What It Means to Be ‘The Woman in the Arena’ in Gaming

I’ve had quite a time since losing my full-time work at home job in July of last year. I survive on generosity, coffee, 80-hour workweeks, and cashing in a lot of favors from the karma bank. My savior was also gaming, in the form of running digital LARPs (live action role playing games). I knew I had some assets and disadvantages when a close friend told me “you’re in love with your dream.” But at that point, nothing mattered. I just had to do the thing, and so CHARIOT LARP was born. (You can read the full story about that at The Billfold.)

Right now, about a third of my income is made through gaming. That fluctuates depending on whether I’ve just announced a game, if I’ve been hired to run a game by someone else, how much writing and editing work I have coming in, etc.

I’ve had my doubts, and since I firmly believe in transparency, sometimes I post them.

It’s Complicated

So I’ve been seeing this guy. He’s kind of amazing. We’re really good for each other. He supports my efforts even though he’s not a LARPer (yet – already got him in a tabletop game), which is something I’ve realized from previous relationships that I really need and appreciate.

And naturally, after having very little interest and even less inquiries from potential suitors, as soon as I start seeing someone new, I get inquiries. I guess it’s complicated, because this isn’t a super serious defined thing, which scares the hell out of me, but I’m monogamous by nature and decided to change my Facebook status.

It’s complicated. 

And let me tell you, I’ve been through some stuff in life, and I have some friends who are fiercely protective – and they’re pulling for me.

I confessed my doubts. It’s a scary, worrying, confusing situation I’m in. It mixes together with these doubts I have about my competence being defined by paychecks and relationships. Maybe if I don’t deserve a steady paycheck (so say the gods of capitalism) or healthcare (so say all the people who voted for this mess), I don’t deserve a relationship, either. Or a place to live. Or whatever talent I even have.

I mean, think about that. My government doesn’t even think I deserve to live. And that’s just the prologue to this story.

Try getting out of bed every day with that thought in your head. Add to that several unmedicated chronic health issues. It’s almost like the kind of thing you should talk to a counselor about – if you have healthcare.

womp womp

Scary stuff, and it takes a lot of energy for me to talk myself out of that.

Can not one of those things be remotely stable? Does every little thing – temporary living situations, jobs (and lack thereof), and romance – all have to be so completely whatever regardless of how much I want to invest?

Of course.

Seriously?

Here’s How It’s Relevant to Game Design

So I made this “It’s complicated” status change about this not-quite-relationship thing, and said friends who are looking out for me read it.

(I was going to post a gif of a can of worms, but it turns out that a can of worms is kind of gross, so I’ll spare you. Plus, my friends are way too excellent to make something negative out of “it’s complicated.”)

Anyway.

My friend J.S. is always looking out for me. We met at LARP and have played out camaraderie and loyalty between two sets of characters in very different circumstances. Plus, he’s played my LARP and he’s super intellectual and knows what he’s talking about and stuff, so when he talks, I listen. And he said:

“You’re the woman in the arena.”

I probably get like a third of his intellectual references, but this one I actually knew. Theodore Roosevelt said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I mean, this is also a term that’s been applied to Oprah. And Hillary. And this woman:

wonder woman

And apparently a woman-centric indie film.

Now someone I respect immensely is telling me I’m “The Woman in the Arena.” I can further respect him by exploring what the hell that means, I can let imposter syndrome own me less than a day before I start running six games at a convention, or I can ignore it.

I’m made of stubbornness, Irish stuff, coffee, creativity, and whiskey – so guess which path I’m taking? The super tough and truthful one.

A lot of this journey has to be a solo one, too, because men can empathize but they aren’t in this situation. There are other women in adjacent arenas, but my number one supporter in this regard – she’s running her own games at another convention, because that’s what we do. We get stuff done, and we support each other on top of all of this.

Being a Woman in Game Design

Let’s be real: the challenges and rewards of being a woman in game design could be its own trilogy, and much of it not particularly pretty to look at. Let’s be real about it, because I feel a little weird declaring myself something super heroic sounding like “The Woman in the Arena” even though my friend was the one who said it.

It is easier to talk about it in a removed way, but the quote already does that. I’m going to truncate and annotate because Teddy’s speech, though melodic, is a run on sentence supreme.

