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Collecting Stories: Compiling the Oral History of Women in Gaming

Lillian Cohen-Moore, the journalist collecting the oral history of women in gaming.
Lillian Cohen-Moore, the journalist collecting the oral history of women in gaming.

Through the magic of twitter, I was introduced to Lillian Cohen-Moore’s latest project to collect the stories of women in gaming. Lilly was inspired by the #1ReasonWhy hashtag that was trending back in November. But while #1ReasonWhy evolved to focus on the stories of women in the video game industry, Lilly decided to focus on the stories of women in tabletop gaming as the hashtag initiated.

Lilly decided to collect an oral history from the women in the gaming community. While living in the Pacific Northwest gives several opportunities, it would limit the stories to those women in that particular environment. She had to go bigger, to go to the Mecca of tabletop gaming, GenCon.

Getting to Indianapolis from the northwest is no minor feat however. Flights are ridiculously expensive, there are hotel costs, food, badges, and all the other expenses that go along with attending a convention. She started a GoFundMe page to get to Indy. GoFundMe works a little different from Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. There are no incentives; no silly prizes for being an early adopter. Just supporting good ideas.

Without incentives, how do you know that Lilly’s project to collect the oral history of women in gaming is going to produce good content? For one, Lilly has a long list of published works. She has a weekly RPG column for Geek’s Dream Girl. This is also not her first GoFundMe project. Her last project sent her to NASA to document her experience there.

I contacted Lilly and she graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about her own history in gaming and how she envisions her ambitious project.

 

Lilly’s Personal History in Gaming

1) How were you introduced to the world of tabletop gaming?
I got my start gaming with my older siblings. Console, computer, tabletop, live-action, whatever they can make time for. My parents were very supportive of all of us playing games, and bought us games as often as they could. We all got one personal gift from our parents on the holidays, and then one gift for all of us children as a group, usually a board game.

Eventually we started getting disenchanted with our board games, and began writing our own rules variants to use our games in new ways. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was branching out of board games by regularly joining D&D games my brother ran for his friends. As I grew older, I branched out into other game systems. I kept playing card games, and board games as well. To this day, I try new tabletop games whenever I can.

2) What (if any) forms of sexism have you encountered in this culture?
I’ve personally had deeply upsetting experiences in con spaces with sexual harassment, and get a consistent level of harassment online. The online harassment in particular is divided between sexual harassment, and sexist reactions to my work in games journalism. I’ve also seen men dress down female colleagues at professional functions, make sexual comments about female peers, and cutting women off constantly in conversation in professional and casual settings. I’ve also been on the receiving end of all those aforementioned behaviors. I’ve watched my female peers go through other horrific experiences as women working with games. Those experiences scale everywhere from hate mail to years long stalking.

3) In your experience, is the culture of tabletop gaming getting better or worse for women gamers?
I would say that for me, it feels like we take two steps forward, one step back on a regular basis. Tabletop gamers span the globe, and the internet is making our exchange of culture, ideas, and philosophies of play faster every day. I think that the gamers who don’t want women in the community are outnumbered by the people who do want us here. But the sexist, sometimes deeply hateful people in our communities are using that global platform the internet provides, to try and drown out everyone else. And that makes the problems in gaming feel overwhelming, and monolithic, because that often virulent sexism is getting airtime every single day where everyone can see it.

4) What is one thing you’d like to see changed in tabletop culture?
I’d like people to consistently treat their fellow gamers as people, at and away from the table.

 

About the Oral History of Women in Gaming

1) You were inspired by the #1reasonwhy hashtag, which focused on sexism in video game culture. How do you feel tabletop is different? What are the unique challenges in this space?
The #1reasonwhy hashtag was started by Filamena Young, who is a tabletop game designer. The initial slew of tweets on the hashtag were from her and other women involved with tabletop games, and women in tabletop games continued to contribute their experiences to the hashtag. There’s been a low rate of attribution to where the hashtag started, which is unfortunate. Particularly because it gave sexists in tabletop gaming the opportunity to say “But we don’t have those problems, that was all about women who make video games.”

As for the challenges of tabletop game space, the widespread state of the community is both the best and most difficult thing for me to deal with. Because of the diversity tabletop has in geography and personal experience, I have an amazing range of women I can interview. It’s also going to take a lot of time on the road to get some of those interviews; some may end up having to be done over Skype, because it’s currently cost prohibitive for me to get to communities in foreign countries.

2) Your GoFundMe is raising money to get you to GenCon to collect an oral history of women in tabletop. How do you envision the finished project? How do you plan to distribute the project?
In its final form, I want to have an easily accessible online archive of the interviews I’ll have conducted. The bulk of that continent will be interview transcripts, and archive-quality audio files. It’s the easiest way I could think of to both add to scholarly sources about tabletop games and live-action role-playing, as well as make it as easy as I could for people to access internationally. Though a steady, or even ready access to an internet connection is very difficult in many places, putting it online means people don’t have to travel to a specific institution housing the oral history.

3) Where else (if anywhere) would you like to collect stories?
If I had the funding, I’d take the oral history on the road internationally. Since I don’t have a large research grant or the income to do that easily, most of my in the field reporting will be restricted to the North American continent, primarily within the United States.

Stories are a powerful thing. No matter how many times you read a scholarly article about a topic, you don’t get an idea of how the people felt. Feelings are what define us, and our experiences, as humans. As geeks, we love our culture’s history. The stories of startups in garages. The stories of how games have been formed. The stories of where we’ve been inspire us to where we want to go. Collecting the stories of what women gamers have gone through, and are currently going through ensures that this history will not be lost.

Visit Lilly’s GoFundMe page to make a donation. Every dollar gets her closer to Indy, and closer to GenCon.

If you have a story to tell, make sure to contact her, I’m sure she’d love to hear it.

This post originally appeared on Pure Geekery.

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Nicole Zeckner

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