“You don't look like a Magic player.”
February 11, 2018 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts [TCG Player] “Most of us don't attend a tournament space to meet a boyfriend or be patronized and coddled. We just want to play Magic on the same footing as everyone else. One of the most intimidating facets of participating in a Magic tournament is being immediately “othered” simply by virtue of being female. It's hard to break into an in-group because we aren't “one of the guys.” We are rarely asked to play side games or trade, and we have far less social capital to influence meaningful interactions that will help improve our standing in the game. We are subjected to behaviors, microaggressions, and questions that make us feel awkward and uncomfortable. As a male, you might not see why asking “Did your boyfriend teach you to play?” is so harmful. But think about this: would you ask a male peer, “Did your girlfriend teach you to play?” Definitely not.”

• If Magic: The Gathering Cares About Women, Why Can't They Hire Any? [Broadly]
“Everywhere we looked, we continued to see men making Magic. Take the game's card art. When we conducted art analysis using Gatherer, Wizards of the Coast's database of every Magic card ever produced, including a record of the card's artist, we discovered that Magic has been almost exclusively illustrated by men. Our research found that since 2000, women artists have not illustrated more than ten percent of the cards in any given set. The game's last four sets—Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows Over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon—all had eight percent or less of their cards illustrated by women. All told, female artists illustrated 78 cards total in those sets, while male artists accounted for 984. That doesn't seem like the work of a company that prizes gender equality.”
• Men and Magic: Building community [Mana Deprived]
“This brings us to the real problem: our competitive community is still overwhelmingly toxic. This serves as a massive barrier to women entering the scene, let alone being sufficiently enfranchised to consistently play on the Pro Tour. What makes competitive Magic so deeply sexist? Wolff and Davis both talk about the phenomenon of “girlfriendification”, the idea that any woman playing Magic is inexorably tied to their identity as the girlfriend of a male player. Why, after all, would they be interested in the game other than an effort to be more involved in the life of their partner? News flash: Magic is in fact an extremely good game, and it’s actually quite reasonable to like it and not be a part of the male hegemony. It’s actually quite difficult to overcome this hurdle. When I checked coverage of Grand Prix DC this year and saw the name Sarah Zyla at 9-0, my first reaction was, “Oh, that’s Alexander Hayne’s girlfriend.” Whenever I see Rachel Agnes on VSL, I remember that she’s dating Alex Bertoncini. Having these thoughts cross your mind doesn’t make you a bad person. We think this way precisely because of the innate misogyny of our community. It is, however, on us to act in such a way that doesn’t perpetuate this toxicity.”
• How femme representation brought me back to Magic the Gathering [The Tempest]
“I’ve since learned that Magic has made a dedicated effort to be both more representative and accessible in the years since I first encountered the game. From my vantage point, that effort has been successful. I don’t mean to suggest that the Magic community has no more work to do to be more gender inclusive. Most local groups are overwhelmingly male, and there is terrible sexism on online platforms, like all gaming communities. Still, more and more, women and femme-identified people are visible in competitive play, casual groups, in podcasts, youtube and in the company that creates Magic the Gathering. It can still be hard to break into local groups of players, but it’s clear that the Magic’s creators and leaders value femme players, as well as LGBTQ+, multiracial and multinational players. As more diverse players get into Magic because they see people like them on cards, in stories, and in the community- the boys’ club mentality will change. It’s a frustratingly slow process but it’s so worth it. I believe that Magic is an incredible hobby to have. It helps me with focus and problem-solving. It serves as my self-care when I want to engage with something outside my daily grind.”
• Why Doesn’t This Magic: The Gathering Snake Have Boobs? [Motherboard]
“Fantasy has consistently proven itself to be a boys' club. The inclusion of femme characters, meaning those who have female qualities but might not identify as female, is often based on what is considered tolerable femininity—sex appeal. Large breasts are not inherently sexual, but their manipulation by male artists and writers for male consumption has transformed them into an entrance fee for many femme presences. However, in this world of large-breasted mythical chicks, there’s a card that’s a shimmering, slithering, beacon of hope for fantasy femmes. Arriving in the 2017 release of the Amonkhet expansion is Naga Vitalist: a lady snake with an unusually desexualized depiction. Her arms bend back slightly; her gold corset-clad chest protrudes forward—she’s in the ideal pose to display a massive rack. However there’s no large set of boobs under her corset. Not one ounce of reptilian bosom. It would have been too easy for James Ryman, the card’s artist, to draw an absurd and out-of-place set of boobs on this snake. As abnormal as a snake with boobs is, in MTG, and fantasy as a whole, the idea is not farfetched.”
• Why It Matters That Magic: The Gathering Now Has a Transgender Character [Bitch Media]
“It’s refreshing that Alesha’s trans identity isn’t her defining trait, but just one aspect of her character. She’s is first and foremost the leader of her group. Alesha’s character shows that Wizards of the Coast is making an effort at creating a more inclusive game. Queer representation has been scant in the Magic universe until very recently, so the creation of a character like Alesha makes a powerful statement. The introduction of Ashiok, a nonbinary planeswalker from the Theros expansion in 2013 and now the addition of Alesha seems to indicate that Magic’s developers are leaning towards writing more queer characters. Many Magic players use the mythology and lore of the game and create a more imaginative and immersive gameplay experience. Creating new storylines with more diverse characters will help draw new players to the game by demonstrating that diversity is accepted and encouraged. Breaking down social barriers within the story of Magic will hopefully also help break down similar social barriers within the Magic community. If the stories are more inclusive, it’s my hope that the millions of people who play Magic will feel compelled to be more inclusive themselves.”
posted by Fizz (37 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Toxic masculinity: what can't it ruin?
posted by rmd1023 at 9:05 AM on February 11, 2018 [28 favorites]

