Lets Talk About Negative Stereotypes In Magic: The Gathering, by Joseph Dunlap

Are you yourself guilty of exacerbating any of these stereotypes?

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Image by Anna Przywecka

Lets Talk About The Top 5 Negative Stereotypes In Magic: The Gathering, And What We Can Do About Them

Let’s talk about stereotypes in Magic: The Gathering. More importantly and to the point, let’s broach the topic in a manner which is somewhat unfamiliar.

Let’s look at them in a positive light.

In this context, we are talking about the most commonly held stereotypes about Magic: The Gathering players at large. Many of them are unfounded and, well, unfair. Some are perpetuated by a minority of the Magic community, while others stem from the way in which we interact with each other in public mediums.

When I first began to tackle this topic, I started much in the same way I do with many of my articles – I went to the Magic community. I presented the Magic players across different platforms of social media with a poll about Magic stereotypes, but more importantly, I was interested in how Magic players across all walks of life approached the topic. I was interested in the discussions it would bring, and how each individual held different views about each stereotype.

What follows is the result of these discussions, as well as my own views, with the topics organised based on which the community felt were the most important. I acknowledge that I am not an expert in psychology or similar fields, and I fully expect that nobody will agree with everything I say here. That’s okay – the strength of the Magic community is in its diversity. Whether you agree with some points, or disagree with others, I’d still like to hear your thoughts and hope that at the very least we can begin a positive dialogue on the subject.

So, let’s talk about stereotypes. Are they based upon fact, or are they patently false? Do they raise legitimate concerns we should take seriously as a Magic community, or do they exist solely to spread misinformation?

And finally, what can we do to reverse the negative stereotypes of Magic: The Gathering?

 

5. Magic Players are Socially Awkward

A common variation on this stereotype is, “Magic players have no social skills.” The problem with both is the assumption that a person’s hobby of choice is indicative of his or her ability to interact with others. This is in many ways an absurd leap of logic.

One question this stereotype begs is: How do you define “socially awkward”?

If “socially awkward” is another way of saying “introverted”, you will certainly see plenty of introverts in the Magic playing scene, possibly in a higher concentration than you might expect to see in other social settings. Why? Because the Magic community prides itself in being an accepting place where a person can feel at home, often among complete strangers. Being introverted isn’t bad, and it’s nothing to feel ashamed of.

Does being introverted mean a person doesn’t have social skills? Not at all. It means there is a cap on that person’s social energy. Personally, I am an outgoing introvert – it comes with the territory of being a Magic community content creator – but once my social energy is gone, I want nothing more than to be at home watching Netflix, playing video games, or hanging out with my wife, kids, and cats.

The problem with the stereotype that “Magic players have no social skills” is the assumption that a person’s hobby of choice is indicative of his or her ability to interact with others. This is in many ways an absurd leap of logic.

“Socially awkward” could refer to the fact that many Magic players simply aren’t comfortable in social settings that others might consider to be “normal”. In the discussion following my original poll, one user comments:

“Take a stereotypical MTG player to the nightclub with loud music, they’ll be socially awkward. On the other hand, if you take the average nightclub goer to a Magic event, they’ll be the confused socially awkward one.”

There is a much more serious side to social “awkwardness”, as in the case of someone who presents themselves as “closed off”. This person may not lack in social skills, but rather, may actually be struggling with mental illness. As one user comments:

“There is only so much you can do to ‘self-improve’ social awkwardness. Often it’s tied to depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses.”

The same user also provided some links for others to gain a better understanding of mental illness, if you or someone you know is struggling with the following issues: Why Don’t People Know They Have A Personality Disorder?, Avoidant (Anxious) Personality Disorder, and Is Social Anxiety Disorder Ruining your Life?

Ultimately, what we can control is our own perceptions of the social outliers within our community.

If you want to read more about mental health, in recent weeks Manaleak.com has published several articles about the subject. Rebecca Rose has written two articles about mental health, the first – Fear, Doubt, And Self-Loathing At Grand Prix Manchester – about the effects of generalized anxiety disorder on the process of preparing for a Grand Prix, and the second – Mental Magic: Anxiety, Fear, and Doubt, & Depression, And That’s OK – about its effects on the experience of attending a Grand Prix for the first time. Claire Stephenson also wrote an article recently with her experiences with borderline personality disorder and her journey through making friends in the Magic community and getting psychiatric help.

