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I think most people can consider themselves lucky, if they can count on more than one hand the tabletop groups they ran across in their adulthood. As for those more sheltered individuals, they probably skirted the edges of friend-groups who had monthly (maybe weekly?) sessions of a Forgotten Realms campaign.
I’m prefacing this article with a backstory, because we’ve seen a resurgence of tabletop gaming across many forms of media. The strongest one of these, of course, being the Internet.
But is it a question of resurgence, or is it because emergent media allows it to be more accessible?
Let me explain: I am one of those sheltered children. It comes out in both work and play. I try to involve myself in team efforts, but I also refuse to actually get off my behind unless some authoritative hand drags me into it. That said, it wasn’t like I kept my head in the sand. I knew about tabletop. My father spoke often about it from his youth; my brother boasted of a few groups he’d played in. Heck, the few times all our cousins gathered was one of the few shining examples of early gaming for me.
As I grew up, I kept an ear out for such elusive tabletop gaming sessions. One in particular, this… Dungeons & Dragons was one of the few.
To my dismay, the communities that offered it were so gatekept. As female-presenting, my inquiries were laughed off, followed by the usual Geek-cred Check that most of my femme friends can sympathise with.
No, of course I don’t know anything about Faerun. What’s min-maxing? Isn’t Eberron that character from Noli Me Tangere?
Suffice to say, with such adamant rejection from the community, my interest in seeking out a tabletop gaming group waned. Most my adolescence was spent instead with the advent of digital gaming. RPGs were a comforting friend during nights I spared to get away from my studies. Eventually, much of my energy diverted almost exclusively to digital gaming that I took up a course in Animation for college.
During this point the Internet became such a large part of my experience. I watched Let’s Plays of games that weren’t out in my country yet, or ones of games I didn’t have enough money (at the time) to buy. When tabletop gaming (unsurprisingly) appeared in my life again in the form of my then-partner’s friends, I jumped at the chance to join.
Surrounded by twenty-something year old men, I was a lot more aware of the possibility that I might or might not end up viewed with some form of ridicule. Never mind actually being allowed to join the game.
And, in a way, I wasn’t disappointed.
It shouldn’t be this hard to get into tabletop, right?
I was tangibly singled out as The Girlfriend of One of the Players. I’ve had a long-suffering relationship with the title of saling-pusa (for our international readers, think: “tag-along”, “extra”… you get the picture) and this was, admittedly, not the experience I wanted to have. Granted, some of the boys bothered to ask me about my character. But the sighing when it came to my turn and all the hovering when I rolled a dice was less than acceptable.
That one experience was enough to turn me off. I’d unconsciously decided to wash my hands of tabletop gaming; to just shelve it as some relic of the past. A relic that would never see a resurgence because of the insular atmosphere it encouraged. That was that for me. And yes, I’m well aware of tabletop being the origin of many a successful video game RPG. I am, however, also very salty when people use my gender to ruin gaming for me.
My partner at the time got really into it though. They started watching a lot of peripheral media about it: Lore videos, articles, and to my surprise, some form of Let’s Plays. One of the few things that softened me to tabletop gaming was a show called, well, Tabletop.
The show is a weekly feature demonstrating a variety of different tabletop games. From roleplay-heavy set-ups, to trading cards, base-building – you name it. The bonus was that Tabletop often featured guests from familiar corners of pop culture: actors, voice actors, creators of the featured board games. And the best part about it was that the show wasn’t just a mess of people fumbling through the rules. Wil Wheaton always prefaced each episode with a description of the game, as well as the rules they abide by (or sometimes, the adopted House Rules if circumstances called for such).
It’s always comedic, each guest commenting on their actions almost like The Office. I saw a lot of favourite icons from both Film and Youtube; from Sam Witwer to Ryan Higa, and even Markiplier. I was hooked for a long time until eventually, my interest returned hand in hand with that familiar caution.