Netrunner impressed me both from the design angle (very little sexualized imagery and a strong push for a wide range of multi-racial characters) and the player community (a fair number of events aimed at women, younger players, and new players, groups who get pushed to the side in many hobbies)
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:12 AM on February 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

I find it astonishing that M:TG is still a thing. I was playing it 25 years ago and at this point I don't even know how to engage with it as a game. It is fun to play, but the gameplay has changed a lot across time (the deck construction has become something entirely other than what I am familiar with).

I'm sorry but not surprised to hear that toxic masculinity is a part of the scene. I hope and pray that if there's one thing that this #MeToo moment is going to create is a new culture in which women are given the regard they should have as human beings and not treated as objects or non-people by the boy crowd.
posted by hippybear at 9:46 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a male, you might not see why asking “Did your boyfriend teach you to play?” is so harmful.

It's funny, I was at a small sealed-deck tournament in St. Louis in the late 90s (I was 15 or 16) with a few friends of mine (all guys) and one of my friends literally asked this question of young woman playing in the tournament. Before the woman answered, I interjected at my friend with, "yeah, because that's how you learned, your boyfriend taught you". That shut my friend up pretty quick.

To this day, I'm still sort of proud that I called out my friend's bullshit at that time. But even then, I was more motivated by busting my friend's chops, and only a little motivated to help the woman by stopping my friend's bullshit. Now that I'm older, I don't think I would fight that toxic bullshit with more toxic bullshit (the homophobia that can be present in groups of young men). So I guess it's not really funny at all.

I guess accidentally helping someone is better than not helping? There can be waste-deep levels of toxic masculinity to wade through growing up, especially if no one really teaches you how much bullshit it really is. I hope reflecting on things like this makes me a better father.
posted by Groundhog Week at 10:12 AM on February 11, 2018 [16 favorites]

What's with all the pirates being female?

We aim for there being an overall mix of males and females in card illustrations in a set at 50/50. That means it’s possible for some subsets to lean one way or other other.

