We even let girls play!

September 4, 2008

Shelly Mazzanoble’s ZOMG! D&D! I’m just a girl!” writing voice is starting to work my nerves. As much as I believe a) we need more accessible writing and b) writing about the down to earth screw ups and imperfections in play, her voice as the constantly slightly clueless, wide eyed awe of the “complexities of D&D” plays into some problematic stereotypes.

I mean, after playing D&D a few months, you’d think “modifiers” would stop being scary after a point, right?


  1. All I can say is, yes, it’s a bit grating, but I suspect it’s a real (and not particularly female) gamer demographic. I know people who’ve played for years in casual games who still can’t always remember which dice to roll when – when they start to run games for the first time, it’s a Big Deal having to look organized and consistent. For most of their gaming career, the hivemind at the table has propped up the gaps in their skills, but the standard image of “dungeon mastery” doesn’t allow for that. You have to be In Control.

  2. I completely agree. I couldn’t make it through her book. I’m sure Shelly is cool, but her writing style really turns me off.

  3. Hi Mark,

    I agree that female != casual but that’s not my point- look at the way WOTC pushes her writing. Her book is “Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress”, not “D&D 101”, “D&D for Dummies” or any kind of gender neutral sounding thing.

    There’s this way in which her gender and her cluelessness are played up together, and that’s problematic.

  4. You’re just NOW starting to get annoyed with Shelly? 😉 Took ya long enough!

    WotC should hire me. I’m much less irritating and way cuter. (Ok, maybe not the latter… I dunno.)

  5. I was willing to give benefit of the doubt, but at this point, it’s just playing itself out.

  6. Yeah, Shelly’s annoying, but she is kind of hot.

    Mark’s comment is interesting, I think. The only female member of my gaming group spends a lot of time not really doing anything when we play D&D. She likes killing stuff, but doesn’t know how far she can move her miniature on the battlemat, what her attack modifiers are, what her powers do, what to roll for damage, how to get into flanking position so she can do sneak attacks, etc. — mostly, her boyfriend figures out what she needs to do and then she rolls the dice he gives her. Out of combat, she’s pretty quiet. She says she enjoys the game, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes.

    Then, one time, I ran a game of The Pool for the group, and she was an absolute rock star.

    It’s only one data point, I know, but…food for thought.

  7. Hey Will,

    Your comment kinda reinforces my point- Shelly isn’t being promoted so much for bringing women into the hobby as much as existing as a perception male gamers have of women in the hobby.

    Right now in my circles of women I game with, I’ve got 2 old school D&Der’s who can rattle off THACO, SR, etc. and 2 folks with more background as writers and casual gaming. Since none of them have come as “boyfriend accessories” there really hasn’t been any problem of disengaged play.

    The fact is, these are folks who’d be gaming with or without men involved.

  8. Didn’t really mean to tangent – the whole “modifiers are hard” thing may play into stereotype, but it’s a real barrier-to-entry for players regardless of gender. As for the “just a girl” tone of Wizards’ marketing material, it does grate, but I wonder if there’s not some pretty serious pop-culture mojo behind it. From Wizards’ point of view, the strongly gendered gaming market is a real disaster. Everything points to this having to do with entrenched perceptions on *both* sides of the gender divide. Wizards isn’t really all that interested in trying to push social norms, they just want a new market. So they’re looking for ways to position the property as less threatening and “boy’s night out”. Maybe they’ve decided that turning it into “girls’ night out” instead is the way to go.

    Which, considering that their target market is mostly adolescents, might not be a totally stupid idea.

  9. Here’s the thing: reinforcing gendered stereotypes doesn’t un-entrench anything.

    The fact that Shelly’s writing almost always revolve around comparing herself to “The Boys” (enter sparkling harp + pedestal) doesn’t really make it a girls night out in any way.

    You can find several examples of women who have been, and continue to write about gaming without centering it upon the men at Cerise, womengamers.com and Lesbian gamers (all linked on my sidebar…).

  10. I know, I know. I think Wizards does too. The thing is, they earn their money in the market as it is, not as it should be. And in the female market that *does* exist for other similar cultural products, the shtick they’re using is omnipresent. It’s the same market that buys “chick flicks”, “summer reading” novels, and other mass-market “girly stuff.” This is a general cultural problem, not a gaming-specific one. To some degree, even just acknowledging and going after markets outside the hardcore is a quantum leap forward for the gaming *business*, if not the culture.

    Expecting the business side of gamerdom to be *out in front* on changing the culture of gaming is probably a bridge too far.

  11. Mark,

    How many women do you know play D&D? Of them, do they ask for “girlifyied” D&D?

    Talk to some women who play D&D, take a look at those websites- while there may be more calls for female representation, no one is asking for things to be more “girlifyied”. It’s interesting how men assume they know “how to market to women” without talking to them.

    Even then, pushing to a new market by telling them, “You can be secondary to the guys” is shitty marketing. The only “defense” for this is that it’s bad marketing by clueless people and that’s not a defense as much as simple incompetence.

    And you know what? I’m tired of educating/dealing with you defending this. If you’re ignorant at this point, go talk to some women and see why/how this kind of advertising is not just problematic, but fails to hit it’s demographic as well.

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