In the second article she talks about how the first one was Channel Fireball’s most discussed article of all time. Now, I love a discussion. I spend absolutely endless amounts of time talking about Magic. As I always say in this column, I think it is the second most important thing in any hobby. But the fact that an article about making sure the hobby is a welcoming place for women and girls is the number one most discussed article on one of the biggest daily providers of Magic content seems pretty sad to me. Who’d have thought we’d be more interested in arguing whether or not our hobby should be exclusive than discussing, say, a newly-spoiled card? I would much prefer that it was a discussion of some awesome spoiled card but, alas, we find the time to argue that our hobby should be exclusive.
I read the two articles and the comments for both. Gaby writes well and I’m in agreement with her on nearly all the points. However I did find a few things that I disagreed with in Gaby’s first article.
Firstly, and I hope this is the case in the vast number of FNMs, I did not recognise the worst of the behaviour that she described. I’m not going to claim that it never happens but my shop, Cheap Thrills, was very welcoming when I started and I don’t see this sort of crass sexism on Friday nights. I hope it’s because it’s not there and not that I’m blind to it.
Secondly, and this is just my opinion, the article could have just said ‘new players’ for quite a few of the points and it would have been just as valid. I sometimes read bits online about the worst sort of intractions, not just the sexist kind but all kinds of hostile behaviour by shops and their regulars towards newer players. I genuinely don’t think this is the norm but the more we do to stamp this out, the better our hobby will be for all of us. You should endeavor to treat all players you sit opposite with respect. If you are surprised that you got beat by a girl/child/someone in a wheelchair, you clearly don’t understand the game and how it can play out.
There used to be a programme on BBC radio called “Does he take sugar?” It was written and presented by people with disabilities, and discussed the prejudices they were subjected to. The title came from a story the presenter told about how people would ask his wife if he took sugar in his coffee, despite him being right there himself to ask. The guy was in a wheelchair and had no mental disability but for some reason other people would talk over his head as if he were not capable of answering them.
I go to most Magic events with my son. He’s small for his age, 11 years old. We’ve been away to Magic events and, when I’ve walked over to him after his game and asked how he did, his opponent has talked to me about the game, gone over card choices and stuff. Now, like I said, I love a natter about Magic but sometimes it feels like his opponent thinks I made the deck and taught him how to play it. That is not how it works. He’s good at this game, better than me, better than quite a few people at our local shop. In the same way, I’m sure the question “Did your boyfriend build this?” is one of the most frustrating questions a female player can hear after crushing someone.
Another thing that came up in Gaby’s articles is the smell of tournaments. I don’t think this is a singular issue to women players being more offended or upset about smelly players than other men might be. Big tournys do have a certain aroma. It can be gross but it’s certainly not a sexist issue. I don’t happen to think it is even an issue exclusive to Magic but rather a problem that will occur whenever you gather several hundred people in one place for many hours. It needs to be addressed by the community but not under the banner of dealing with sexism. Practising good personal hygiene would benefit everyone in the room.
One of the things I saw over and over in the comments of Gaby’s original article was “What if women just don’t want to play?” or “Why should the hobby change if they aren’t interested?”. Anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all but this is my column and I get to write about my experiences and worldview.
My wife would never play Magic. She has no interest in coming to the shop to play. She will sit around at home and play boardgames with the same people who I play Magic with, but she is never ever going to pick up this game. And the hobby does not have to cater for her at all. My daughter, however, does want to play now and again. She wants to come down and hang out with her dad and brother and play fast guys and dragons. She is not bothered if she wins or loses against anyone but her brother. The hobby has to make sure it is a welcoming place for her. It has to make sure that every time she, or someone like her, goes to a shop they have a positive experience outside of the game itself.
There’s this feeling that “changing the hobby to let women in” (gosh it feels like the 1940s writing a sentence like that) will be detrimental to our pastime. I’m absolutely flabbergasted that people can still have that attitude. It’s as if they think that female players will bring with them sweeping rule changes and higher mana costs. More female players means only one thing: more players. And that is mostly a positive. I only say mostly because it will mean that you need to win more rounds to Top 8 a game day!
There is a shifting in the zeitgeist at the moment, it’s been ongoing for quite a while now. Cowboy Movies or War Films have been replaced with Superhero sagas. Geek culture has found itself much more mainstream. This means that more people than ever will find their way into your local shop because it most likely sells things they are interested in. One of the greatest things I get to do is talk to people coming into our shop to buy graphic novels or Marvel pop figures. They might see some others playing a game of EDH and ask what the game is, and I love telling them about it. I will always take the time to explain what’s going on, without going overboard on crazy card interactions. I could never imagine myself telling a teenage girl that it’s a card game but it’s probably not for her.
I get super passionate about my hobby and I want as many players as possible playing it. I don’t get to decide who’s going to be into this game and who’s not. I do get to decide how those people who are new to the game perceive me and my hobby. Every single one of you at some point will be an ambassador for Magic. Those folks who play duels or clash packs at home, who decide to make the first steps into FNM, need to be shown that this is a not just a great hobby but a great community.
The learning curve is steep in Magic. You are going to lose a lot when you first start playing and the love of the game is going to have to be robust enough you coming back. A young person or a woman or someone with a disability is not going to weather this storm if they are finding discrimination.
What can you do?
Like I wrote right at the beginning, I’m just your average gamer. I have not had to face any of these kinds of discriminations. This subject doesn’t affect me. However I do hold a place in the community as do each and every one of you. You must make sure that your shops are places that are a welcoming place to play and hang out. I am a father and I organise a lot of the events at my shop. I have a certain amount of authority and a natural place in the social standing because I’m older. Therefore it is easy for me to tell others when I think they are being rude or ignorant. (Luckily this doesn’t happen often).
Humor is an odd thing. A lot of times a joke has a victim. In most cases that can be a harmless thing but we all should be mindful of how much weight our words carry. We all share jokes in our shops about different players play-style. The slow player who always goes to time or the person who never reads the card, these things are just play-traits that most of the time are harmless little things to point out. But sometimes we start moving towards “banter”. I’ve put it in quotation marks because I’ve noticed that banter is now a code word for bullying. An ironic “Nice deck, for a girl.” isn’t ironic, it’s not witty or clever.
When I started writing this article I asked the only female Magic player in my playgroup about her experiences. Sarah is part of my playtest group, a little clique that lend each other cards and talk about meta choices. There’s a few of these little groups at my FNM; I’m sure there are ones at yours. She told me that she has experienced next to no sexism at our FNM. Aha, brilliant, I don’t have to worry about it… but she said she thinks herself lucky because outside of our FNM and on other gaming circles she has come across it quite a bit. Oh! Sarah is a good player. Whenever we get paired up I know it’s going to be an epic struggle. She is also someone I know my daughter can look up to if she ever comes to FNM.
George RR Martin was once asked how he could write female characters so well and his answer sums up something I think gets lost in the whole ‘girls in our hobby’ argument. He said “I’ve always considered women to be people.”
Community Question: What do you feel are the real issues regarding Magic: The Gathering and sexism?
Thanks for reading,