It's long been conventional wisdom that women* don't enjoy games. Or comic books. Science Fiction. Anything geeky. That's not true—there's no biological justification for any of that—and I know so many lady gamers. What is true, is that the women who enjoy games and other 'geeky' things don't always do so in the presence of men, and the reason they don't is they have been made to feel unwelcome in those spheres. 'Unwelcome' is huge understatement, actually. Women are unsafe on multiple levels at our conventions, in our stores, among their fellow geeks.
"You're Welcome Here" Are Just Words
Here are some of the ways women* are often unwelcome at a Magic event. (It gets dark. You can skip ahead if you need to. Triggery stuff blacked out.)
- She enters a store and sees she is the only woman there.
- She sees posters on the walls of big-chested, under-clothed women in suggestive poses.
- She asks the clerk where the Magic draft is, and he asks if she's someone's mom or girlfriend.
- She sits down with her packs and the guys around her act surprised to see a woman.
- The guy next to her tries to explain how draft works, unbidden. Or how to draft this set, or anything else that assumes she doesn't know as much and needs his help.
- Two guys to her left celebrate how much better their decks will be, since she'll be passing to them, and will obviously be passing good cards she shouldn't.
- They don't care she can hear them.
- The shady drafter tries to see what she's picking during the draft, because he assumes she's not good enough to notice, or strong enough to call him out.
- After the draft, the guy from before tries to help her build her deck, again unbidden. "I've got this. Thanks," she protests as mildly as she can muster. "I was just trying to help," he gets offended, "B-tch."
- No one nearby says anything about that.
- Except one who laughs in support of the guy's indignation.
- Game one begins and her first opponent offers her the choice to play or draw. "Let's roll off for the choice," she suggests.
- She loses game one, and the men nod, confident their initial judgment was correct.
- She wins the match, a bystander mocks her opponent, "You lost to a girl!"
- Her opponent tilts hard. "You got f---ing lucky! If we played again, I'd crush you."
- Her choices here are to adopt a playful aggressiveness traditionally assigned to men—and if she does, she's pretty much all-in on acting like one-of-the-guys—or to be as non-confrontational as possible. Anything else, and she will be ostracized by the group. "Yeah, you got kinda mana-screwed in the last game," she concedes diplomatically.
- Her round two opponent is friendly. What a relief. He loses game one with a smile, "Tell you what: Win this match and I'll buy you coffee." "No, that's okay. I'm just here to play."
- He wins the match and extends his hand, "you put up a good fight. GG. I could barely concentrate on the game." The handshake lasts a little too long. She forces a smile and backs away.
- Round 3 pairings go up, and her next opponent celebrates. "Easy pairing! My deck is going to r-pe hers." His buddy high-fives him.
- She calls a judge to report his conduct. "Relax. It's just a joke," he assures, "that's just how we say we're going to beat someone here."
- "Besides, no one would want to r-pe you," someone adds, helpfully.
Why We Must Welcome Them
- The more people who play Magic, the more opportunities we have to play.
- The more people who buy Magic, the more Wizards can spend to improve its quality, and to bring us additional products that expand our possibilities for fun.
- The more customers your friendly local game store has, the longer they'll stay in business, and the more likely they can expand and improve your play space.
- The more kinds of opponents you play, the more card opinions and play strategies you'll be exposed to, and the faster you'll improve as a player.
- Women are pleasant to be around. As are people of color, non-cis, and queer folk.* They make great friends (at least as often as white guys do), and help us grow as people.
- The more women who play, the more they'll place in tournaments, inspire other women to try the game, and move on to Design and Development for Magic and other games, which necessarily adds innovation to and shores up quality on the games we play.
What We Are Doing
I am so so proud to say that Wizards leads the industry in meaningful and respectful representation of women in its art, and has for a very long time. There are a lot of women depicted, and most of them are heroic, strong, and independent. Card text has used "he or she" in place of the defacto "he" since the very beginning. That's a big deal.
Wizards' art also represents people of color, non-cis, queer, and disabled people with respect—both on cards and in supplemental fiction—in a way that few other game publishers can claim. Such representation is still disproportionately fractional, but it exists—and it's trending upward—and that's something to be grateful for.
Fine people like Planeswalkers for Diversity, Lady Planeswalkers Society, and MTG Girls' Squad are doing amazing work to improve our communities right now. If I think too hard about it, I get misty. Thank you all.
Outside of Magic, conventions are starting to broadcast and enforce anti-harassment policies to help protect attendees. This last Summer, GenCon invited the most diverse group of Industry Insider Featured Presenters ever, by far, which communicates loud and clear the convention's (and to some extent, the industry's) acknowledgement and appreciation of women and other minorities in games, game design, and game media. Big Bad Con, Dreamation/DexCon, GeekGirlCon, and GaymerX are just four more conventions that are leading the way in healthy and welcoming environments.
I Need Diverse Games is a group most present on Tumblr that helps broadcast people of color in games and geek culture. I'm sure there are others. Feel free to share in the comments.
What We Can Do
Officially, Wizards has our back as seen in the tournament rules:
5.4 Unsporting ConductUnfortunately, our three largest communities—tournaments, local game stores, and online groups—are still overwhelmingly homogeneous and practically insular. Many of us are actively welcoming, but most of us have done nothing more than say "of course everyone's welcome," which is not enough when the community has historically been hostile to women*, and still harbors toxic members.
