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Confessions of a Girlfriend Gamer

She’s in my head. All the time. Nobody warned me about this.

It start­ed inno­cent­ly enough—I’d always want­ed to try gam­ing, but it seemed like a guy thing. I was present dur­ing one Dun­geons & Drag­on game back in mid­dle or high school, and it seemed pret­ty boring—okay, and yes, it is bor­ing as a spec­ta­tor. I’ve always known gamers—but they were male. All of them. And it didn’t occur to them that a female might want to play—or to me to ask to be includ­ed.

Then a friend at church intro­duced me to Sam. We exchanged email address­es and I learned that, among oth­er things, he was a game design­er. He invit­ed me to join their cur­rent Were­wolf game. Okay, I want­ed to get to know him bet­ter and want­ed to try gaming—and while the whole idea of Were­wolf held lit­tle innate appeal, it was a chance to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. And Sam’s first-ever gift to me was my own lit­tle pouch of Were­wolf dice, which pret­ty much set the tone of the rela­tion­ship.

My first attempt at char­ac­ter cre­ation was dis­as­trous. Help from Sam sal­vaged the char­ac­ter as much as pos­si­ble, but I nev­er real­ly got into her head very well. The Were­wolf game didn’t last very long for sev­er­al rea­sons, but I did get my feet wet a lit­tle, and by the time it fell apart Sam and I were def­i­nite­ly involved with each oth­er.

Next we played Mage—and I liked that a lot bet­ter. I got the whole char­ac­ter gen­er­a­tion thing bet­ter, and could relate bet­ter to the per­son I played—I found that Anna “spoke” to me, told me about her back­ground, which wasn’t all as I’d orig­i­nal­ly thought it was. It had been years since I wrote any kind of fic­tion, and I’d pret­ty much for­got­ten how char­ac­ters will do that sometimes—inform the writer that she’s just wrong, and it hap­pened like this. The Mage cam­paign last­ed quite a while and was mar­velous in that it gave me a chance to get famil­iar with gen­er­al RPG mechan­ics and work­ing with oth­er play­ers.

D&D third edi­tion was being released as the Mage game was wrap­ping up. I was the only per­son in the game who hadn’t ever played D&D, and I didn’t real­ly under­stand why every­one else was so excit­ed. Sam imme­di­ate­ly start­ed play­ing D&D with our kids, and while they loved it, I just wasn’t too interested—it didn’t appeal to me. I couldn’t get excit­ed about play­ing it. I couldn’t imag­ine what kind of char­ac­ter I could relate to at all. In fact, Sam did the ini­tial gen­er­a­tion of my char­ac­ter for me to a great extent—he asked me to make some deci­sions, like her name and what she looked like, but he allo­cat­ed most of the skill points and so on. I liked Mage and under­stood Anna in that game and I real­ly wasn’t ready to move on when that cam­paign end­ed, and I was hon­est­ly dig­ging in my heels. I didn’t refuse to participate—quite.

And now, eight game ses­sions lat­er, that D&D char­ac­ter has grown and won’t get out of my head. I know Tarafëar’s back­ground and what she does out­side game time and who her par­ents were and how they met and—well, she just keeps talk­ing to me. For good­ness sake, I woke up with sto­ries of her father’s adven­tures in my head one day! I want to game more right now! I want to know what hap­pens next! I’m annoyed if we can’t game each week, and I find myself stitch­ing less and less dur­ing games (nor­mal­ly I keep my hands busy with needle­work unless I’m active­ly rolling dice) and pass­ing notes with oth­er play­ers or look­ing up some­thing in the player’s guide to clar­i­fy which spell would be best to use in a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion.

Now, before any­body starts think­ing I’ve fall­en prey to some evil trait of RPGs and got­ten obses­sive, I should point out that I’m still doing all the oth­er nor­mal things in my life—my daugh­ter con­tin­ues to learn (we’re home­school­ers), the house is still clean, the laun­dry is still done, I still write oth­er things, I’m still read­ing sev­er­al books a week, still train­ing to be a Girl Scout leader, etc.

But Tarafëar is in my head. I know what she looks like. She has a com­pan­ion (not a famil­iar) winged cat who hap­pens to be a char­ac­ter my daugh­ter played in past games, and Katie is writ­ing sto­ries about their adven­tures togeth­er when they were very young. I real­ly thought about Anna only in terms of the sto­ry we were in at the time and the skills that seemed to be use­ful in the plot—Tarafëar’s sta­tis­tics devel­op more in terms of her as a per­son, as a whole char­ac­ter. I’m actu­al­ly writ­ing fic­tion again for the first time in ten years, and while they’re sto­ries that are unlike­ly to be of inter­est to any­body out­side our fam­i­ly and friends, I’m writing—which is a Good Thing. And no mat­ter what any­body else says about the infa­mous girl­friend gamers, I’ve found that I’d be find­ing a way to game whether Sam and I were togeth­er or not—so I guess I’m sim­ply a gamer now, not a girl­friend gamer. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s this mas­ter­work harp that Tara is lust­ing after and she’s try­ing to fig­ure out how to acquire it, so I need to go write some more.

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished Feb­ru­ary 22, 2001