On Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C., a cantaloupe-colored ogre who boasts about grabbing princesses by their privates will ascend to the highest throne in the land. While Trump's political victory sounds a clarion call normalizing misogyny (as well as racism and xenophobia) across the United States, here in the sunny sanctuary city of Los Angeles, the femme fatales of Girls Guts Glory are proving they don't need any man to tell them what to do. Particularly when it comes to table-top gaming.
Girls Guts Glory is an L.A.-based, all-female campaign of the quintessential table-top role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. Like any D&D campaign, players assume character personas, sometimes in full costume, and embark on fantasy quests under the supervision of an omniscient Dungeon Master. Traditionally, when one thinks of a gamer, it's most likely a variation of the snarky Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons: male, overweight, unrepentantly geeky. But a 2014 Vice interview with Jeremy Crawford, lead designer and managing editor of Dungeons & Dragons, challenges this stereotype of a male stranglehold on the realm of gaming:
“'Asked to comment, [Crawford said], “There has often been a perception that such games are for straight white men. One of our goals for the new edition of D&D has been to make it as welcoming as possible to its large, diverse audience: people of different races, ages, gender identities and sexual orientations.' … His point is underscored by the fact that the newest version of the game credits women as contributors to its design more than any previous one: About 26 percent are female, as opposed to 20 percent in the last version and 12 percent in the one before that. It’s also telling that three-quarters of D&D’s branding and marketing team is now female.”
This sentiment is echoed by Kim Hidalgo, who serves as the Dungeon Master of Girls Guts Glory, a position she has rechristened “Master of Destiny.”
“I think anyone could have an great time playing,” Hidalgo says. “Maybe it's male-dominated because that's how it started and people continue the gender norm. Like why female babies wear pink. There's nothing innately feminine about the color. There's nothing innately masculine about D&D.”
Hidalgo was motivated to found Girls Guts Glory by her sister Erika Fermina, a former Bay Area gamer now residing in Los Angeles. The siblings were soon joined by Sujata Day, Allie Gonino, Alice Greczyn and Rachel Seeley, rounding out their sextet of swords and sorcery.
“Usually we show up in sweats,” Hidalgo admits. “We drink wine, eat pizza, do weird voices and just nerd out together. We're uninhibited 'cause it's just our close girlfriends. On occasion we dress up. We're typical females in that we like costumes and make-up, so that's also a fun element to have sometimes. Ultimately, we're all just friends having fun and it's a great excuse to get together with the gals.”
While these gamer gals own up to the geeky aspects of their personalities, it should be noted that they are less like Daria Morgendorffer than they are her pretty and popular sister Quinn. All six are actresses, best described, in the words of Calista Flockhart's Supergirl character Cat Grant, “like the attractive yet nonthreatening, racially diverse cast of a CW show.” The collective IMDb credits of Girls Guts Glory include The Lying Game, Grey's Anatomy, Insecure and Sex Drive, and their performance skills and poise are evidenced on their eponymous YouTtube channel, which features video footage of their campaign.
“As actresses, everyone is great at staying in character and have created hilarious and interesting characters,” says Hidalgo, who dons a pair of Maleficent-esque horns during game play. “It's all improv-based, and having that background definitely makes the games more fun. For me, it's been great because as the DM, I play every other character that they encounter. I mean, when on earth would tiny, little me ever get to play a dumb, 300-pound ogre named Blogg?”
Although these gamer girls broadcast their heroic hijinks on social media, the primary purpose of Girls Guts Glory is to forge a solid circle of friends.
“We've all grown closer playing D&D. We know we can trust each other and that it's a safe environment to be ridiculous and no one's going to judge you,” Hidalgo says.
Safe spaces are often a necessity for women in the gaming community, as demonstrated by the Gamergate controversy that began in 2014, when female gamers were the targets of misogynistic harassment. The controversy began when an ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn blogged a defamatory post about her, which was followed by a flood of false accusations, organized under the hashtag #gamergate on social media, that Quinn had entered into an intimate relationship with a journalist in exchange for positive press coverage. This soon escalated into an avalanche of rape and murder threats against Quinn, both on social media and in real life, and quickly spiraled into a broad funneling of frustrations by “hardcore gamers” against the perceived invasion of women and politically correct journalists within their nerd niche.
It's not difficult to draw the parallels between the misogyny of Gamergate and Trump's current “grab them by the pussy” political climate. Just this week, Christopher von Keyserling, a 71-year-old politician in Connecticut, was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman. According to the police arrest warrant, von Keyserling “reached in from behind to place his hand between her legs and pinch her in the groin area.” When the victim threatened to physically defend herself if he ever did that again, his response was, “It would be your word against mine and nobody will believe you.” He also said, “I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct.”
In this brave new terrain of socially accepted chauvinism, validated by Trump's political victory, the fierce females of Girls Guts Glory strive to be as heroic in real life as they are while role-playing.
“It's a scary time for civil rights,” Hidalgo says. “Women's rights, race relations and the LGBT community. Now more than ever we all need to find a community where we can feel supported, where we can stand up with one another and never lose hope.”
Girls Guts Glory will not tolerate anyone being grabbed anywhere ever.