I went to a ladies only game day. These are my thoughts.
So, let me set the scene for this story. I am new to this town. I have been living in Wilmington, North Carolina, for about six months, and I have yet to play board games with people or find a group to play with. I used to play board games just about every weekend. Now? Nothing. I go to a game shop in my town, Cape Fear Games, almost every week to play Dungeons & Dragons with a store-assigned group, but approaching a random table of strangers and asking if I can play board games? Nope, I’ll just keep awkwardly walking by.
Until I saw the flyer for Dames for Games. It was an event hosted in a brand new part of the store, the Sideboard, that offers delicious food, fresh beverages, and even beer. I’d been peeking through the windows for months wondering when this expansion was going to be accessible. Just like when I waited for the expansion for Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk, I was curious, impatient, overly excited—but not disappointed.
Further adding to the appeal and impressiveness, Cape Fear Games (CFG) had also reached out to a local organization called, A Safe Place, when planning this special event. As their website mentions, A Safe Place is a local non-profit that focuses on prevention, advocacy, and restoration to assist victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. They have an emergency shelter that offers a 90 day program to support women in dire need, a transition house, case workers, and even a 24 hour hotline. During Games for Dames, CFG was accepting donations of goods and money to help benefit the women assisted by A Safe Place’s programs.
I spoke to Cary, who has been a Community Partnership Coordinator for A Safe Place since 2013, and asked her about her involvement with table top and board games. She said they have them at the shelter for the women, and when I asked her about her thoughts on games and this event, she said, “It’s always important for people to know they can help women who have been involved in human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Games are a great way to get to meet these women and give them a chance to meet positive influences and break down barriers.”
Some of the women who attended were from A Safe Place. They played Exploding Kittens, and you could hear their laughter and joy from the next room. Cary understands that it can be hard to know how to talk to a person who has experienced the trauma some of these women have been through, but when everyone is playing a game it puts us on common ground. We have something to laugh about together, regardless of where we were before now. As a person who grew up playing games with her friends and family, Cary acknowledged that the games may not be part of therapy, but they are a wonderful ice-breaker.
Despite the great cause associated with the event, my reasons for attending were very selfish. I had a strong desire to get out there and make some damned friends. I have noticed that after a certain age it becomes harder to meet people. That is especially true when you are in a completely new town, in a new state, and working a job that keeps you home most of your days. Yes, I know, I chose to be a full-time freelancer. However, I do go out and try to socialize. I have the weekly D&D group, I volunteer on occasion, I bike around town and explore, and I teach art classes at an amazing facility. Still, in the six months that I’ve been here, I have struggled to form solid ties to people. This was the exact kind of event that I needed to get out of that rut.
Upon my arrival, I found one of the girls, Kristina, who works at the shop hosting a game of Settlers of Catan. She offered me a seat at the table, and I met some great locals. Some of the women hadn’t played a board game before, and they were curious—tentatively exploring this weird and different culture of games that aren’t Monopoly or Sorry. After playing Catan I walked around the room and spoke to so many people, and it was the best experience I’ve had in a long time. The women were warm, welcoming, kind, funny, knowledgeable, diverse, and overall just geeky. There were women from 20 to 60 years old, and at one point, it looked like there were easily 30+ women in the room. The nerves were still there initially, but after the games came out everyone seemed to relax more. I’m pretty sure the food and drinks helped, too.
After talking to just about everyone at some point, I learned that most of the attendees didn’t necessarily find it discouraging to go to a co-ed event like this, but it was much more encouraging for them to know that it was all women. If women really wanted something to do, they’d come whether it was geared toward women or not. But, having something just for us gals was really nice. It even got a group of ladies to follow their neighbor, Deny, from their usual dice table in their apartment to the long tables at Cape Fear Games. They were excited to try something new and different!
Among the many attendees, a few stood out. One woman, Sanica, definitely impressed me. She’s a local Twitch gamer who works with the channel RealitySkewedGamers, which is a group of friends who stream together and are deeply dedicated to raising money for cancer organizations. Sanica was openly discussing the channel, her plans with her friends, her intention to promote, and her love of games all at the same time. She gamed and networked like a pro, and it was cool to see that she was sharing with others. When telling her about my own Twitch plans she was quick to offer support and advice, a trend I am seeing a lot from women in geek communities—support and solidarity. Being a woman who grew up with mostly male friends, I am still surprised when I see this kind of behavior. I avoided girls because I always thought they were too likely to undermine each other and let petty insecurities make us ‘frenemies’ instead of real friends. Yet, I am constantly shown that is not the norm.
At the next table, I met Jenny, Katie, and Danet playing Red Dragon Inn (with beers in hand and tips ready for the wench!). Jenny and Katie are recently engaged, and they were an absolute joy to geek out with. They told me of their struggles to feel comfortable and safe as openly gay women in Wilmington, but expressed that this event, and Cape Fear Games, was where they felt most comfortable. They pointed out that in the ad, CFG said the event was for “women and women aligned people” making it an inclusive event for non-binary people as well. A small detail with big meaning.
I asked all three women how they got involved in games. Katie grew up playing board games with her family, and Jenny was open to it because she’d played card games as a kid. Danet loved Wizards of the Coast books and played D&D as a girl in middle school. Yet, they all met because of their love of games. We didn’t just nerd out about games, but the conversation flowed quickly to so many topics we enjoyed, including their experience of meeting Karen Gillian and David Tennant at a recent con, and their incredibly adorable proposals to one another. (Yup, that’s right. They each got down on one knee!)
Next I met Alex and Joy. These two were bright, funny, and loved podcasts more than most women I know. They made wonderful suggestions, and shared very real feelings and insight about being women in your 30s trying to meet other women. Alex pointed out the difficulty of making friends when you’re older. “When you’re younger, you’re so often in groups where you’re forced to interact. Whether it’s school, sports, or other activities, you have a reason to be around each other,” she said. “As adults, many people already have their groups, and it’s hard to find new ones. Events like this allow people to meet.”
Joy agreed and added that small talk is hard for nerdy and geeky girls. She said, “Coming to Games for Dames meant knowing that we would be among other nerds. We suck at small talk, but if you ask us about something we are interested in, we can talk about it for hours.” Case in point. It was because of the wonderful conversations I had with these women that I ended up only playing one game. However, I don’t think it will be the last time I see these ladies. This kind of event has a large appeal, and it smells better, too. I can’t wait for the next one!
Special thanks to Cape Fear games for letting me use their images for this article