The credit belongs to the [wo]man who is actually in the arena,

Oh Goddess, people are looking at me?! Wait, this is how we sell LARP tickets. Maybe that’s okay.

whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;

Someone noticed the work I put in. And then they mentioned it, in public, after I did a lot of work and almost quit. Hey, now maybe I can do more things instead of quitting.

who errs,

I know. I screw up sometimes 🙁 I’m not the best at all the things. My privileges and my shortcomings get in the way. And sometimes it’s hard to run a perfect game when your dog is getting put to sleep the next day and you say goodbye to him on a short break in the game, but you love the game and you ARE the game and so you do it anyway–

who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

I swear, it’s not a string of excuses. Life is just shitty sometimes and I am trying to improve. 

but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends [her]self in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if [s]he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Thanks for noticing, because – yeah, I am trying.

And Then, There Were Many

So what, in particular, is difficult about my experience as a game designer?

My first effort is an unapologetically feminist LARP called “She’s Got a Gun.” I’ve run it at several cons, including Gen Con 2017. It got some criticism for being a woman-first game, even though it’s very much inclusive of everyone, but for the most part, it went pretty smoothly.

Then I did something new.

People have LARPed online before, mostly in private. Storytellers have run games as paid GMs (game masters) before, usually in a tabletop setting. People have also sold remote participation tickets to blockbuster LARPs.

I decided to sell tickets to an all-digital LARP and stream it on Twitch.

People said it was cool! They asked questions about it! They bought tickets for it! One team even hired me to run digital LARPs in their setting. Pretty sweet, right?

Kinda.

Digital LARP isn’t a copyrightable thing, which I knew going in. There’s always going to be someone with real computer equipment that doesn’t malfunction (I’m like Serenity over here…), a full team, start up capital, or a steady job that allows them to run their games for free or lower prices. And since no one else will ever say it and I’m assertive enough to be called a bitch anyway, getting involved with LARP in the digital space can be a nasty business.

Everyone seems so nice until you really get into the backstabbery, and what kills me is that much of the backstabbery comes from:

  • Strong and talented women who choose to be competitive instead of supporting each other*
  • Men who do not think twice about taking a woman’s time, ideas, and unpaid labor to repackage, rebrand, and sell a product as their own*

*Note: If we have exchanged ideas and labor, if you have compensated me for my time, if you have mentored me, or if I have received a significant amount of paid work and referrals from you, I am not talking about you. 

backstab
Don’t backstab me! Aim at the patriarchy!

In the last week alone, I’ve heard about three new digital LARPs being released. And I think it’s okay that I have mixed feelings on them. The friend who told me I’m in love with my dream? He’s just angry over it.

I’m trying to be realistic and I’m already developing the next innovation (the two LARPs after the ones I’m selling tickets for).

So at this point, I don’t really give a shit if people call me a bitch. If I don’t want to be a doormat, it’s a thing I have to accept, and I’ve learned that not just in life, but in observing the complexities of the arena long before I was the woman in it. (Cue also ‘OMG she said something about a problem, she has such a VICTIM COMPLEX!’ which I have most definitely heard said about more than one of my female colleagues.)

So now there are lots of digital LARPs coming to be, which I had to expect and must accept as part of the process. I’m processing the fact that I’m the one who steadfastly defended the idea of “digital LARP” as a term; I helped define it and proved it could be viable despite criticisms. It’s a thing I significantly innovated while dealing with the emotional labor of others’ insecurities.

I’m not rich off of this – I’m barely getting by – but with the right tools, it’s easily profitable, and most importantly, accessible.

And now I have to focus on my own work (LARP and not), sit back, and watch other people do it (possibly better).

I’ll accept it.

But I’ll own this: I am the woman in the arena. 

Are you curious about digital LARP, also known as remote LARPing? Check out Hellfire & Happiness: A Regency England Occult Digital LARP.

Do you know of an open role for a content manager, editor, or SEO copywriter, whether full-time, part-time, or freelance? Recommend me, and let’s connect on LinkedIn.

Did you learn something from this post? Do you give a damn about the woman in the arena? Toss me a few bucks over at ko-fi so I can keep writing stuff like this and making games.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

 

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About Tara M. Clapper 279 Articles
Tara is a lifelong geek and the founder and publisher of The Geek Initiative. Her interests were forged in an early appreciation for "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Jurassic Park," and many historical fiction and fantasy novels. Tara is a game designer, LARPer, and frequent convention attendee. The author of over 1,000 individual blogs, her content has been featured on HelloGiggles, nordiclarp.org, LARPing.org, and The Billfold. She holds a B.A. in English from McDaniel College and has attended many events as press (including New York Comic Con). Tara has a professional background in marketing and publishing. She lives in the Philadelphia area. A Marvel fan, her favorite superhero is undoubtedly Thor. View her portfolio at: tmc.pressfolios.com.

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