Tuesday, June 23, 2015

THE GATHERING: Special Treatment

Last week, Star City Games published an article by Meghan Wolff, "Women in Magic: The Gathering". Wolff's article outlines some of the reasons why women rarely attend competitive Magic tournaments. Among other things, Wolff calls for content publishers and tournament organizers to take active steps to increase the visibility of female Magic players. She also describes the sexual objectification and other forms of intimidation that women often face when they attend events. I recommend reading the whole thing. (This same topic has been discussed by other female writers in several recent articles.)

At the end of the week, Star City followed up with a response article by Jim Davis, "Women and Magic". Davis says he also wants to see more women in competitive Magic, but he critiques Wolff's approach as one that would create inequality by giving special treatment to women. He contends that players should be courteous to each other, that women should speak up if they are being disrespected, and that female players need to accomplish more in order to earn the respect of the community.

Via Twitter's @CorvusE
I wasn't following this while it was happening, but it appears that a shitstorm ensued, and Star City ended up retracting Davis's article and apologizing for it. The apology has a public comments section that is littered with comments lambasting feminists for being unreasonable, overly sensitive, and opposed to equality. I'm trying to understand the worldview of Davis's defenders, as I find their rhetoric toxic and utterly devoid of empathy. However, I'm willing to bet they feel similarly about my perspective, and I would like to develop a strategy for how to be a good ally to female gamers on this issue.

I cannot ever know exactly how Wolff and other women feel, but I can relate to their description of the unwelcoming atmosphere at Magic tournaments. About four years ago, I had just started playing the game for the first time, and I went to one of my first competitive events: a sealed Innistrad grand prix trial. I was nervous and giddy, and I woke up early to drive east over unfamiliar roads to a small card shop in San Gabriel. I was in unfamiliar territory, but I knew the cards and was excited to attend the upcoming grand prix tournament in San Diego. Sadly, my enthusiasm didn't last long, as it wasn't long before I heard the store regulars cursing each other with homophobic taunts. It was clear that I didn't belong there. Even worse, I felt unsafe. I had trouble focusing on my games. I played poorly and dragged myself home. I never returned to that store, and I never made it to the grand prix.

This isn't the only time this has happened. At my regular store, I've called out other players for making anti-gay or misogynist comments. They have either dismissed my concerns or defiantly defended their words. Similarly, I've met with sarcasm and disdain when I talk to other players about the misogynist language they are using. These interactions have left me feeling angry and rejected, and it also makes me not want to attend other events.

To their credit, the people at Wizards of the Coast have been making positive steps towards creating a more supportive play environment. Starting in Theros block, the creative content and art direction have more consistently featured strong, non-sexualized women, as well as people of color and LGBTQ characters. There is still room for growth; Magic 2015 featured fifteen cards created by guest designers, none of whom were female. I remarked on this to a male friend, who claimed this was because women don't make games. When I hesitated to provide a counter example, he said that I had just proven his point. I'm embarrassed by my stumble, but this certainly doesn't invalidate the excellent work of women game designers in an industry dominated by men. If anything, this example proves the point being made by Wolff and others who have called for increased visibility of women in games.

To bring my own story full circle, I recently registered for this year's upcoming grand prix in San Diego. I'm hoping I will make it this time, and that it will be a good experience, but I would be lying if I said I weren't already steeling myself against unapologetically hurtful comments. The nervousness I (and others) feel before an event should come from excitement and not anxiety or fear. I look forward to the day when this isn't considered a form of special treatment.

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