Diplomacy is a 67-year old game about taking over Europe. It’s a truly classic board game. Highly influential, intensely beloved, widely acclaimed.
The beating heart of Diplomacy is in the alliances and agreements 7 players make in-between submitting orders. It is a game conducted not on the board, but in whispered conversations and secret messages. No arrangement or agreement is binding, encouraging players to lie to, betray and manipulate others at will.
Diplomacy has earned an international reputation. There are World, European and Regional Championships, both online and face-to-face.
An increasing number of women gamers are beginning to enjoy what was previously an almost exclusively male pastime.
PLAY DIPLOMACY ONLINE: A COUCH IN A GLASGOW LIVING ROOM: OCT 2021
“You play like a…….. GIRL,” he strops sulkily as his army in Serbia burns brightly underneath a rather nice green one from Trieste.
“Why thank you,” I smile sweetly, adjust my push-up bra and pop a square of whole-nut chocolate. “Gonna retreat that army now, sweetie?”
I need to jump back into bed with France before the space gets cold and he notices I’ve gone. The Frenchman is sweet, obliging – if a little dull. Him breaching dmz’s in Pie/GoL/WES is like tackling a buxom, naked girl on the rugby field. It won’t happen.
I know what he means (my grumpy Turk). Misogyny is alive and well in Diplomacy. Accusing me of playing like a girl is meant to be an insult. An accusation of subpar, un-fun play.
Meanwhile I play Diplomacy like a Renegade Disney Princess. Phenomenal cleavage, emerald silk ballgown (I’m Italy of course) and bomber boots.
I joyously sweep across Austria, float some boats in and sneak-convoy to Turkish shores, whilst making gin-cocktails – just like a girl.
Let’s go back in time for a second.
Where it all started. Four years ago, when a friend asked if I would join Play Diplomacy online, so that he could learn the rules of an old 50’s boardgame…….
I should know better. We only just buried our copy of Jumanji to the beat of a jungle drum and a bunch of rhinos.
Cue cinematic flashback…….
PLAY DIPLOMACY ONLINE: A COUCH IN A GLASGOW LIVING ROOM: FEB 2017
“Not my kind of thing. Don’t have time. Besides, I’d be shit.”
He looks crestfallen, with eyes that plead.
“I don’t have anyone else to play with, Lauren. Please. One game. For me? You never know, it might be fun.”
I am resolute. I’m a doctor. I work full-time. I have an oversized red Labrador. Most importantly, I have three teenage sons who have just discovered the joy of Dungeons and Dragons…. now that’s proper gaming.
“Dave, it’s for blokes with no social lives. It’ll be full of sad, sexist twats. Women don’t play online war games.”
Aha, how wrong I am.
One game later and I AM HOOKED. I pull up my big-girl pants and enter two more (ranked no less, against some of Play Dip’s Big Gun’s – literally).
Something profound happens to me during those first few months. Yes, I learn about fleets and coasts and convoys. But more significantly I learn two things:
Firstly, I rediscover how joyous PLAYING WITH ABANDON is.
Secondly, I learn how important women are to challenging toxic forces that deliberately push out feminine influences. Online gaming is wildly misogynistic. Designed by blokes, for blokes. Look at the language, look at the pictures, look at the forum posts and public press. That’s before you even start dealing with some of those messages. Ugh!
By playing radically, communicating in increasingly creative ways – women push at the margins. We influence change. Come join me, girls. We kick ass.
HOW COOL IS THAT!
Clearly Diplomacy is anything but a waste of time. It’s an imperative, a call to action for women (and other marginalised groups) everywhere.
Realisation dawns – GAMES MATTER.
WOMEN AND GAMING
When I start playing Diplomacy, meeting a woman in a game is akin to meeting a blue unicorn crying. Online, everyone assumes I’m a bloke pretending to be a woman to get some kind of game advantage (apparently, according to legend and misinformed stereotype, women are a soft touch, easily manipulated, less likely to stab). HA! How little they know us.
To understand why means delving into the sociology of gender and play.
From the moment we’re born, we’re forced into a binary world of male versus female.
