I Guess This is Growing Up
As I get older, I have much less time for Role Playing Games. A sad but true fact. I know gamers my age who have regular groups and happily game regularly. However the gamers I hung out with tended to be artists and entrepreneurs who weren’t serious about their art/business in their twenties so we all could get together and make up worlds together and play. As we get older and somewhat more conscious of adulthood (30 is the new 18 . . .I don’t know if that’s good or not but here we are regardless), we put that creativity and energy into our art/businesses which makes nailing down a time to play almost impossible. Mr. M. does stand up in NYC, Ms. K is trying to get her start up off the ground, Mr. H has an indie radio station now, Ms. D is the head of the science department at her school, I became a writer author for real and have my fiber arts/Craft business and on it goes.
Still, when I got the 20th Anniversary edition of V:tM, I got excited. Jow caught my excitement, especially when we found out that they were putting out 20th Anniversary Werewolf and starting to fill in the splat books for Mage which meant maybe, maybe they would finally fill in the splat books for Changeling. I got Mr. H and Mr. M excited and dragged Ms. R down with me and we’re going to play a one shot.
Since I’ve been so busy watching reality television writing/Crafting, I haven’t seen the intertubes’ view of gamer girls in a long time. I figured, we’re at the 20th anniversary for White Wolf’s first big game, they were the first to really give a rat’s ass in RPG about People of Color, Women and World Religion even if it wasn’t always perfect. Frag Dolls exist, G4 had Attack of the Show which included serious gamer chicks of all kinds and geekdoms, surely we’ve evolved past where we were when I first started?
I’m Not Your Damned Companion, I’m the Doctor, Buddy.
Not really. When looking for a pic for this entry in Google images, it was immediately apparent that we’re still objects of ridicule because either we’re super model hot and thus objectified, we’re morbidly obese and thus viewed with scorn or we’re somebody’s girlfriend still. I tried finding articles and it’s still just as depressing as it was for me fifteen years ago.
And none of those depictions are my experience. Or any of the other women I’ve played with over the years. I got into role playing games and video games (to a much lesser degree but I am still a Mario Bros aficionado) on my own. B. and I used to play Super Mario Bros on a Nintendo when we were ten together, just us girls kicking ass and taking names. S. got me into D&D in the eighth grade and she taught me how to make a character sheet. I was the first of my friends to have a computer and a modem which brought me to the Red Dragon Inn which got me really role playing and introduced me to Vampire: The Masquerade. I bought V:tM second edition for myself at Borders.
I was generally the Game Master for my group. I had a ton of dice, I knew the rules backwards and forward. I played with lots of other local groups which ranged in their treatment towards women from completely accepting (usually with older players who had wives who were gamers themselves) and respectful to the fake gamer girl pop quiz to flat out dismissive sexist behavior (I was once told by a v. bitter dude I had just met at a new group that I was like every girl he’s ever dated. He said it in such a way to indicate that this meant I was a worthless whore. I left that group right after that.) Still, I was the only female GM I knew. I can now understand that while my mom really didn’t know anything about gaming (besides quickly figuring out it was code for “dorkery” not “sexy Satan worship”) that she was incredibly upset that I gave my GMship to my Wasband soon after we started dating. Retrospectively, she was completely right – while I was tired and wanted to play (dammit) it was akin to handing over my entire agency to him as quickly as possible which would define the rest of our relationship together.
It’s fraught. It’s important to know how gender politics are still A Thing in gaming. For our upcoming 20th anniversary edition, Jow and I spitballed a Sabbat game together while waiting for Ms. R to come to the movie theater to watch Hansel and Gretel (it sucked sadly) so we decided to co-GM since we came up with the game together. It was fun, exercising those muscles again. Where would we go? What would we do? How would the group get together? How much chance should be involved?
Game Theory & the Game of Life
I’ve been thinking a lot about (role playing) game theory lately for a lot of reasons. This week, completely worn out and overtired and having fibromyalgia flare ups , I’ve been thinking a lot about stat penalties. Building a character concept and character sheet is one of the most important aspects of role playing games. You’re deciding where you’ve come from, what you look like, how smart you are, how powerful you are, what you’re great at, what you’re terrible at.
