was at a board game event when a friend came up to me and said “Thank you for being the double-x representative.” Sure enough, as I looked around, I saw that she and I were the only two women in attendance, but she was on her way out.
I don’t mind hanging out with guys. The men in my board game circle are my friends and I’m happy to play games with them. But lately I’ve been noticing something: more and more often I am the only woman who shows up. I remember a time when the numbers were more even and more women participated, so I’ve started wondering where they’ve gone, and questioning why they don’t come anymore. Area of Effect Commander Allison Barron also noted that she is in a similar situation, and I’ve read enough to know that a lack of women in board game circles is not an uncommon thing.
I found a study on Women and Games by Dr. Erin Calhoun Davis, a sociology professor at Cornell College in Iowa, that explores the reasons why women like playing board games but feel unwelcome in board game circles.
Davis found that the women she interviewed play games for very much the same reasons I do: they find games fun, social, and intellectually challenging. Most self-identified as gamers and had been playing for many years. So why are there still so few women in board game circles?
The interviewees cited a number of reasons for this. One was childcare, which is still mostly done by women. The women who had children felt they did not have the time to play a four-hour board game while there was still so much to do. Another was social expectations, which say that playing board games is not something “nice girls” do.
They also talked about their experiences of playing board games with other men. Many of them found that men assumed they didn’t know what they were doing, or only wanted to play party games, or simply refused to play with them at all because they were women. They also found that men often over-simplified the rules, went easy on them, and were surprised when they did well or won the game; they weren’t treated like the competent players they are.
I’ve never experienced this in my group, but I think that’s partly due to the fact that they are my friends and I’ve been playing with them for years. Still, I find the lack of women in this circle troubling. If women aren’t showing up to board game events even when they are “welcome,” then something isn’t working.
It’s also not enough for the men in these groups to dismiss this as a “women’s issue” and do nothing, or for women to complain about it and do nothing. Both men and women need to be proactive and work together to make board gaming welcoming to everyone.
If you’ve noticed an imbalance in your group, ask “who’s missing?” and then ask “why?” Then, work towards fixing that imbalance. Maybe it means offering childcare and making the space more family-friendly so more women can join in, or expanding the choice of games.
I’m not calling for women to suddenly take over all board game events. But, I’d like to see board gamers working toward creating a community in which all players are actively included, no matter what skill-level or gender. ♦