Interestingly, when it leans towards females, I often get the question, “Why so many females?” Yet when it leans towards males, no one ever asks.

- Mark Rosewater, head designer
posted by ODiV at 10:16 AM on February 11, 2018 [18 favorites]

Well, an unlisted reason I stopped playing MtG in the past (I still don't play) was the jerk potential was higher there than in just about every other game I played.
posted by Samizdata at 10:48 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

As someone who does fantasy illustration... Yeah, I have almost never had a female art director in a decade in the business. I've been asked if I was holding my boyfriend's portfolio. I've been asked why I painted so many women for the art I did on my own time.

I love painting swords and dragons and whatnot, but sometimes the aggregate environment is a drag.
posted by tautological at 11:02 AM on February 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

Dragons wielding swords would be a thing that would be cool.
posted by hippybear at 11:04 AM on February 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

But then I'm a furry so what do I know?
posted by hippybear at 11:04 AM on February 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

I find it astonishing that M:TG is still a thing.

Wizards of the Coast LLC is worth a pile of money; some say $1b+. I'm just focusing on putting our local game store owner's kid through college before mine grow out of MGT.
posted by sneebler at 11:07 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey Tautological, I'm a female art director, and I'm glad you mentioned being an illustrator because I bookmarked your portfolio. I am always looking for more non cis straight white male artists to hire.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 11:17 AM on February 11, 2018 [29 favorites]

Dragons wielding swords would be a thing that would be cool.

But they’d end up with names like “Humancleaver,” and that would lean to pranks like:

“Behold! The human, Lance...”
“The Humanlance? The artifact fated to destroy this age of the world?”
“Let me finish! Ahem. Behold the human, Lance Armstrong, disgraced cyclist!”
“You just did that to make me look bad, didn’t you?”
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Lance Humancleaver?

I don't get it.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 PM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Interestingly, when it leans towards females, I often get the question, “Why so many females?” Yet when it leans towards males, no one ever asks.

This is a tangent, but I'm always weirded out by the use of female instead of women. I can't really pinpoint why, but maybe just because I associate its use with knuckle-dragging MRA types. It feels like an intentional dehumanization to choose not to use the word for human females.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:58 PM on February 11, 2018 [25 favorites]

In this case I think it's very often non-human, so at least there's that?

(Was kind of amused by the TCG Player piece using "male" the way guys often use "female". On purpose?)
posted by ODiV at 1:03 PM on February 11, 2018

It feels like an intentional dehumanization to choose not to use the word for human females.

In his very thin defense, we also have examples of female snake-people, female cat-people, and female undead horrors, so who knows what the pirates are? I’m sure he gets equal complaints when the proportion of dog-horse pirates gets too high as well.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:13 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Admiral Beckett Brass, one of the cooler pirates on Ixalan.

Play it Forward - We are a non-profit with one goal: GET MORE WOMEN ON THE PRO TOUR

Planeswalkers for Diversity - Planeswalkers for Diversity consists of gamers who are passionate about Magic: The Gathering being played in an atmosphere that is welcoming, inclusive, and accessible to everyone regardless of their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, ability, or anything else that has nothing to do with the game.
posted by ODiV at 1:44 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The fact that it's a big deal that a snake-woman doesn't have giant gazongas for once is in of itself an example of exactly how deep in the shitter the community is. I love the illustration and I think the diversity should be celebrated. But that there are so few examples that that's what gets highlighted as a sign of progress . . . it's desperately sad.
posted by Anonymous at 3:09 PM on February 11, 2018

This strikes me as a shame. I was a Magic beta tester, however long ago that was... twenty years, I guess? The person who invited me to participate was a woman who later became a VP in the company before the sale and so forth, and my recollection of the people involved, both beta testers and initial-group WoTC employees or volunteers or whatever they were was extremely positive and genderbalanced, even gender identity balanced. Even in the couple years following the release of the game, the public playspaces I knew of in Capitol Hill were very much safe spaces for kids of all varieties of self-presentation. Maybe unless you were a straight-presenting male jock that favored LaCoste and khakis, but that's cool.
posted by mwhybark at 4:23 PM on February 11, 2018

I just went to the local game shop with my 7yo daughter and played Magic with her for the first time. We borrowed rookie decks, and she wiped the floor with me -- always a strong indicator that she'll enjoy playing more. We bought the same decks we'd played with, and she's excited about trying them out and mixing them up. The shop has some great intro sessions and, for a ways down the line, a seemingly constant tournament schedule.

