Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Don't More Girls Play D&D?

Zak S asks why none of the guest stars on I Hit It With My Axe could get any boys to let them play when they were teenagers. (NSFW)

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the answer's in the gap between:

"When I was a teenager, I knew guys who were playing and I always wanted to try it, but they wouldn't let me play."


"Heh, that never happened with us. Sure, we were nerds but we weren't stupid...and we had hormones just like anyone else. If a young woman would have asked to play D&D or whatever we were playing we would have each been falling over one another to day "yes". We were not at all shy, and every one knew that we played...but no girls asked." (Mr. R, from the comments on that post)

One of my major social functions is to make it okay for the women around me I hang out with to be geeky, because there's always at least decent odds I'm the geekiest one in the room, male or female. Comic books, video games, and, yes, D&D, are all often seen as "boys stuff." Women are often interested, but aren't sure how to directly ask. And male nerds tend to be even more clueless than guys in general.


  1. I think nerd culture when I was younger was just more guy centric than it is now. (I'm 30.) I didn't ever game with any women til I grew up, and they're all women that my husband and I have introduced to gaming. Now, it's a lot more common for girls to be into video games and fantasy/sci fi stuff, and with the availability of roleplaying on the internet through those games and ffrpgs it's easier for them to break into.

  2. "And male nerds tend to be even more clueless than guys in general."

    *DING*DING*DING* Hand the lady a prize!

    I think that line alone is the answer to the question. If I could go back and smack my teenaged self for all the things I missed...

  3. I don't know about other people, but I know that for me, especially in high school, I probably would've avoided being in a situation with only boys. Luckily our gaming group had so many girls! But I think that in addition to the 'maleness' of nerd culture, we need to think about what society tells girls about hanging out with guys. Again, as Amanda said, the internet is a great way to deal with this, as are videogames, since those are something you can play on your own first.

    But I mean, what Mr.R said? Those guys would've made me super uncomfortable. The guys in the other quote would've just pissed me off.


  4. @Amanda: Good point regarding changes from the 80's and early 90's when I was in seminal stages.

    Let's just call it what it is: A guy's hobby. Just like most team sports are.

    Sure, just as per gaming and comics, there rabid female sports fans, but the share of voice, numbers, and overall passion is very low.

    It is a matter of tastes, even if it has opened up a little more of late due to video game ubiquity and some cross-pollination

  5. Ahh...the clueless male nerd.

    I was never the suavest male nerd (at least not until age 18) but I was definitely not clueless as some of my young compatriots were...personally, I think it's a generational thing.

    'Course, it also helps that I gamed with girls at a young age.
    ; )

  6. My first D&D gaming group (I was 13) had a young woman as a member. When I went to a gaming convention at a local college we ended up in the same party for the tournament. Between us we dragged the party to victory (this was after one of the grognards who had played with Dave Arneson in his Blackmoor game suicided because we weren't showing him the proper respect!).

    Shortly before she left for college another woman joined the group. Then she started dating one of the players and they became that annoying sweet couple.

    So girls playing D&D wasn't at all weird. But when that group ended and I effectively formed a new one from shoolmates not one girl expressed any interest. They mostly thought we were weird. And that's saying something because the whole crowd was in advanced (i.e. geek) classes which had more girls than boys enrolled.

  7. Pixiedragon20/7/10 2:32 PM

    I think it really depends on your connections. I've played in several groups and the ones I've played in tended to be female-dominated with up to 2 guys in it. I'm guessing most guys and girls play in groups that are heavily dominated by one gender, with fewer mixed groups.
    The cluelessness of males definitely helps but there's also the factor of girls not wanting to play with guys and the other way around. For some reason the guys I've played with tended to be more interested in killing as much monsters as possible while the girls were more RP-oriented. Not saying that's always the case (I'm more combat oriented myself) but I did think it was rather noticeable.

  8. When I posted that, most of the girls had said they -directly- asked and the boys still refused to let them play.

    But I find it telling that most of the responses people post aren't about that situation at all.

    People not noticing that someone MIGHT be interested--that I can understand easily.

    People refusing someone (hot) directly asking to play--that I don't get at all.

  9. Zak: There are numerous answers to this:

    1. mysoginy
    2. homosexuality
    3. the girl was his "dumb" sister (I mean in his mind!)

    Both options are sad, but they make sense to me...

  10. Amanda: It's still kinda male-centric, at least in my experience, but yeah, definitely less than it used to be.

    David: I have to admit that nerds in general tend to be kinda clueless. It's what we do. And teenagers, too. But it was definitely worse for some of the guys I knew than it was for me.

    maggienotmegan: Having more women around helps in all kinds of ways, yeah. The internet can be dang scary, though. One (fairly minor) reason why I don't do the online gaming thing any more is the particular, uh, cluelessness, shall we say, of the guys in that particular venue.

    bear-sophie: Ain't it weird that it is, though? I mean, I describe a game that revolves around co-operation, reading, and social interaction, and you tell me that for years this was something considered mainly or exclusively a male activity? There's historical reasons that explain it, sure, but it's darn weird. And darn weird how deep it goes -- I'm still ticked off that the "Daring" Book for Girls doesn't have anything about RPGs in it, unlike the Dangerous Book for Boys. That's a whole 'nother rant, though -- if I get into how the Boy Scouts got to learn archery while we were making jewelry I'll never stop.

    JB: A lot of the, uh, non-optimal behaviors I see in male nerds have to do with simple infamiliarity with women, yeah. Which is, unfortunately, a self-perpetuating condition.

    Gratuitous Saxon Violence: Yeah, obviously everything we're talking about here speaks to the general more than the particular.

    Pixiedragon: I don't think that's an unfair generalization to make, so long as you keep in mind that it is a generalization. Trollsmyth's got a great post that goes into one aspect of that subject in more detail: http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2009/02/romance-sex-and-d-women-are-from-venus.html

  11. Zak S: Yeah, in all honesty I'm leapfrogging off your post to make my own point here. The situation you're describing is deeply werid, and I don't have any direct experience with anything like it.

    I did know a few guys back in high school who might have behaved that way if I hadn't put the group we were playing in together myself. I'd say they would have been more comfortable playing in a group of all-guys, except that after I left the group (the one who'd threatened to rape an NPC as a negotiating tactic, which ended the first campaign I'd started due to ick, and had been constantly challenging my authority on pretty much everything up until that point, was DMing by then) they stopped gaming in pretty short order. (They grew out of it, incidentally. The guy in question even apologized to me later for being an idiot.)

    Something that occurs to me that almost certain doesn't describe the general phenomenon, but might apply to this or that specific case, is that I could see certain guys, at that age particularly, reacting to interest from a hot chick as hostility. "She just wants to break up our group/make fun of us/etc." But that's pretty much pure speculation.

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