I Know What I'm Doing; I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

It's a Saturday. Just after noon. I'm sitting at a table with a money box, some sign up sheets, pens, the necessary coffee, and the RPG I'm designing and currently editing. There are people at tables behind me, playing games I helped organize. The coffee isn't hot anymore but I drink it anyways.

Then he appears. My saviour. With his fair skin and loud voice and knowing eyes, I can barely hold myself from bowing down at his godly visage as he imparts his wisdom to my keen ears.

His mouth opens and the wisdom of the ages falls from pink lips. He is telling me how to run a convention.

A man. Is telling me. How. To. Run. A. Convention.

Praise the fucking gods. How could I do it without this unsolicited advice?

I resist the impulse to drop everything I'm doing and start taking notes. Instead, I respond to his comments with logic and a cool head. He eventually stops talking to me and looks down at his phone, loiters near me for a time, before he leaves the convention. I roll my eyes and go back to editing my game.

It's a Saturday. Night time, I think. It's hard to tell. I've been in the hotel long enough. I'm sitting at a booth, a spray of books across its top. There's a cash box behind me. I sit there, talking casually to the man in the booth beside mine. The owner of this booth is off running games. I'm just selling books.

A man-boy (somewhere between the two) approaches my table, sits on it, and proceeds to give me some of the best advice I've ever received. I would sell more books if I were wearing a tank top. I should wear makeup. I should smile more. I should be better.

His advice has been priceless to me. I followed all of it closely for years. He changed my life.

It's a Friday. The convention is in full swing because we now start on Thursdays. Until Sunday. I'm already exhausted because getting the badges sorted is always a heyday and Friday is the big day. Games are full. Every single one of them is running. It's a proud moment I can barely hold on to.

The coffee isn't coming often enough, which isn't anyone's fault, but I feel it intensely as I sit at the table and put out the next sign up sheets. The volunteer sitting beside me is doing nothing. He sits there, on his phone. I tell him what needs to be done. He says something I don't remember and doesn't do it. So I do it.

My white male volunteer then starts talking to me. He's telling me how to better do things at the table. I'm half listening. He goes on to tell me about how I should write better instructions and give more notice on what duties are to be expected. I try to ignore that I sent him a document with step by step instructions. Like all the volunteers received. I ask what was unclear in the document. It becomes clear he didn't read it. I ask if there are ways I could make it more accessible and he doesn't seem to know what I mean.

But he has ideas. On how he would run this differently. I take out my mental notebook and listen to what he says before I prepare for the next wave of con goers.

It's Sunday. We're fucking tired. Not just a little. We're super super tired. It's our first con we can call our own. It's our own RPG hall. It's a new type of gaming schedule. It's gone off with ease and beauty and flow. We're in love with our gaming track.

We've had breakfast pringles. Coffee is here and it's a god damn miracle. I have a notebook full of notes on how I should run this part of the convention differently. All of the advice from men. Men of every variety and type. My dreamboat days are still here, as they walk over to the desk, ignore the look of keening panic in my eyes, and start to tell me how the schedule doesn't accommodate theirs, and so I should change it next year.

I've heard it all this year: I need to have different badges. I need to space things differently. I should've put this game at this table. I shouldn't use these types of tables. I should have more World of Darkness. I should have less D&D. I should have more D&D. I should have more tournaments. Why are there board gamers in here? Keep them in their own room.

It's Wisdom from Beyond The Ages (TM). Bestowed upon me by blessed possessor of most noble cock.

I'm in a panel on game design. I'm not sitting on the panel. I'm watching. I'm a budding game designer wanting in on the culture. I'm at a convention with my friend, Ry, of story game fame. We're finishing the panel and I'm excited. Fuck am I excited. But also, everyone I've been playing games with, with the exception of Connie and Julia, are dudes.

To me, being a woman in game design seems hard. Everyone's talking about Emily Care Boss and Julia Bond Ellingboe's larp. I'm excited, but don't play, because all my LARP experience has been shitty. And Ry didn't sign me up for the LARP. He signed me up for something else. That's cool.

At the end of this panel, a couple of the game designers start talking to Ry and I. They ask what we're working on. I mention casually a short story I'm writing and how I want that to be a game. From this point on, I get a pep talk on believing in myself and that next year, they want me back at the convention with my own game to demo. I never return.

Fan Expo introduces me to Jonathan Lavallee. He doesn't asks if my boyfriend brought me. When I get into the game industry, he introduces me to people and offers gentle encouragement and equal parts rage when the community goes pear shaped. He extols the awesomeness of several fabulous community members and when I start game designing, offers introductions to the people who can help make it possible. When I flounder or have questions, he's still readily available to help me or point me in the right direction.

I'm working on my own game, a game about carnivals and othering and being bad ass and saving the world, when I start posting about it online. A game design friend, Phil Brucato, offers me advice on Kickstarter and that he'll help in any way he can once I'm ready to go to that step. He offers his phone number in case I want to call and chat about it. He calms my anxieties about it, introduces me to editors and designers and illustrators and artists. Since this time, he has repeatedly reached out to encourage me and offer advice when I flail wildly into the unknown worlds of design.