So then I read this article.

I played Magic 15 years ago for one summer and had a lot of fun with it, and I was excited that my kid was getting to the age to be able to try it out. I just... I had no idea.

Well, shit.
posted by gurple at 4:29 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

wait, i believe I misunderstood due to the lead-link framing. It's a shame that this is somehow controversial within the MTG community. The game, from my view, was made by people interested in and supportive of all sorts of identity expression, and if the broader success of the game in the world has led to the development of a consumer base that does not share those values, that is a shame.

The inclusion of this character is possibly overdue, but definitely not a shame.
posted by mwhybark at 4:31 PM on February 11, 2018

This is a tangent, but I'm always weirded out by the use of female instead of women.

Well, it's kind of cute when my preschooler does it. "Mommy, we're females!"

My favorite board game of all time is Cosmic Encounter, which Magic is supposedly inspired by, but I never tried Magic because the culture seemed kind of intimidating.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:54 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Cosmic Encounters is such a great game!
posted by hippybear at 5:05 PM on February 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I was actually thinking about this the other day (in relation to overwatch and esports in general). This is straight up discrimination and should be prosecuted as such. Any competition that doesn't include 50% women (and X% minorities (I don't know what X is currently)) should just be shut the fuck down until such time as they make it so.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:26 PM on February 11, 2018

I was actually thinking about this the other day (in relation to overwatch and esports in general). This is straight up discrimination and should be prosecuted as such. Any competition that doesn't include 50% women (and X% minorities (I don't know what X is currently))

I have some experience with racial based streaming at school, which is blend of several strange concepts. So the baseline is academic streaming, where in a school of 400 students per year level, everyone got ranked by their annual test scores and got streamed into the classes 1-10 for the following year. So there was prestige to be had by being in the "1st" class, and a shame to get demoted out, but not only that, the promotion / demotion impact was cumulative - they put the "top" teachers into the top classes, because that's who they wanted to focus their talent on (picking winners), while the bottom classes got the worst teachers - or a substitute or even no teacher at all, if there was a teaching position unable to be filled. So basically, if you dropped down a few classes, it was less and less likely you would be able to claw your way back up, and you might drop even further. And if you started at the bottom, the odds were heavily stacked against you. This mean you needed academic excellence at a very young age to even "start" high school at a decent class rank. You'd ideally want to ace your test scores at age 12 so you started secondary school at 13 in a high ranked class, which would put you on track for the next 5 years to complete school at 18.

This was further flavored by racial quotas. Test scores vary by race all over the world, of course. The population demographic in my area was 50% Malay, 40% Chinese, 10% Indian. Due to the underachievement of Malays (in general) and in my school - in a strict 1-400 ranking, the "top" Malay scorer would be only be about rank 48 - not even enough to put a single Malay into the top class. Essentially the top class would consist of something like 38 Chinese and 2 Indians.

With racial quotas implemented, the top class was locked to a composition of 20 Malays, 16 Chinese and 4 Indians, and each race competed only within their race for spots in that class and the ones lower down.

The consequence / downside of all this is that in "any" class, Malays always took the bottom ranking spots. It very much did have an impact on how we see race I'm sure, I'm just not sure what. It made kids very "race aware" at a very young age and we understood how and why everyone was where they were specifically because of their race. A sense of "place", if you have it...

