Disclosure: I’m a long-standing fan of many games put out by White Wolf, and was one of the writers for the newly released update of White Wolf’s Convention Book: N.W.O.
The first time I cracked open a White Wolf role-playing game, it was Mage: The Ascension. I was about nine years old. My Uncle let me flip through the game, sitting patiently as I looked through the pictures. I pointed to the page with the Verbena mages.
“I want to play one of those.”
“Well, I bet in a few more years your Mom’d be pretty cool with that. But it’s kinda a grownup game.” I sighed, wrinkling my nose at the vagaries of age, and shut the book. I then caressed the cover. “I want to make something like this.” My Uncle laughed at me and tousled my hair.
I started to actually read the games put out by White Wolf a few years later, when I was 12. I’d played D&D with my brother and his friends by then, but a large portion of my game knowledge had been transmitted by speech, not me sitting down and reading the official written content. Being given a game book to read was a big deal for me. I was playing in an environment that trusted me to be mature, to ask questions, and to study up on my own. I quickly grew to feel that it was okay to be a girl and play White Wolf games. As an adult, I have a vocabulary for why I had that feeling. In game text, there’s usually a lot of examples of play. It’s a game’s directions. If you’re putting together furniture, the directions have a lot of Tab A, Slot B. Game examples can have dice rolls, phrases, counters.
This is what you add up before you roll your dice to pick the lock.
You have to roll a seven to punch this guy.
You need a ten to jump between these two buildings without landing in the street.
So why am I making a big deal about White Wolf’s examples of play language?
White Wolf books have women in their examples.
She has to roll a ten, she needs to make a Dexterity+Brawl roll, her skill in Athletics is three.
Even in 2012, the use of feminine pronouns in the White Wolf games still feels like magic to me. It sets me at ease as a woman and as a player. The text says she, and her. It still says him, and his, but certainly not exclusively. While I played D&D first, White Wolf games have constituted my core gaming experience growing up, likely more up than any other system.
My first White Wolf group was made of three girls and one boy, ages 12 to 18. We were playing Vampire: The Masquerade. Examples with women in them made us feel like women were a part of the world we were playing in. We felt like the playing field was equal. Girls could play this game. As a teen and as an adult, I still play White Wolf games. I continue to appreciate that women have a visible presence in the text. Even in books often primarily written by male writers.
Language tells gamers, new and not so new, whether or not they’re welcome at the table to play a particular game or even represented in the text. While White Wolf’s game books were not magically free of all gender bias, their games were some of the first to tell me that it didn’t matter what boys said to me about girls not being smart enough to be gamers. Somewhere, an adult had written a book, and they were the ones that wrote a woman was making that awesome Drive roll.