I meet Andrew Medeiros online as I contact game designers for Breakout, a local gaming convention. We start chatting and get along well enough, partly because I'm a ridiculous fan girl for Urban Shadows. I ask him pointed questions about designing a game. He inquires back. He takes a look at my game and offers gentle but good suggestions. He offers to help figure out backing so that I can push past the barrier of needing to work so much just to support myself that I don't have time to work on my own art. He offers encouragement and support. He continues to do so to this day.

Break out is happening. I meet Jason Pitre. He gives encouraging and beautiful comments about the convention my friends, Rob and Rach, have made with the Toronto Area Boardgames Society. He encourages us to come to Metatopia in November and talk about running an inclusive gaming convention. Later, he asks about what I'm working on and goes over it, offers some fabulous advice on how to make it hurt more, and we chat about the games he's working on. He still sends messages of support and says the most wonderful things.

My friend and one of my partners in crime, Rob, talks to me about gaming all the time. He plays my new game, the Arena, and offers really great feedback. He offers feedback and astute questions on Crossroads Carnival, and offers to run it so I can see how it flows without me behind the steering wheel. He also insists we talk about the game on our podcast so people can start talking about it. He lets me rant and empathizes when I'm going nuts over some sexist things in the gaming community. He remains a pillar when shit gets stupid.

Why these stories? Why both sides? 

Because an ally can make all the difference. And so can a mansplainer. Rachelle and I joke that it isn't a convention until a man tells us what we're doing wrong and how he knows how to fix it. I mean, it's a joke, but it's also the truth. It reminds me of when I worked for a surgeon and the doctors joked "you're not a real surgeon unless you are getting sued at least once a year."

Imagine going to every convention and getting advice on how to do whatever it is you do better. Unsolicited advice. Advice you don't even need because odds are, the person giving it doesn't know what they're talking about. For some reading this, this is a familiar song and dance. The voices of the privileged like to speak over the voices of those with less privilege. 

I'm new to game design. I'm trying to break into a world that fucking scares me because of the tendency for the community to turn into a shit storm at the blink of an eye. Eight years ago I left the community because of this. I was tired of having my experiences quieted, of hearing the voices of other minorities silenced, and of feeling unwelcome because of my gender, or at the very least, othered. So instead of doing game design, I decided on getting more involved in facilitation.

Since that decision I look forward to the Bingo card of men's advice I get at every convention. I am accustomed now to having my decisions questioned, to needing an enormous amount of documentation to back up my decisions, and to have an email trail for all things so that I can prove what I'm saying is true to people. I'm used to hashing out my thoughts with my friends so that when the day comes, I'll know exactly what I want to say. It's an endless cycle and I'm exhausted.

My dream is a convention where this doesn't happen. There's a convention out there where people don't call games "girly" and don't look at a GM's name and walk away because the name is feminine. There's a convention where my team will trust my decisions without needing a thousand reasons I'm right. There's a convention where minorities will feel safe and included because of efforts made by the team and the attendees. There's a convention where I won't get to say a man told me I was doing it wrong. It's out there. It'll happen. It won't be this year and it won't be next year. But it'll happen. I swear to fucking god it will. 

If you're a dude (and that's cool), and you feel a need to offer your advice on a gaming convention, (that's cool too), try to ask before you just say "Hey, you, you're doing this wrong" and then go on your tirade about why it's wrong. Often whatever you've said has probably been considered, weighted, and carefully examined before a final decision has been made. It's cool to ask if you can offer some thoughts. Thoughts aren't judgements. They're just "hey, I noticed this" and maybe the organizer will say why, or maybe they'll be burnt out on all the douche nuggets who came before you offered to ask instead of just tell. Both happen. 

Don't invade space, don't give opinions that aren't welcome or solicited, and don't assume you know better. Just don't.

Moving on to the bottom half of the stories. 

Thank fucking god I have found some fabulous allies in my day.

I'm don't want to spell out what the people above did right. I feel like it's obvious. But I'll do it anyways. They reached out and then asked if they were welcome to comment. They asked. They didn't barge in, showing off their accomplishments, and going "Well, little lady, here's how we make a game." Not a single one did that. They offered what they've learned, offered their talents and thoughts and ideas when I asked (or they asked before giving advice), and they were lovely about it. 

Every single one of those people are people I can turn to and go "This is shitty." They won't defend whatever it is. They'll hear me out, offer some insight, and say they don't get how it feels, but totally can see that it's shitty. They validate. They own anything that's a misstep (because we all misstep). They support. They encourage. They treat me as an equal even though I've not published a damn thing in my life. They ask for my opinions on things they're working on. They treat me like a person.

Why is it so fucking remarkable to be treated like a person? Why is that what makes me want to cry because it means so much to me? 

They treat me like a person.

That's what it takes now-a-days to be separate from the crowd. That's it. That you treat people like people. It's revolutionary in its simplicity. But it's true. 

I'm not going to give away the credit of my existence to other people. I will give the credit of my faith in the gaming community to my friends, though. They're part of the reason I don't run away screaming in the other direction whenever shit is spread all over social media. They're part of the reason I sometimes believe I can make a game and it'll succeed. So to them, I say thanks, and keep leading by example. 

If you're not acting like a decent person, it's time to start. If you're not thinking about the people you're stepping on to be successful, you need to. If you're not wondering if your opinion or thoughts were wanted or needed or necessary, you need to start. We need to question ourselves and examine our behaviour before we can truly make a difference. We need to listen. We need to offer assistance.

We need to cut the bullshit.

Be the dog. Never be the cats.