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General Gamer Stats From White Dwarf in the 80s

Phil on Twitter has posted a few interesting stats from White Dwarf back in the 80s. These include what games were being played in 1987, and a letter about male/female ratios in the same era. Short version: mainly D&D, very few women.

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"Fascinating stuff - what RPGs were being played in the UK in 1987 ... T&T higher than you might've thought. Indiana Jones too!"


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"I know people say women have always been in gaming, and that's true. But this single stat highlights why for many of us seeing a female gamer in the wild was unheard of until the Masquerade began to change things... Average readership of White Dwarf in 1987 was 16.08... Which means they'd now be 48"

 
Russ Morrissey

Comments

Zardnaar

Legend
I remember very few girls were into video games pre PlayStation. It was a male/geek thing.

The odd exception in my experience was girls into PCs/Amiga in both cases it was due to Dad and no brothers. First time online was at her house and her dad gave me a beer just to see how I would handle it (age 17).

I don't remember the guys excluding the girls deliberately just different social circles. They weren't very impressed when we set up Megadrives. Mate brought in one girl and she brought her friends.

PlayStation started changing things, I suppose Crash Bandicoot was more appealing than Steetfighter II and Mortal Kombat.

Arcades and takeaway joints with arcade games didn't have good reputations when I was a kid though. We got into D&D via old books and games like Eye of the Beholder and Warriors of the Eternal Sun.
 
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Venley

First Post
There were so many things offputting about gaming in the '80s if one were female. Yes, harder to get into as it was rarer overall, had a nerdy rep & a rep as being for boys.

But also: the illustrations, the figures, the assumptions in scenarios, the way many groups (& games) were so combat focussed rather than story/character/rp focussed, the way it was almost always men/boys in the shops & how they stared ... or even glared as if daring me to enter "their" space. (One reason I particularly liked Gameskeeper in Oxford: Carol & John made me feel welcome.)

It is easy if one is part of the "in group" not to realise how non-inclusive you are making your group.
 



Venley

First Post
In my experience the bullying/harassment was by men & boys: staring, glaring, unfriendly remarks, overfriendly remarks, unwanted touching, unwarranted 'jokes'.

Perhaps different for teenagers but that was my experience of the rp scene in the '80s outside of my immediate friendship circle.
 

S'mon

Legend
From what I recall as a shy & nerdy 14 year old in the 1980s, it was hard to believe that girls actually wanted to play D&D. I remember a girl once expressed interest in playing with my group and we didn't know how to respond, it was hard to believe she wasn't joking. We weren't bullying or harassing, if anything we were jittery/frighty in case it was a trick to bully us. In hindsight I'm pretty sure she was sincere and it was a pity we weren't more welcoming.

Things have changed a lot, but (outside of the '90s Vampire scene) only really in the last 15 years, and very much so in the last 5 years with 5e. Of course these days there are lots of all-female
groups and the days of being the lone female having to ask to join an all-male group if you want to play are fading I think.
 


Erekose

Adventurer
Really interesting and a blast from the past!

We played D&D and Traveller (mainly alternating between the two), but occasionally Runequest, Star Trek, Stormbringer, MERP and Doctor Who.

I only knew of one female gamer but similarly she was the only girl that I knew at the time that was into science fiction/fantasy films/books, etc.
 

It’s funny to see MERP ranked so high (Third place behind AD&D and D&D!). We dabbled a little, but despite my love of Tolkien it never really caught on with our gaming group. I would’ve guessed that Warhammer or Runequest would’ve ranked above it.

As for the percentage of reported female gamers, that number sounds in-line with the dismally low percentage cited in Gary Fine’s Shared Fantasy from six or seven years earlier. Thankfully, things have changed since then.
 

Koloth

First Post
Started playing in college in the 79~83 time frame. Most of the games had one or two women who played. Most were someone's GF but they were in the game with a character sheet and dice so they counted as players. Most of the games were ad-hoc since consistent gaming schedules and college class requirements often conflict. Think "I am running module X, bring a level Y character and let me review your equipment first" type sessions. Usually some variant of D&D but there were some Traveller games.

The sanctioned on-campus games club had the more typical all male makeup. But they also did things like Star Fleet Battles, King Maker and Illuminati.
 

AriochQ

Adventurer
Went to college in 1986. I only knew of 2 female gamers, one of whom later went to work for TSR. They were very rare.
 


Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Before college I don't think I knew any female players but I could be wrong. This was a bit after the timeline of the survey.

In college, there were some, though definitely a minority. The two main subcultures that seemed to generate female gamers that I recall was goths and theater.

One I recall was kind of a soft goth. She was several years older than us and had a husband (grad student) and young son. Really nice to have her around, though, and she was a good influence to several of us. Eventually she and her husband split up and over the years we'd lost touch. Another gaming buddy of mine who was into Wraith LARP knew many female gamers, many of whom were both goths and into theater. He hung with us because he liked to play TTRPGs. He'd met the girlfriend he had at the time I met him and later met his wife through LARP, though we did play some TTRPGs now and again. She sells goth art for a living and I think they're mostly into reptile rescue in their free time.

Another got into RPGs through theater. She worked at the college's theater as the stage manager but when she was going through theater school, evidently gaming was pretty common. She and one of the other players started dating quite discreetly and are married with several kids all these years later. I'm Facebook friends with him as he's a fellow academic.

I played with a several other women over time. I don't directly play with any now, but in one of my old college buddies' games there are several women players, mostly wives of other players I knew from back when. None are what I'd call from specific "subcultures" that suggest geek interests per se, though many are scientists or academics because that's the circles I ran in.
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
I read somewhere that more girls/women were interested in D&D when it was very new, in the 1970s. But by 1987, it was firmly stigmatized as "that thing that only hopelessly nerdy boys who can't get a date do"--remember, "nerd" wasn't a compliment in 1987--so I'm not surprised that there weren't many female players at that time.

