Sunday, September 07, 2008

Gaming and Girls: Part the First

A few weeks ago AK and I visited our local independent bookstore for the very necessities of life: books and coffee . As usual, AK wandered away for an hour or so. When he returned, he gleefully handed me a book entitled Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the D&D Game. The book was a gift for me, to finally start me on the path towards true gamerdom.

Despite my own geeky tendencies and the hardcore geekiness of my friends, I've never actually played D&D. When it comes to a game that takes longer than 20 minutes to play completely, I tend to lose interest. I want to smash you up in Soul Caliber, cut your head off in Guillotine, and completely dominate you in Uno, and all in under fifteen minutes. I don't think it's necessarily an attention problem --I did major in incredibly long papers on incredibly long Victorians novels. I've just never been a fan of long on-going story lines that aren't contained between two covers. AK finds this to be a major flaw in my character, as it means I refuse to re-watch all of Buffy or do more with Battlestar Galactica than pop my head into his office for a recap of the episode and then cry "Lee yelled his love to the stars, Aaron. TO THE STARS!"*

D&D always seemed unnecessarily complicated and picky to me. Maybe this has to do with the sort of dedicated, 12-hour marathon loving, rule freaks I've met in my life. My only personal interactions with RPGs has been one shittacular session of Vampire where I had no idea what was going on and then NPCing at a Changeling LARP (run by my only reader). I liked the interacting with people part. I liked wearing shitkickers and looking fierce. I hated the constantly referring to my piece of paper with all the numbers and codes and the fact that no one actually explained to me what I was supposed to do other than stand around in shitkickers looking fierce.

So when AK proudly held the aforementioned book in front of him, I thought that maybe my time to game had come. I've grown and changed from the days when I would walk past a parlor in my dorm and stare, increduously, at friends who were so deep into the game they would scowl should you dare to say hello. I have gained a certain sense of patience, a willingness to try new things without immediately throwing up my hands in disgust and frustration. Surely a better M would make a better gamer.

We returned home with more books than we should have bought (this is the problem with having a local store with a sick amount of used books, especially used Simon Armitage) and I settled into my corner of the couch with more coffee and the shiney pink paperback.

I think I managed about four pages before attempting to chuck the book at AKs head.

Though I am highly impatient when it comes to things like tax forms, insolent computers, and husbands who can't figure out how to put dirty dishes in the sink, I am an incredibly forgiving reader. Until recently, I would never give up on a book, no matter how painfully bad it was. I would slog through until the end, confident in my moral superiority and the scathing review I could post on Goodreads. Lately I've abandoned this method of reading - there are simply too many good books out there to waste time on crap. So I thought I could handle this book, even despite the garish pink dice on the cover. I wanted to give the author a chance to convince me, to lead me down the path of stylish gaming.

Unfortunately I am not the audience for this book. I'm not yet convinced that this book is intended for girls at all. Right now I'm about halfway through the book, and as far as I can tell this is a book for teenaged boys/young men. They will see this strange thing sitting in the gaming section, right next to the brand new release of 4th edition, and suddenly realize that lo, they too can have that gaming girl of their dreams. Here, in plain English, is a tome that will lead their girlfriends down the path of awesome. Within are witty asides about shopping, fun new classes only found in 4th ed, sidebars in pink, illustrations in pink, and more witty allusions to shopping. Surely this could turn an otherwise normal person into someone who wants to game. They will plunk down this book (and another copy of the 4th ed. rules book) in front of the cashier and go home, confident that they will now be able to share this passion with someone they love.

In a way, this is truly a noble goal. I can honestly support any effort towards sharing passions - be it fencing or reading or knitting or whathaveyou. However I find myself caught up in the tone of the book. It's written is a very conspiratorial voice, "You know those icky gamers and the 10000 stereotypes about them that I'll bring up every five minutes? Guess what? They're people too!" Such a revelation! It's also somewhat condescending - the author is convinced that, without a revelation such as can be provided by this very book, normal women won't play D&D. And by normal women she means shoe, makeup and sales obsessed girly girls.

I think this is the part of the book that catches me and leaves me completely uncertain of my point. I am not very girly at all and still have a latent sense of dismissive disgust towards women who are (a by-product of growing up as that smart girl who was taught to believe that you can't be a girl and truly intellegent or good at science). This is an attitude that I'm trying hard to change (Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs was a great help), but I still find her "Wow, like I was totally into shopping and now kicking ass with spells is totally bitchin'" attitude to be disconcerting. I'm happy that the author at least tries to dismiss the idea that girls are too dumb to handle the rules or not naturally strategic enough for RPGs. It's her technique, her playing behind the stereotypes while still trying to dismiss them that irks me so.

As I said, I'm still not done with the book and as the book follows the authors journey as a gamer, her tone gradually changes and improves. But I'm still left wondering what exactly is the purpose of this book, if not for Wizards of the Coast to sell more books and more copies of 4th.

More when I'm closer to done.

*Only two people will get this, but I don't care. It's a true story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've only played D&D twice (not counting NPC cameos) and I will tell you this: it's way more fun if no one is taking it too seriously. The game where we were all in it for a laugh (and which featured the sword of Canine Attraction)? Priceless.

Thus speaks a woman who likes to shop, buy shoes, wears makeup daily, is a devoted Whedon fan, plays D&D and played MU** in the early days. *wink*