 

What can we do to reverse this stereotype?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about public perception of a Magic player’s ability to interact in social settings. As “nerd” culture and pop culture continue to blend as it has been for the past few decades, misconceptions such as these should continue to disappear.

Ultimately, what we can control is our own perceptions of the social outliers within our community. Often those among us with social anxiety seek a sense of belonging. All we have to do is accept them as they are.

One user’s comment puts it perfectly:

“The great thing about MTG is that it can serve as a great vehicle for combating [social awkwardness and anxiety]. MTG has provided a refuge for kids that have had difficulties such as this, and provide real benefits in engagement, attendance and confidence. Knowing that you share a lot in common with so many others offers some form of validation of self. There is a lot to be said about comradery.”

 

4. Magic Players are Arrogant or Angry

An argument can be made that arrogant or angry Magic players is less of a stereotype held by those who don’t play Magic: The Gathering and more of an issue within the community. The stereotype typically stems from negative experiences a new Magic player may experience, where opponents come off as either arrogant – treating a player as inferior and laughing at either deck choice or individual plays – or the other side of the spectrum, easily angered.

Arrogant players turn new players off to the game because they go out of their way to make their opponents feel inferior. They might target new players, or players of the opposite sex, or they might be condescending towards everyone – an equal opportunity offender.

If these are the kinds of people a new player has the misfortune to encounter during their first experiences playing Magic, it’s no wonder that a stereotype has picked up traction that all Magic players are arrogant, condescending, or angry individuals.

Angry players are often terrifying to play against, especially as a new player. They often start off as an arrogant player, while others start off extremely friendly and cordial when the match starts. As the game progresses, if the tide appears to turn their demeanour starts to change. By the end of the game, if they lose, they appear ready to flip the table or become physically violent. For some angry players, they could win and still appear peeved during the entire game.

If these are the kinds of people a new player has the misfortune to encounter during their first experiences playing Magic, it’s no wonder that a stereotype has picked up traction that all Magic players are arrogant, condescending, or angry individuals.

Within the Magic community, what players most take issue with is unsportsmanlike conduct, or being a sore loser. One user comments:

“At tournaments, the thing that sticks out the most to me is being unsportsmanlike. Don’t complain that I won the game, don’t tell me how you were flooded/screwed, and don’t make up excuses like I was slow playing.”

Another user points out a similar issue:

“A trope that does need tackling in this area is the clique. Unfortunately, I know of people who are turned off playing because of bad experiences at stores. This sort of behaviour needs to stop: those who sneer at non foiled decks, those who criticise your play, or are generally rude.”

 

What can we do to reverse this stereotype?

This stereotype is primarily spread through new players who were turned off to the game, and the subsequent word of mouth. All it takes is a disenfranchised player telling a few of their friends, “I tried out that game, Magic: The Gathering, and it was a pretty bad experience. The players were all rude, treated me like I was 10, and hated losing,” and our chances of gaining that group of people as newcomers in the Magic community are lost.

How much more important is your own ego than the rest of the Magic community around you? How can you play at your local store without other players?

So how do we fix it? The most obvious answer is to call out such behaviour when we see it, which is something I’m going to end up saying more than once.

If you think you may exhibit signs of this stereotype, take a moment to think about how you present yourself to other players. How much more important is your own ego than the rest of the Magic community around you? How can you play at your local store without other players? Your fellow players are a precious resource that have as much value as the cards themselves.

As one user comments:

“Getting angry will inevitably scare people off, or come off as someone who always whinges when they lose, which is easily fixed if you just think about other people and take a few minutes to center yourself after each game.”

 

3. Magic Players are Dishonest

Although several poll participants debated whether dishonesty is also more of a problem from within the Magic community rather than a stereotype, but the fact that it was voted as the third most serious means it definitely deserves mention here.

Dishonesty in the Magic community has become such an issue, to those outside the community it sometimes seems like all they hear about the game. A pro player gets suspended for cheating. A bag gets stolen at a Grand Prix. A store gets broken into. That must mean Magic is just full of cheaters and thieves, right?

I’d like to say with absolute certainty that the answer is a resounding “no.”

I’d also like to believe that nobody within the Magic community truly believes everyone they meet intends to cheat them out of a victory or steal their belongings the moment their back is turned. To be certain, cheating was once a much bigger issue than it is now, and the increasing amount of pro players being suspended for dishonesty in recent years may just mean Wizards is making a renewed effort to crack down on the offence.

