Wizardry of the Table Top - D&D For All
Dungeons and Dragons. Those three words conjure up so many images, depending on who you are. For those of us who play it could be decades worth of fun and enjoyment with good friends. For those who used to play, perhaps some nostalgia and even regret at no longer playing. For those that have never played, I’m fairly certain images of nerds wearing hooded robes while sitting around a table by candlelight in some thirty year old’s parent’s basement comes to mind.
I started playing D&D at the ripe age of 8 (gods, has it really been 40 years now?) in 1977. The game wasn’t that old, but there were plenty of people playing it. I had a (female) friend who lived roughly 10 minutes by foot from my house. She had a pool table, and great stereo, so I’d often hang out with her. One day, her older brother had a couple of friends over, and they seemed very excited about something. The brother approached me and asked if I’d like to play Dungeons and Dragons with them. I had no idea, but c’mon: cool older brother, dungeons, dragons, what’s not to be intrigued about?
I sat at the table with the ‘cool kids’ (I was not yet aware that playing Dungeons and Dragons immediately gave you a membership to the ‘not cool’ club), looked at the red book with the very cartoony dragon and sorceress on the cover. I was told that I was playing an Elf. Back then, Elf wasn’t just a race, it was both a race and a class. The first time I was handed the d20 and told to roll it, I was hooked, there was no going back. I spent even more time at my friend’s house, but the majority of it was spent rolling dice, killing monsters, and gathering loot. So much better than playing pool and listening to K-Tel records!
I won’t lie, I became a little obsessed with D&D. I brought my friends and my younger brother into the fold, and we played whenever we could. My gift requests were always Star Wars figures, and Dungeons and Dragons miniatures. The miniatures were great back then. They made them with lead so we could get all sorts of funny feelings when we chewed on them.
By the time I hit High School, my gaming hadn’t slowed down whatsoever. Birthday parties tended to be D&D sleepovers where we’d play until the sun came up. Friends would get together regularly to play, all year round. I remember playing in my best friend’s basement on a beautiful summer day. His Dad came home from work early and said: ‘Nope, it’s a gorgeous day outside. All of you, out of the house!’. We did what any active and properly motivated teenager would do; we carried the table and chairs outside under the shade of a tree, spread our books and papers out, and continued playing.
There was one hiccup in High School. Girls. I liked them, and being known as a D&D player was not conducive to going on dates. D&D playing dudes generally fell into three categories when hitting High School. First, there were the guys who used to play all the time, but gave it up completely out of a strong desire to be ‘cool’, or at the very least, not be as ‘uncool’. The second type simply didn’t care. They were either confident enough that they just figured people would accept them for who they were (because, you know, we were all like that in High School, right?), or they just figured they likely weren’t going to get a date anyway, so they would sit in the cafeteria pouring through their hardcover D&D books with fervor. Then there were the guys like me. We were still hardcore addicts, but we were completely in the closet about it. I specifically remember my best friends asking if he could be the third wheel on a date with a girl I really liked. We’d been friends for years, and had been playing D&D together equally as long. He fell into the second category of guys moving into High School, and it wasn’t because of his confidence. I agreed on the condition that he didn’t talk about Dungeons and Dragons. While waiting in the line to see Gremlins he got extremely excited and blurted out: ‘Oh, man, I just remembered about all those female orcs we have tied up in the cave! I’m pretty sure we got all the males, are we going to sell the females into slavery now?’. The date was unimpressed. There was no second date.
That was then. There were very few girls playing Dungeons and Dragons, and other roleplaying games. Even at the arcade there were far more boys playing video games than girls, although girls seemed to like hanging out and watching MTV and MuchMusic, back when they actually played music videos. Truthfully, if I could hazard a guess, I’d say the demographic of females playing roleplaying games was under five percent, and that’s being generous, it was likely under three percent.
This wasn’t entirely because of a lack of interest. This had a lot to do with lack of knowledge, stigmas, and boys who were uncomfortable sharing their special game with girls in a friendly way without being hormonally awkward about it. The perfect storm of circumstances meant that a large number of girls who may have loved to play D&D never got the chance to.
In 2010 Wizards of the Coast (the company that now owns Dungeons and Dragons) did some market research. They concluded that 20% of all D&D players were female. That was nearly eight years ago, and I can assure you it’s significantly higher now. Why? Well, there’s several reasons. The internet has a huge part to play. Google ‘Dungeons and Dragons live stream’ and you will find myriad groups, most with women, many with nothing but women, playing D&D and broadcasting themselves online for the whole world to see. It’s quite entertaining. Females aren’t being kept in the dark any longer about games like Dungeons and Dragons, and the game designers are making the games less misogynistic and more friendly to all genders and sexual preferences (that’s a blog for another time).
We can’t dismiss the sexual revolution that continues to happen, either. A little research on the percentage of students in undergraduate and postgraduate studies will show that for most schools there are more women in the former, and significantly more in the latter. Women simply aren’t allowing themselves to be pigeonholed into old stereotypical roles anymore, and with that comes exploration and taking a serious look at what was (erroneously) considered to be the ‘boy’s domain’ and see if they wanted any part of it.
Ultimately, the reasons don’t really matter. Having women share the Dungeons and Dragons table with us is long overdue, and very welcome. There was a time when you couldn’t get a date if you discussed D&D, now you eligible young (or old) men might just find the next love of their life rolling a d20 across the table from them!