These days, when people think about the topic of women and gaming, they tend to think of GamerGate. Fortunately, that blight on our social landscape seems to have died down at last, but it happened, and it was appalling.
Most of the harassment women in gaming face, however, is nothing like what Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, or Brianna Wu have endured. Board gaming, especially, still seems relatively unaffected by controversy over representation of women within the hobby. People occasionally express disgust with games like Barbarossa, a game about sexy anime Nazi girls. But for the most part, board game designers remain relatively immune from backlash over representation of women (or lack thereof).
In some ways, the lack of overt controversy about these issues in board gaming leads to a more frustrating kind of hostility—the kind that you feel, and that you know for sure is real, but that you can't actually prove.
I have been very lucky so far. I have never been seriously harassed. It probably helps that I don't typically game online. But that doesn't mean I haven't faced mild forms of prejudice from men at my FLGS (friendly local game store).
My boyfriend and I regularly shop at game stores together, and we frequently face the problem of male employees who talk exclusively to him, even if I am the one who is buying the game. This has also happened when I buy video games at GameStop—you'd be amazed how many employees assume that copy of Far Cry 4 is a gift for my boyfriend instead of myself.
The thing that really drives me up the wall, though, is the constant assumption by game store employees that I do not know what I'm doing or what I'm talking about. I bought a copy of Codenames a few weeks ago, plus some sleeves for my Lord of the Rings LCG cards. The checkout guy looked at me like I was a complete idiot and said, "You realize those sleeves aren't going to fit the little cards in Codenames, right?" I raised an eyebrow at him and said I was quite aware of that, thank you. He started to backtrack and offered up a lame excuse: "Oh, well, I always check when people are buying sleeves." I know his is untrue, because he doesn't check when my boyfriend buys them.
A different guy at the same store once insisted on looking up a game I wanted on Google to make sure I had given the correct name of the game before he tried searching for it in the store's database. The game was Darkest Night (before I heard about the reprint and decided to wait). Are you freaking kidding me? Again, when I gave him the "WTF" look, he backtracked and said, "Um, I check with everyone, our search engine is really finicky." Really?
These minor offenses really are minor. They aren't the sort of thing you complain to the manager about. It can even be hard to explain what made you so angry to someone who wasn't there. But that doesn't change the fact that they happen constantly, that they are annoying, and that they serve as a powerful reminder: Women aren't always viewed as "legitimate" gamers in the same way that men are. That's something I hope will eventually change.
My name is Liz, and I play a lot of games. By day, I am a teacher. By night, I am an avid gamer.