I was recently interviewed for an article in WIRED magazine regarding my thoughts on why there are so few women in wargaming, especially compared to similar hobbies such as board gaming and tabletop roleplaying. The article also goes into possible solutions to make the hobby more welcoming, not just for women, but for anyone who’s new to the hobby.
A little bit about my background as a wargamer: I actually didn’t get into miniatures gaming until several years after I discovered tabletop RPGs, which itself was long after I became an avid video gamer. The first tabletop RPG campaign I ever played in was Dark Heresy in 2008, although I’d been aware of Warhammer 40K before that because my younger brothers played. It wasn’t until 2014—after I’d helped playtest Dark Heresy 2nd Edition as an associate RPG producer at Fantasy Flight Games—that I was gifted some Tyranid and Blood Angel models and brought them home to introduce the game to my future husband. More than anything, I think it was for want of money and a trusted gaming partner that I took so long to get into miniatures gaming. It also helped tremendously that by then, I had a group of supportive gaming buddies who were welcoming and helpful.
In the last year or so, I’ve gotten really into wargaming campaigns and an epic-scale fantasy miniature game called Warmaster. I’ve been reading a few books on the topic of campaigns and military history more generally: Tony Bath’s Ancient Wargaming, which includes several chapters on setting up a wargaming campaign, as well as A Practical Guide to Medieval Warfare: Exploring History through Wargaming, which gets into the real-life considerations behind logistics and movement. I’ve also started to dip my toes into—gasp—Napoleonics, for which I blame the BBC mini-series adaptation of War & Peace. For all that my interest in wargaming has been expanding, I’ve purposely been very selective in choosing how and when I engage with the minis gaming space, which has a lot to do with the culture of those spaces. I’ve attended a few tournaments as a spectator to get a feel for the atmosphere and I’ve played in a narrative-heavy Warhammer tournament, which was the exception to my rule of not playing minis games with strangers. I’ve had to adopt that rule because of the horror stories I’ve heard and the toxicity I’ve experienced personally.
Sadly, there are people who will (consciously or not) patronize me and assume that I’m “just someone’s girlfriend” or “don’t know that much about Warhammer.” They subtly try to test how knowledgeable I am and check whether I’ve earned the “right” to be in this space. You can chalk a lot of it up to poor social skills in general, but I have also felt hostility toward women and other marginalized folks. In the worst-case scenarios, women gamers have to navigate unwanted advances, and it’s my impression that not many Warhammer gaming spaces or tournaments have robust harassment policies or seem willing to enforce those policies against their longtime gaming buddies for a newcomer. I think it’s interesting how many women I know have participated in the hobby side (painting and modeling) as well as the lore side (reading Black Library books), but it’s making the jump to that Saturday Night Warhammer throwdown that’s the biggest hurdle to clear.
I think there are a few things that companies could do, including hiring diversely and developing community conduct standards that are aimed at making spaces fun, inclusive, and safe for everyone. “The Player’s Code” featured in the latest edition of Age of Sigmar is a great step in that direction! I think game stores and conventions and the communities themselves could do more, however. The easiest step would be for players to call out toxic behavior when they see it, and to be more conscious of what makes a culture feel exclusionary so that communities can chart a different course.
I encourage you to read the article for yourself and consider the barriers that make it more difficult for people to enjoy games, whether it’s the financial barrier, rules complexity, or the community itself. Together, we can help make games of all kinds welcoming for everyone.