.