A pro player gets suspended for cheating. A bag gets stolen at a Grand Prix. A store gets broken into. That must mean Magic is just full of cheaters and thieves, right? I’d like to say with absolute certainty that the answer is a resounding “no.”

How does the Magic community feel about dishonesty? One user comments:

“I view cheating in competitive events like getting robbed in the street as a recipient. It is of utmost importance to enforce a culture where the reliability and fair play during those events is unquestionable. Right now the punishments for proven cheating seem fair enough, however, everything should be done to ensure that a cheater is caught at all instances.”

Another aspect of this issue occurs at a local level. Almost every LGS has its own stories about a local player who got banned from the store (or is still allowed to walk freely into the store and participate in events) with a reputation for always trying to get away with cheating – drawing an extra card each turn, for example, or trying to lie to opponents about how the rules work – and in some cases, suspected by many to have stolen from other players.

 

What can we do to reverse this stereotype?

Magic writers have already tried writing articles on the subject. More than once.

We could theorise about the reasons why someone might be driven to cheat (suspended cheaters have written open letters confessing that the pressure of winning all the time was a contributing reason), or why someone would show up at a large event full of a vibrant, accepting community and betray that trust by stealing someone’s entire card collection (or taking a camera out of the coverage booth).

We should make a conscious effort to improve our game from within, so it will become apparent to the outside world that the Magic community is actively stamping out cheating and stealing from the community.

We see the evidence that Wizards of the Coast is cracking down on cheating more and more.

So now the onus is on us. We have to speak out when we see something suspicious. We have to protect ourselves and others from dishonest behaviour, in game and out. We should make a conscious effort to improve our game from within, so it will become apparent to the outside world that the Magic community is actively stamping out cheating and stealing from the community.

One user puts it simply in his comment:

“The community needs to take a tougher stand on cheating and fair play.”

 

2. Magic Players are Sexist

Like a few of the other issues listed, sexism is both an issue the Magic community needs to take very seriously, and a stereotype perpetuated by how potential new female players are treated.

While the worst experience a new male player encounters might be an arrogant player who treats them as another obstacle on the way to the top of the pairings, for many female players experiencing Magic: The Gathering for the first time, their first encounters might drive them away from the game forever. As one user comments:

“Female players often feel like they’re viewed solely as ‘girlfriend material’ instead of an opponent, and guys treat them like they’re children who don’t understand the game.”

This sort of behaviour creates an atmosphere that discourages female players from showing up at the local game store to play. One user comments:

“Girls I’ve spoken to have said they find their LGS intimidating. If one or two of them can get over that mental block, then more will eventually come.”

For many female players experiencing Magic: The Gathering for the first time, their first encounters might drive them away from the game forever.

I could spend time here talking about how sexism is still an issue in the Magic community, but it’s been pretty well covered, especially here on Manaleak. (Chances are, you’ve already decided if you think it’s a problem or not.) As this was a topic that was pretty well discussed when I first put up the poll for this article, I think this time I’ll just let the community speak for itself.

On the topic of inclusion among the younger members of the community, a user comments:

“The younger and newer players are more accepting of females playing. I’ve heard many sexist jokes at big events from people that are much older.”

A female player comments:

“Sexism tends to be creepy staring from my experience.”

One user drives the issue home with this comment:

“Sexism is worryingly tolerated within the community, particularly at larger events. It is a symptom of the insecurities and anger of a few individuals being reinforced through the psychological anonymity of a large crowd. Many people lack the confidence to call out the bigot, and for many younger players they simply do not understand why such issues exist. The notion of abuse is far from their mind.”

 

What can we do to reverse this stereotype?

Is this a good place to say “stop alienating female Magic players?”

The only reason I’m hesitant in that regard is because sexism, like other negative behaviours, is not actively engaged in by each individual Magic player. It is perpetuated by a minority of individuals who may not realise the impact of their actions. But if we choose to stay silent when it occurs, we’re part of the problem. As a user pointed out above, casual sexism relies on the anonymity of a crowd and that everyone will assume it’s all in good fun.

Victory is not assured and coming into a match with a cocky attitude might just land you in the loser column.

What can you and I do? A great start would be to treat all Magic players equally. Chances are, whether your opponent is a 12 year old kid, an elderly man, a single mom, or your best friend, victory is not assured and coming into the match with a cocky attitude might just land you in the loser column.

At a local level, we should actively seek to recruit new players of all walks of life, and make every new player feel welcome. As one user comments:

“This is a problem that needs to be addressed, but if people just generally open up their communities to girls and allow them into their groups, it can easily be overcome.”