Unsporting conduct will not be tolerated at any time. Tournament participants must behave in a polite and respectful manner. Unsporting conduct includes, but is not limited to:
- Using profanity
- Acting in a threatening manner
- Arguing with, acting belligerently toward, or harassing tournament officials, players or spectators
- Failure to follow the instructions of a tournament official
|Art by Eric Deschamps ©Wizards of the Coast|
• It is critical that penalties for intentional harassment be serious, both to fully communicate how serious the infraction is, and to reduce the impact of bad actors in the community. However, it would be inappropriate and counter-productive to antagonize players who misbehave unwittingly. A big part of the solution must be education because a big part of the problem is not willful malice but ignorance fostered by a dangerously patriarchal culture. Therefore, the first step to take with new offenders is not to chastise them publicly or punish them severely, it is to take them aside and help them understand how their actions were hurtful, and how they can be better players moving forward.
This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. If a player's first offense is serious, like touching another player without their consent, or willful, they should be punished accordingly. Players who misbehave seriously enough or repeatedly must be banned from the community. Very few players will continue to harass after the problem has been explained to them, but those who do are toxic and must be removed. Otherwise, they will drive away many more good players, and we all lose.• Judges will be the ones enforcing these rules, and so it is critical that they understand both the nature of harassment, and the impact of it. If they're not on board, they will protect bad actors (intentionally or not) and our communities will not be able to heal. The way that judges handle offenses will make a huge difference in behavior correction, and so they'll need to be trained on that. Judges will also be a primary vector for disseminating all of this information to players. The judges I know are all great folk, and up to the job.
• Players who understand the forms and ramifications of harassment have a duty to inform their fellows and help protect victims. It is important that they also understand that the majority of action to be taken in such cases is education not castigation. If a player hears or sees harassment, they can name the behavior, identify that it's inappropriate, and ask that it be avoided in the future.
Calling out an action rather than a player makes a huge difference in how that information is received. "Hey. Please don't use that word. There's nothing funny about it, and it's upsetting to a lot of people" is vastly more productive than "Hey. Don't be such a jerk." The former explains what you want and why, while the latter puts the player on the defensive, where they feel the need to justify their behavior, and double-down on it.• At tournaments of sufficient size, there needs to be staff other than judges whose priority is welcoming new players and supporting harassed players and minorities. Players new to large tournaments have trouble navigating a packed convention hall, and experience undue anxiety trying to figure out who to talk to where.
See Calling In.
A much more welcoming experience would be to have greeters that can guide new players, introduce them to the tournament's layout, procedures, and anti-harassment policies, and answer their questions.• Hiring support staff like this and putting resources toward making spaces more explicitly safe and welcoming will cost money. Wizards needs to spend money on this. Not just because it's necessary to achieve the environment we need, but to demonstrate their commitment to the cause. Women geeks, gamers of color, and all the folks who don't feel welcome playing with us have felt unsafe and been actively unwelcome for decades… Game art and language including them is a fantastic start, it really is, but there's a huge deficit here and it's going to take more than saying we want them back to convince them it's true, or that we're actually doing something about it.
Players who have experienced harassment or who are at increased risk of harassment could be periodically attended by support staff, to check in and make sure they're okay. Knowing there's someone looking out for you is a huge safety blanket.
Finally, players who have been given warnings, penalties, or elapsed bannings for previous offenses can be welcomed back, reminded of the policies, reassured we believe they'll do better, and periodically checked up on. Again, most of these folks aren't really bad people, they've just been sent the wrong message by family/friends/society and need a little steering in the right direction.
• It's not enough that Magic's player base be diverse and welcoming to all, Wizards needs to [continue to] make an intentional effort to hire women, people of color, queer, non-cis, and disabled people. Wizards will benefit in three primary ways:
Having those people on staff adds their perspectives, which strengthens the company and the game fundamentally.
When the players know and see people like them working for Wizards, they see Wizards' commitment is real, know that their interests are represented by people like them, and can work toward becoming a Magic judge, or Wizards employee.
Seeing people who look like you in a position of authority at a tournament is the best reassurance that you belong here and will be backed up if challenged.
|Art by Vincent Proce ©Wizards of the Coast|
I love games, y'all, but not just because they're fun. Games bring people together. I believe dearly that games can be a force for good in the world.
Wizards of the Coast, as a paragon of analog games has both the power and the responsibility to help games make the world a better place. With an audience of millions and two of the world's most popular analog games (D&D's kind of a big deal too) by far, they have the reach. And millions of those lives have already been enriched by their games: earning you friends; challenging your strategic, tactical, and logical thinking; incidentally teaching math, vocabulary, history, and culture; improving our bluffing skills, improvisation, trust and skepticism; bringing us joy and purpose.
—This would not be an act of charity on Wizards' part. They could double their audience if they can truly make everyone feel welcome and safe. If 30% of Magic players are currently women, fully welcoming women would increase the audience +40%. That creates a positive acquisition loop. Support everyone and the numbers rise fantastically. We won't reach that goal, but have so much to gain by trying. I mean, in theory. I'm not a marketing expert. (Let me also reiterate that Wizards should be congratulated on their existing efforts to this end. They are an inspiration.)—
Life is not a zero-sum game. Cooperation, respectful and healthy competition, and mutual exchange aren't just beneficial, but enriching. Setting aside mistrust and fear, to sit down with one another, and play together allows us to heal and to see each other as the lovely, fragile humans we all are, to better understand and more deeply respect each other. At the game table, our differences seem smaller, and fighting seems foolish. In fact, our differences should be celebrated.
* Everything here applies to geeks, gamers, and Magic players of color, non-cis and queer folk, people with disabilities, and everyone else who would laugh and play along with us if only they were sufficiently safe and truly welcome.
Comments will be heavily moderated. Be respectful and constructive. Whether certain groups want to or can play games like Magic or are "true geeks" or are subject to discrimination is not up for debate.