04 May 2009

Confessions of a Gamer Girl

I'm frequently asked how I became a gamer. Usually, this question is asked by guys who want to figure out how to get their girlfriend, wife, or other female in their lives into gaming, or at the very least, make them understand why their guys enjoy it so much. I thought it also might be useful, on the other hand, as an example of a girl's experience in this largely male-dominated hobby.

My dad has been a gamer for as long as I can remember. When I was little, he hosted and DMed (translation - he was the Dungeon Master, or the one in charge of the game) a 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons group at our house. The one guy I remember most vividly was also the most stereotypical of the group - a short, round guy with a long beard and long, thinning hair. When we were good, Dad would let us kids play with his dice - a collection of shapes far beyond those of the basic six-sider used in most of our games, in a variety of pretty colors, which Dad kept in a tan courduroy bag.

We played a lot of games at our house. With four kids, there were always plenty of people to fill out the table, and Dad was almost always up for a game. We played a lot of the traditional kids' games - Hungry, Hungry Hippos, Candy Land, Monopoly, Clue, and Life were standards on our living room floor or dining room table. I also frequently played checkers and chess with my dad - he taught me how to play both around age 6, although he let me win at chess for a few years until I got the hang of the strategy. We also played some more intense and difficult games like Risk and Acquire.

We also played quite a few video games. I remember going over to my friends' houses to play Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt on their Nintendos, and at home, we had an Atari that we had picked up at a garage sale for $5. Later, my siblings and I all chipped in to buy a Super Nintendo, on which we regularly played Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and other platformer games. We all got the original, big grey brick Game Boys one year for Christmas, and later Christmas presents included a Nintendo 64 and a Game Cube.

In 2000, Wizards of the Coast released the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I was away at college at the time, but my brother started up a group with my dad as DM. The players included both my brothers, my sister, and a collection of my brothers' friends. My dad ran them through some of his old 1st edition adventures, while I tried to learn the rules on my own by picking random monsters and throwing them up against basic characters my friends at school and I put together. When I came home a year later, I joined my family's group. This was my first big step toward becoming a "hobby" gamer, as opposed to the casual gamers who stick to the kind of games I played growing up.

2 years later, my siblings and I decided to venture out to our first convention. We'd been reading about GenCon in the D&D magazine, Dragon, and a comic book about gamers, Knights of the Dinner Table, both of which we'd started reading about the same time we started playing D&D. We had been playing a lot in the Kalamar setting, a world produced by the same company that put out Knights of the Dinner Table, and they were going to launch a new organized play campaign under the banner of the Role-Playing Gamers Association (RPGA) that year at the con in Milwaukee.

At GenCon, I was surrounded by gamer culture. We played our Kalamar games on the floor of a basketball stadium, divided up by poles and curtains to try to keep the noise from leaking over to other tables. In other areas of the convention, I learned how to paint miniatures, played games I had never heard of before, and shopped a dealer hall packed with gamer paraphenalia - dice in every conceivable color and pattern, t-shirts with gamer jokes (my personal favorite, and one I still own - "Obey Me! I have an 18 Charisma), more games than would ever fit in your typical toy section at Wal-Mart, and all manner of costumes, jewelry, and accessories. I was hooked.

Now, I try new games on a regular basis. I have my own little collection of board games, including things like Settlers of Catan, Fury of Dracula, Ticket to Ride, and more, many of which come from Europe. I still love a good game of Trivial Pursuit or Clue, too. I own two video game consoles, a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox 360, as well as a pink DS Lite. I have my own dice for role-playing, too - a collection of blue and green ones in a sparkly, blue bag - even as a gamer I'm a girly-girl. While I still play D&D, I'm more likely to be found playing something like Hollow Earth Expedition or Savage Worlds - rules-light role-playing systems that encourage story and character development.

There are so many avenues into gaming, beyond video games. A good board game program, particularly one that introduces new kinds of board games, could be a great way to get families, teens, and adults together at the same time. Who knows, you might just see more people showing up for your Guitar Hero nights as well, as you turn players into gamers.

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