Adding the self-selection factor that you had to also subscribe to White Dwarf to even participate in the survey might skew the results even further.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
I read somewhere that more girls/women were interested in D&D when it was very new, in the 1970s. But by 1987, it was firmly stigmatized as "that thing that only hopelessly nerdy boys who can't get a date do"--remember, "nerd" wasn't a compliment in 1987--so I'm not surprised that there weren't many female players at that time.
There was a lot stronger gender segregation of toys and hobbies that happened over that course of time. But one thing that also happened from the mid '70s to the mid '80s was how much younger the player base was as D&D moved into toy stores. D&D was more of a college thing initially. College students can make their own choices.


Adding the self-selection factor that you had to also subscribe to White Dwarf to even participate in the survey might skew the results even further.
True, but I suspect that it's not a terrible representation of the White Dwarf readership. Yes, there are problems with voluntary return by mail surveys but as long as you're not trying to detect subtle trends or extrapolate a ton, they still provide some useful information.
 

Celebrim

Legend
But if one did happen to show an interest in "boys games" they would be bullied unmercifully. Just because you didn't see it happen didn't make it not happen.
But not by geeks. They would have been bullied by other girls, and by their boyfriends, and by the sort of people whose respect and affection they valued. Us nerds (at least those I know) would have been thrilled, but then we were bullied pretty mercilessly as well. We had a couple of cheerleaders come by and try to figure out what we were doing, which in and of itself was something, but it was really darn clear that while some of them were mildly interested, none of them would have risked the loss of social status that came from hanging out with us or taking up a 'nerd hobby'.

There may be some examples of gate keeping activities by gamers, but in my experience they are much rarer (particularly in the period) than gate keeping activities by people outside of the community mocking anyone that wanted to be in it. And, while nothing excuses being a jerk, let's do keep in mind that its highly likely that any nerd gatekeeper is consciously or unconsciously responding to their own abuse, taking a sort of vengeance on the poor innocent person is before them since they can't take vengeance on the person that actually wronged them. Again, not excusing this all too human behavior, because it's sad and jerky and the cause of so much wrong in the world, but just point out that in 1987 being a nerd was a highly oppressed social group in a lot of places.

Heck, as recently as a few years ago I had an out gay gamer tell me that he was 'in the closet' about his gaming because he was afraid of the bullying that would result if people knew he gamed. It sure as heck wasn't gamers he was afraid of being mocked by.

That said, by the early 90's (just 4-5 years after this poll) we seemed to have turned a corner at least in the community I was in at the time. There were a lot more girls willing to own their nerdiness, and mixed gender groups though they weren't yet the norm were not unusual. White Wolf games brought a ton of women into the RPG scene, ironically because IMO they amped up the sexual aspect of the game, making the idea of being a gamer and also being attractive, desirable, and popular something that didn't seem so ridiculous as it did in 1987. I told this story before, but I realized we were in a new frontier when I was in college, and I went to the games shelf in a book store, only to find two high school girls sitting on the floor with WW's 'LA By Night' on the floor between them, flipping through the pages and discussing which of the NPC's in the book was the dreamiest.

Far from normally being gatekeepers keeping the 'icky women' out as has become the stereotype, I bet a lot of women got into gaming because they had a loved one of some sort - brother, father, cousin, romantic partner, romantic partner of a friend - who encouraged them to game. Are there socially dysfunction men in gaming? Sure, stereotypes of nerds being socially dysfunctional often as with many stereotypes have some basis in fact. But I think it's a very biased picture of the history of gaming.
 


Venley

First Post
Perhaps that is true for you Celebrim but I can tell you as a female gamer that
a) I and the first dozen or so women gamers I knew did not come into gaming via boyfriends/fathers etc. That has more commonly been my experience of the past 20 years rather than the first 20 years.
b) I have never been excluded/bullied/assaulted by other women in or about gaming, just by men.
 

Venley

First Post
. But one thing that also happened from the mid '70s to the mid '80s was how much younger the player base was as D&D moved into toy stores. D&D was more of a college thing initially. College students can make their own choices.
That could be part of the difference between what Celebrim remembers and what I do. I started in '79 in the summer vacation between 1st and second year of university. So I was already 19, already working on archaeological sites. And almost all my fellow gamers were (still are for the most part) students or archaeologists. Our minds were already free & we were already nerds/geeks, rather than US schoolkids following their peer pressure.

I returned to uni that autumn and founded the D&D society. Of the 1st 15 members, 3 blokes played C&S, there were 2 women and 5 guys in my group, & 1 woman and 4 guys in the other D&D group.
 

JonnyP71

Explorer
That could be part of the difference between what Celebrim remembers and what I do. I started in '79 in the summer vacation between 1st and second year of university. So I was already 19, already working on archaeological sites. And almost all my fellow gamers were (still are for the most part) students or archaeologists. Our minds were already free & we were already nerds/geeks, rather than US schoolkids following their peer pressure.

I returned to uni that autumn and founded the D&D society. Of the 1st 15 members, 3 blokes played C&S, there were 2 women and 5 guys in my group, & 1 woman and 4 guys in the other D&D group.

That'll be why your experience differs from mine too, I was 12 when I started playing in 1983. Home computers were beginning to appear, and anyone interested in computer games and rpgs was branded geeky - and it was the teenage girls who were the most vocal in their teasing of our nerdiness. Thus if any of them were actually tempted to join in with our games, they wouldn't have dared to for fear of losing face with their peers. (Teenagers of both sexes can be brutal at times to any who don't fit in!)
 

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