 

1. Magic Players Have Poor Personal Hygiene

By a landslide, the stereotype Magic players voted that we most need to address was poor personal hygiene.

Is hygiene really that bad of an issue? Is it a real problem, or an unfounded stereotype? According to the Magic community, it is enough of a problem that players actively avoid certain stores. One user commented:

“I stopped going to draft nights and certain FNM events because the players just smelled so bad.”

For that reason, I’m not here to address whether poor hygiene is an issue. It’s enough to acknowledge that while many, many of us do not have this issue, there is enough of a problem that it keeps potential players from walking into our game stores.

It doesn’t stop there, though. How do we address this problem? As one user comments:

“Topics like sexism are easy to call out. Calling someone out on hygiene is much more difficult.”

While many, many of us do not have this issue, there is enough of a problem that it keeps potential players from walking into our game stores.

Another user points out why we should not be quick to call out a fellow player for what we consider to be poor hygiene:

“If someone smells bad there could be numerous reasons:

1. They don’t have a lot of money.

2. Maybe it is a one time thing that they smell bad and there is no need to make the person feel bad.

3. Maybe you, yourself, smell bad and no one is telling you.

4. It might be something that person cannot easily change (smoking habit, overweight, sweating easily).”

So if you came here expecting me to either defend poor hygiene, say it’s not actually a problem, or trash talk smelly Magic players, that’s not what I’m going to do. It’s too complicated an issue to speak about in black and white terms; but needless to say, it’s a significant issue and has become a part of the way in which Magic: The Gathering players are viewed from the outside.

 

What can we do to reverse this stereotype?

If we are a gaming community that prides itself on inclusivity, we have to find a solution that is consistent with that goal.

I believe there are two levels through which we can address the issue of hygiene: personal accountability, and community accountability. On a personal level, we should do what we can to make a Magic event welcoming and pleasant – as with all the other items listed above – and this includes personal hygiene. As a community, we should seek a manner in which we can remedy this problem without alienating fellow players to the point that they leave our great game forever.

As one user comments:

“Poor hygiene is not only one of the stereotypes I’ve experienced, but the only one of the stereotypes I’ve experienced at every event. I can kind of understand it at conventions where you have thousands of people crammed like sardines in a hot room. People get sweaty and smelly on site. But when an event starts at 8, unless you came straight from work, you have plenty of time for a shower.”

What I like about this user’s comment is how their point is made without finger pointing. They basically say, “This is an issue that we can each do our part to fix.”

I believe there are two levels through which we can address the issue of hygiene: personal accountability, and community accountability.

Another user discusses their local game store’s policy:

“My LGS has a rule that people that smell bad or are putting people off with their heavy breathing will be asked politely to leave. At higher level events this is much more difficult.”

A store policy such as this is almost certainly difficult to implement, and could potentially drive off one customer for the comfort of others. Each store will handle issues such as this in its own way, and it’s difficult to say if there is a correct answer.

So then, where do the rest of us come in? It’s simple. If you show up at a Grand Prix, you’ve practised good hygiene, you’re prepared to play all day, and you will be touching other peoples’ cards and shuffling other players’ decks, please take the time throughout the day to wash your hands. It seems so simple, but it makes all the difference.

 

Are you yourself guilty of exacerbating any of these stereotypes? And in your opinion what could be done about them?

Thank you for taking the time to read about these issues. I strongly believe the Magic community is a warm, accepting place, and as long as there are issues that perpetuate negative stereotypes about our game, we will continue to work to address them. As long as there are unfair, baseless stereotypes, we will continue to prove them wrong.

One user sums up quite nicely:

“Stereotypes are a natural way for the human brain to try to make sense of the world. The problem is when the stereotypes are inaccurate. Even if the community attempts to quash unfair and inaccurate stereotypes, all it takes is a single bad experience to reinforce those stereotypes in the minds of others. I was at a Grand Prix recently. While the vast majority of players I encountered did not fit any of the listed stereotypes, there were enough who did, however, to help perpetuate them.”

Let’s be good to each other, and have fun playing Magic.

Thanks for reading,

Joseph Dunlap

Lets Talk About Negative Stereotypes In Magic: The Gathering, by Joseph Dunlap
So, let's talk about stereotypes. Are they based upon fact, or are they patently false? Do they raise legitimate concerns we should take seriously as a Magic community, or do they exist solely to spread misinformation? And finally, what can we do to reverse the negative stereotypes of Magic: The Gathering?

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