You get to be god of your own (pretend) life. You can play an Iron Lung character (think: Professor X from X-Men), an assassin with a tragic past (think: The Bride from Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2), a rich super hero (think: Batman, Iron Man), The Chosen One (think: Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). All is permitted, nothing is forbidden (until your GM approves your character). You get to decide all your greatnesses and all your weaknesses. Don’t want to be a Mensa member? Put those dots into Dexterity instead and be a bad ass fighter. Want an Iron Will? Take Dark Fate to make your character sheet balance.
Because your character sheet always has to balance. For every merit, there is a flaw. And you chose them for your character and contemplate how your flaws and merits would look in a person. You do research to figure out what an addiction would look like (if you don’t know) and how that can be used in dramatic role playing points in the game (where you and your friends talk to each other as your characters). If you botch a roll during a fight scene (where you roll the dice to see how well or poorly you defeated an enemy), you figure out what you can do instead (salt shaker to throw salt in their eyes!). You know as a player what your problems are, you know what your successes are and you know why you didn’t win a fight (Paradox flaw, bad roll!).
There’s a certain satisfaction as a player playing out these character flaws and strength. Diving into the angst of losing your own true love, fighting with other characters in a way you’d never fight with your friends, kicking ass and saving the world, etc., etc. You can play with your whole heart – laughing and crying and holding your breath and feeling adrenaline rush. Because, at 7p there will be a natural end point and you’ll stop. You’ll pack up your books, your dice, your character sheet. You’ll help your friend clean up the empty plastic cups and pizza boxes, you’ll have a cigarette with another friend and ask her what’s going on with her sister and you’ll kiss them good bye and tell them you’ll see them next time and resume your regular life. Do laundry, pack your lunch for the next day, call your boyfriend and this character will stay neatly folded away until next time.
I don’t know if in real life we all have character sheets that are balanced and that we keep leveling up as we gain experience and sometimes lose levels due to a lack of motivation. I know when I’m looking at my character’s sheet in a game, I take risks based off of my assessment of my sheet. And, we do that in real life to some extent too. We kind of know some of our personal checks and balances – (-2 to my social skills roll, +2 to my business savvy roll due to spending eight Saturday nights in a row at home working on my business, for example).
But what about when we don’t know why something went wrong or why it went right? What about the flaws that we have that we didn’t chose (fibromyalgia, a father who died when you were 18) and the merits we didn’t chose (perfect teeth, big boobs, the ability to do complex fractions in your head)? What about our unknown (to us) flaws (you will die at 37, you will never have children though desperately wanted, you will never find true love) and merits (how much you are loved by others, the stock that you bought that will go through the roof in five years, how much your book will be read after you die)?
This is what we struggle with. I don’t know how much of a stat penalty I took when I got fibromyalgia, I don’t know what (if anything) I was given to balance it. Some days I feel utterly defeated by it; that I will never not be in pain, I will never not be tired, I will never know what it’s like to have a normal body every again and I don’t know how I’ll make it through the day because it’s so hard. Some days I feel that it’s exactly what makes me strong – that I grab that wretch of a tiger by its goddamn throat and force its face into the dirt until it has no choice but to let me ride it. But I didn’t chose it. I can only manage it so much – medication, vitamins, lower stress jobs, lots of sleep, weight loss, a good diet. It’s still going to hurt anyway. Not as much. But enough. There is no miracle cure. This is the rest of my life. Stat penalty. Stat penalty I didn’t chose. We all have them.
Level Up, Wizard
But we’re workers and wizards, right? We understand that magic isn’t Soma, it’s a numbers game. It’s statistics. It’s a +1 (or more) to your real life character rolls. We don’t get to see our own character sheets with all of our stats neatly outlined for us to confidently make all of our life decisions, knowing the odds are ever in our favor. Sometimes, they’re not. In a game we know what went wrong (a dice roll). In life sometimes, we don’t know why (and no one else does either). But we have our will, our magic, some spit, stone and blood, our relationships to our Spirits, our enchantments, our tricks (dirty and otherwise). What are you doing with your +1 roll? Are you using it to work on your flaws (chosen and unchosen), to strengthen your merits (known and unknown)? To show Fate that you know that the house always wins but you’re going to roll again anyway?
Are you using your magic to manage your unseen character sheet?