Why are there so few women in Wargaming?
Becky Esteness was be fed up. She was at a local war-games convention, where devotees transported their tin armies to beige conference rooms for a long, meditative weekend of rock-cold tactics, and Esteness was eager to receive her orders. She’s been an amateur wargamer for decades. In fact, she runs a business with her husband who ships boxes full of miniatures to impatient customers around the world.
Esteness specializes in historical settings; no orcs, no elves, no dark magic, just a small group of frilly line infantry reflecting the feints and stratagems of the Napoleonic campaigns of the time. But for all her obvious good faith, Esteness is a woman, and none of the men at the convention could really believe what they were seeing when she showed up with her battalions.
Many of her competitors persistently believed that she was a girlfriend, or wife, or daughter of one of the other table generals – dragged across her forehead against her will. Eventually Esteness grew tired of correcting them, so she allowed the men to believe their prejudices.
“They’re all white males, all 50+. I do what I think is normal. I go around and check out other games, the same thing they do when they’re not in a game But when i go to their games, they start to say, ‘Oh, are you here to see your dad?’ “Esteness says in an interview with WIRED. We play with her every week. So everyone started saying,” Yeah, that’s my girl. “I briefly had a whole bunch of adopted wargaming dads. “
“I have to explain who I am,” Esteness continues, speaking now about the wargaming culture as a whole. “With every interaction I have.”
The table-top industry is in the midst of an unprecedented boom, and while there are no measures to track participation rates by gender, it appears its core demographic has grown increasingly inclusive as the business grows. One of the most popular board games in the world—Scope of 2019– was conceived by a woman.
There are a slew of non-male, non-white content creators launching table-themed YouTube channels, and some of the more popular paper and pen podcasts, like critical role and Friends at table, present an inclusive gender distribution. In fact, there is an argument to be made that one of the culture’s most influential players remains Felicia Day, the actress of Supernatural fame, who founded the table-centric media company Geek & Miscellaneous in 2012.
But despite all of this advancement, as much as the tabletop industry seems to have lost its reputation as a sanctuary of hard-core masculinity, the war-games space hasn’t caught up with the average. According to Great War Games Investigation, a census-type questionnaire produced by the magazine War games, soldiers and strategy each year, the estimated composition of women in the hobby was between 1.5 and 2 percent as of 2019. That doesn’t sound like a stretch. Venture into Warhammer night out of any game store, and you’ll likely see a cowardly clique of white dudes crammed into the field. This is in stark contrast to similar events held for Dungeons & Dragons or Magic: The Gathering, which, while still being heavily male, have certainly hosted a more divergent player cast in recent years. This begs the question: why hasn’t wargaming seen the same universal addition as other kitchen table hobbies? Why are women like Esteness always the outliers?