Interview With a ConTessa GM: Meera Barry

In this series, we’ve asked the women who ran events to talk to us about the whole experience so you can get an inside view of what it’s like to run at ConTessa! Meera Barry ran Howl in the Half-Light for us during our Spring Break in May, and a panel on Kids in Gaming for Spring Loaded in March.

Say hi, and tell everyone a little about yourself and what you did at ConTessa.

Greetings and other salutations! I’m...Meera Barry. If you haven’t heard of me, that’s either because I’ve really managed to cut down on my trolling, and/or I suck at self-promotion.  I still use THAC0, I have written multiple humour-in-gaming columns (and once a webzine), and maybe someday I’ll learn better… but don’t hold your breath.

At the last ConTessa Online (because we have to specify now that there’s been In Person events) I ran two sessions - the first was a game (“Howl in the Half-Light” - the game I created for the second Indie Mix-Tape collection) and the second was a panel on Kids in Gaming where I interviewed my two children.   


How did you choose those events?

For the first, I am trying to get exposure for my game because I find it a lot of fun to play with very little overhead. Kids seem to love it, for what it’s worth - until GenCon I hadn’t actually run it for any all-adult groups. A transcript of the game will be available at the occasionally updated RPG website I work on with my husband.

For the second, it’s easy for adults to tell us what they’ve run for their kids, but I’ve been gaming with my kids for a while now, and I thought it was time for them to tell their part.  They’re fourth-generation gamers, so gaming has always been part of their lives. A transcript of the conversation will be available at that same occasionally updated RPG website.*  


What was the best part?

For the werewolf game, it was in the combined group giving the name, “Scarlet Demonkiller” to a PC. I really love being involved in giving the players legends and stories they can tell later -- those memorable moments of heroism or other rites of passage (like naming).

For the panel, it was hearing that in the game my daughter played at school they agreed to sacrifice three other students. It’s 5 parts horrible to 2 parts hilarious.  I mean, it’s perfect in the way they played it, but awful, just awful that they did it.


If you had ultimate power (muahahaha), what would you change for the next ConTessa?

Just because I have an answer for this, don’t think it isn’t awesome.  I’m just exploring the “ultimate power” option.

I think three things.

First, I would obviously use this ultimate power to communicate the real glory of ConTessa: remind people that you do not have to be a fan of some of the “big name” individuals involved (and/or their friends and/or associates) to be a fan of the idea, and that participation is made super-easy [the tutorials and assistance provided are amazing] without a lot of obligation and demand.

Second, I would provide and promote a series of on-line tutorials (both text and video) about ways to GM, ways to moderate panels, provide a list of interesting topics that are begging for discussion, as well as games to be run (there are a lot of fun sources for this - Women Creators in Indie Games and Our Many Games, for example.)

Third, after polishing up the recruitment site (with set wording, etc.) from the second item, I would do almost- individualized recruitment in non-traditional gaming spaces.  I want to invite, I want to raise awareness, and I want to make sure it keeps getting fresh and active opinions.  There are a lot of crossover opportunities with other interests - maybe they haven’t heard of it, maybe they don’t know what it is, and maybe they’re not interested, but we can’t know unless we try.  Are we hitting the horror forums? What about the nerd blogs?  What about the specifically oriented minority nerd spaces who might be interested?


Why is ConTessa important to you?

I am a gamer. No other label really fits me better than that one.

That said, I have a lot of uncomfortable realizations I’ve made over the years especially in combatting some internalized misogyny.  I feel pretty much like I can recognize it now, but I still realize that there are very few female talents in the field that I follow or where I am interested in their product.  I support them - yes, absolutely (sisterhood!) but I worried because I didn’t like what they were producing that I wasn’t being a real ally.

I found a lot of “women gamer” spaces very irritating, and it wasn’t until ConTessa that I realized there were a lot of gatekeepers in those spaces despite their expressed intent to be broadly inclusive.  (I don’t believe it is intentional, but it is off-putting.**)  ConTessa invited me and other women without any other slant, without any political motivation, and it’s an encouraging enthusiasm.  They want you to run games.

That’s it.

No, “we want only women,” arguments.  Yes, there’s the one requirement for running the games/panels, but that’s it. Otherwise, men are welcome to play, get involved, enjoy what’s produced, comment, whatever.   Yes, we all have to follow the social rules (because some people need, “Don’t be a jerk,” expressly pointed out) but that just increases the safety factor of the space.

Contessa has a low-to-zero maintenance entry point.  I love how easy they’ve made everything - you don’t have to do much except show up ready to game.  

I think everyone else has talked about how enthusiastic it is - that’s important, too. Inviting and welcome, and even inviting of criticism.  I think it’s changed a little here and there in response to thoughtful critique without beating the dead horse to undeath.  (Wait, that’s not the phrase, is it?)  I’ve endorsed it many times to people, women and men alike, just because it’s that easy.

*Because the videos contained pictures of my kids, I felt uncomfortable leaving them up; as no one else was involved I’ll direct people to those transcripts from the Hangouts page.

**I finally saw in response to a critique of Contessa someone saying that because it wasn’t a place to harp on how biased gaming was in favor of men it was anti-feminist. There are plenty of forums like that, and I am done with the whining. I think it’s an important conversation, and I absolutely agree there has to be pointing out of it if it’s going to change, but I don’t want that to be the sum total of all my women-oriented gaming spaces. Can’t we and enjoy it?