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Or “Why the problem with wargaming is you”
Have you ever heard this question? I’m sure you have: “Why aren’t there more girls who play wargames?”
Now, I’ve got to say that there certainly are women who play wargames. Just on a quick trawl of the popular pocasts, we have Nicole “Total Fangirl” Wakelin on The D6 Generation; we have the 11th Company crew and we have Painter Sarah of Dragonfly Miniatures on Dice Like Thunder. I know for a fact that a club in Cambridgeshire, UK, claims as many as nine girls on the membership register. But despite these statistical blips, there’s no denying that wargamerettes are a rarity, and I have a theory as to why this might be. But before I expand on that theory, let’s take a look at why it isn’t.
First of all, it’s not the war. There is a popular myth that anything with “war” in it is an automatic turnoff for the ladies, but this clearly isn’t true. When I served in the Royal Army Medical Corps at least half of our intake of new recruits was female and the number of applications from women was growing. Yes, women look at war differently to men, but that doesn’t mean it’s a turnoff.
Nor is it the “grim darkness” of the background (an epithet which applies perfectly well to games as diverse as Malifaux, AT-43 and, let’s be fair, the Napoleonic wars as it does to the games that spawned the expression). The Black Library novels, and the Horus Heresy series in particular, have been hugely popular across the gender spectrum, and the spin-off roleplay games of Warhammer Fantasy, Dark Heresy and its stable have drawn many new players into the shadow of the Warhammer worlds from both sexes. Roleplaying in the worlds of Vampire the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Oblivion or Dungeons & Dragons enjoys a strong female fanbase.
And nor is it the obsessive pursuit of hobby perfection seen in the finest collections of painted miniatures. In the hobby world, some of the biggest names and most innovative artists are women like Jennifer Haley and Victoria Lamb (and, of course, the aforementioned Painter Sarah).
However, before I go on to reveal my theory, I have to stop and admit that, whilst I’ve said that none of those things are keeping women out of the hobby, I’d be remiss not to accept an important prior consideration: the combination of the three points I’ve already touched on unquestionably do act as a series of significant hurdles to whittle down the number of women who might be interested. We can see this in the popularity of MMORPGs in a fantasy setting: there are plenty (millions!) of women playing and enjoying these games because whilst they contain the trinity of war, grimness and obsession, they dilute them to the point that they cease to be the hurdles they appear to the potential entrant to the more demanding tabletop gaming scene. But it needs to be said that whilst these hurdles do certainly reduce the number of women in the hobby, they also reduce the number of men! Because it’s the same things that face every potential new hobbyist, regardless of their sex. But there is one thing that, I believe, keeps more women out of the hobby than it does men, and that’s us, the wargamers.
Once entrenched in a community of players, wargamers – who tend to be, individually, open-minded, innovative, tolerant and intelligent – become inflexible, intransigent, unimaginative and boring. Not only that, but they marinade their hobby in soft drinks, fast food and alcohol and willingly descend into a fog of second-hand smoke, body odour and yesterday’s clothes. Am I wildly generalizing? Yes, I am. But try this at your next club meeting, event or tournament: count the number of beards; the number of ponytails; the number of T-shirts that can’t reach over the belly to be tucked into the cargo pants; the number of soft drink bottles and cans; the number of packs of crisps or pretzels; the number of pizzas. Now count the number of women. I am as guilty as anyone. At 34, I have a ponytail and shave only when my children complain. I don’t have a gut, but I do use my wargaming club meetings as my one excuse per week to drink sodas and scoff unfeasibly large bags of crisps. So I am going to change.
This summer, the ponytail is coming off, and I’ll be doing it for charity (so watch this space, as I’ll be demanding your money with menaces). I’m also going to try to change my club eating habits and take chopped carrots, cherry tomatoes and grapes in a pot to snack on, and a flask of tap water or roibos tea to drink. I’m going to put on a clean T-shirt when I go out. I’m doing my small part to make my gaming area, not into somewhere that actively invites women gamers (I draw the line at scented candles), but at least into somewhere that doesn’t physically repel them. I’m not doing this because I want more women gamers; but rather because I don’t want any gamer who’s prepared to jump the hurdles of war, grimness and obsession to be brought down at the final gate by an assault of testosterone.
Will we ever see a 50/50 male/female population of wargamers? I seriously doubt it. But the only qualification anyone should need to be a wargamer is the desire to be a wargamer, and if I can reduce any obstacle in a potential player’s way, then I will. Will you?