Anyway, just musing about what would happen if we had gender / race quotas in competition...
posted by xdvesper at 6:18 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I often think about getting (back) into Magic to make some local friends down at the local gaming store.

Then I read articles like these and I wonder if I really want friends like that.
posted by Talez at 3:24 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

the use of the word 'female' is making me cringe here. You're talking about people and not mating pairs of beetles. I used to be a career comic book store employee and I have noticed a lot of people into geeky pop culture use this instead of saying "woman" (or whatever the preferred pronoun is). ( I also experienced a lot of this known asshattery, getting quizzed, asking about my "boyfriend, "do you really like comics?" ect.)

I feel for the author here and as conscious as she is of the weird toxic masculinity of the magic community part of me feels like she has internalized it and is reflecting it back.

I just know when someone calls me a female I feel like I am being treated like a museum specimen or I am about to be hacked up and worn as a dress.
posted by teamKRL at 7:43 AM on February 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

She's using it consistently as an adjective and not a noun, at least? Not that it helps much if the word squicks you out.

Kind of surprised we haven't yet seen a thinkpiece from a male Magic pro about how this isn't a big deal which will be retracted and apologized for a day or two later.
posted by ODiV at 8:05 AM on February 12, 2018

Cosmic Encounters? [CaptainAmericanIUnderstandThatReferenceMeme.gif]
posted by Samizdata at 10:05 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I even have most of the expansion sets for CE! Like, from back in the day! Jeebus, where is that? I should dig that out.
posted by hippybear at 10:43 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, plenty of women were playing M:TG back in the early 90s when it was new and I was playing it. Just for fun, though, not as part of The Magic Culture, which even then was being formed. That whole side of the game never pulled me in.

I did have a coworker about 10 years ago who was doing Magic tournaments and was making more playing the cards than working his real job. That was amusing. He tried to steal my Black Lotus card once. Asshole.
posted by hippybear at 10:49 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

ha ha hippybear, I lost a Black Lotus beta in prerelease play! DAMMIT

(Or I think I did, it's hard to say)
posted by mwhybark at 5:49 PM on February 12, 2018

> hippybear:
"I even have most of the expansion sets for CE! Like, from back in the day! Jeebus, where is that? I should dig that out."

When you find it, move closer to me so I can show up for game nights. (Played the original before you kids and your EXPANSION PACKS even existed.)
posted by Samizdata at 6:56 PM on February 12, 2018

(Played the original before you kids and your EXPANSION PACKS even existed.)

Oh, so you're an Eon purist, not one of those Mayfair sellouts? (Don't even get me started on Avalon Hill.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 7:00 PM on February 12, 2018

Returning to Magic: The Gathering, two decades later [Polygon]
“A common complaint about Magic is that it’s an expensive game to play. At a high level, that’s certainly true. To get the most sought-after cards, you might need to drop a lot of money on the secondary market. But I was surprised at how affordable getting started was. Between the standard planeswalker deck and the deck builder’s toolkit, I was up and running for around $40. Throw in a deck box and some decent card sleeves, and I felt like I had a fighting chance at the table for less than $50.

After a $5 entry fee, I was squaring off against the competition in the city of brass.

What struck me more than anything was just how social an experience playing Magic is. It was really wonderful to get out from behind my computer screen for an evening, and talk to strangers about a game and a hobby that they were excited about.”
posted by Fizz at 8:17 AM on February 13, 2018

"Back in the day" (early 90s) we weren't competitive players at all, but we reveled in getting a starter deck and three booster packs and then 90 minutes to trade with everyone else in the room and then play a multi-way old-school Magic game. Ante and everything. It was so much fun!
posted by hippybear at 10:33 PM on February 13, 2018

Related to the topic at hand, I felt that Rebecca Guay's art in Magic was particularly outstanding.

On the social aspect, playing Limited in whatever format was always the best for me. Having very few Magic-playing friends to draft with was a bummer, though.
posted by FarOutFreak at 3:48 AM on February 14, 2018

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