“It’s a girl!” they cry, meaning a childhood of cookers, kitchens, Disney Princess outfits, hairstyling boutiques, hoovers, dolls and mini-irons. Play has a practical purpose, setting us up for our role in life: looking beautiful; raising babies; cooking and housework. We aren’t given the same opportunity to play for play’s sake, despite knowing that lifelong play is important to joy, growth and quality of life.
Playing like a girl is one thing. ‘Playing like a woman’ means spinning another plate between the children, the career, the house, the shopping, the misogyny, the poor pay and gendered career prospects. You get an unexpected half hour and you pace the room because you don’t know what to do with it. Play is never given the same significance or nurtured the way it is for boys.
How men and women use ‘leisure time’ as adults evolves quite differently. All those baby girls who will never know the joy of spending a day off work in front of a PS5.
But the world is not binary. Childhood labels can be damaging. We know that. Gender dysphoria is real, so is bullying, self-harm, depression and suicide. These labels are socially constructed. Early on, children gravitate to the toys and stereotypes they’ve been conditioned into, irrespective of any biological differences. In general, men are still paid more, hold more managerial and boardroom positions, do less childcare. The world still promotes patriarchal systems, structure and thinking.
Cue the pantomime boo’s.
It’s hard to write an article about women and Diplomacy without some reference to feelings of safety.
There are occasional jerks online (and face-to-face), just as there are jerks in the outside world, in the pub and in the school dinner queue. That’s life. That’s why women are the quick-witted ones.
In some ways, Diplomacy is more susceptible to toxicity aimed at women. It’s competitive, based on power over others, betrayal and manipulation. Egos are tied to a series of wins and losses. Some of us even get a thrill from tracking our statistics and ranking.
Personally, I know there are times when I’ve not felt good enough to play ‘at the big boys table.’ There are also times I’ve just accepted open sexism and sexual harassment in the interest of fitting in and/or not being stabbed.
There is nothing wrong with a feminist approach which emphasises self-care to deal with it. ‘Self-care’ typically refers to finding ways to emotionally and physically maintain your health. Taking time out and embracing ‘me-time.’ Self-care is good. It’s important. But it also lacks the deliberate and focused potential of play to challenge a toxic or stressful environment at source.
What’s better than protesting and activating from the inside-out through laughter, fun and beating people at their own game?
A CALL TO ACTION
Fortunately, the percentage of female gamers is growing, which is a great thing for gaming generally. Women need women to make games more appealing, inclusive and FUN.
But if you ask the general populous of women, they’ll react the same way I did in 2017. “It’s too violent’, ‘a waste of time,’ ‘it rots brains,’ ‘it takes too long,’ ‘too sexist,’ ‘I’m no good at it,’ ‘it’s something my kids do,’ ‘I’d rather live in the real world,’ ‘it’s for geeks with no social life.’
If online gaming discriminates against me as a cis, white, middle-class, woman, it must discriminate against other minority groups, as well as those facing financial, educational, cultural, environmental or technological barriers. Finding time to play is afforded to the middle classes.
Some businesses are at last beginning to recognise the value of building play into daily practices but we are a long way from making it accessible to, and valued by everyone.
PLAY is the way to change the world, from the inside-out.
We all need to make time to do it, and do it radically, creatively, joyously.
Play is the perfect space for changing minds and bodies, and disrupting patriarchal hegemonies. We need a new social movement.
Sometimes play, activism and laughter trumps even the best self-care.
Who’s with me?
I am the Diplomacy anti-hero Harley Quinn!
“Move that fleet North, France. Trust me, Iberia’s fine. I’m all about alliances of equality.”
“And pour me another cocktail, you handsome devil.”
THE TRUE OBJECT OF ALL HUMAN LIFE IS PLAY
Lauren Lloyd (aka Pootleflump):
Standard Rating: 1761
All Games Rating: 1839
Play Diplomacy here on a web-based version of the classic game: https://www.playdiplomacy.com/
Find out all about all things Diplomacy, including articles, strategy, scoring, a blog and new ‘Dipzine’ (Notes on a Napkin) on Malarky’s new site: https://diplomaticon.com/forum/