Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Welcoming Women into Magic

Women play Magic. That may not be your experience, but there's a reason for that. And we can do something about it. We must.

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.)
  1. She enters a store and sees she is the only woman there.
  2. She sees posters on the walls of big-chested, under-clothed women in suggestive poses.
  3. She asks the clerk where the Magic draft is, and he asks if she's someone's mom or girlfriend.
  4. She sits down with her packs and the guys around her act surprised to see a woman.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. They don't care she can hear them.
  8. 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.
  9. 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."
  10. No one nearby says anything about that.
  11. Except one who laughs in support of the guy's indignation.
  12. Game one begins and her first opponent offers her the choice to play or draw. "Let's roll off for the choice," she suggests.
  13. She loses game one, and the men nod, confident their initial judgment was correct.
  14. She wins the match, a bystander mocks her opponent, "You lost to a girl!"
  15. Her opponent tilts hard. "You got f---ing lucky! If we played again, I'd crush you."
  16. 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.
  17. 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."
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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."
  21. "Besides, no one would want to r-pe you," someone adds, helpfully.
Writing that was emotionally draining, and if you have any empathy, I'm sure reading it was too. Every one of those bullet points is an indignity for our guest. Some small, some not so small, some straight-up deplorable, but they all add up regardless. I didn't even get into objectification, intimidation, or non-consensual touch. No one would put up with this atmosphere for long.

Why We Must Welcome Them

It's important that we properly welcome women into our community. Do they deserve the same fun, challenge, escapism, and camaraderie we do? Of course! But even if you hate the idea of sharing from the infinite font of goodness just for the sake of equality, there are many benefits to everyone when our communities grow and become more diverse:
  • 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.

http://www.mtgdiversity.org/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.

http://ineeddivgms.info/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 Conduct
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
Unfortunately, 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.

Art by Eric Deschamps ©Wizards of the Coast
• We need to communicate to our players what the problem is, why it's a problem, how they can avoid contributing to the problem, and what the consequences of harassment are. The Unsporting Conduct policy above could more explicitly call out sexist behavior and ways that we make players feel unsafe. I could have skipped this post's first list, but understanding all the ways guests can be made unwelcome is critical to avoiding that behavior ourselves.

• 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.
See Calling In.
• 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.
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.

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.
• 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.
I would further encourage Wizards to direct funds to organizations like those listed earlier to help them run tournaments, but also to help them recruit members and spread the word. When groups built to support player minorities can point to funds Wizards has sent them, their support becomes tangible and measurable.
• 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
Why Magic?

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.


  1. I think this is a really helpful article and really can't be said often enough.

    Here's a question that's been troubling me: What do you do if someone shows up to FNM in a "Make America Great Again" hat?

    1. That's a tough question. Let's tackle two easier questions first:

      1. What if someone shows up to FNM in a "Republican" hat?
      Neither Wizards nor Magic can take a political stance, and players —people— shouldn't jump to judge each other based purely off their political affiliation. That said, no one's coming to FNM to debate politics or to have yours pushed down their throat, so it's very reasonable to ask them to stow the hat for the event. You might choose to keep an ear open to ensure this person doesn't start spouting unpleasantries, but you need to very actively check your own biases and be sure you're not being more critical than you would if they'd entered with a Democrat hat, or no hat at all. I wouldn't personally worry about a Republican player one iota, but the fact that they wanted to wear that hat to the event would be a small warning sign. (See #5 for the vice-versa.)

      2. What if someone shows up to FNM in a "White Power" hat?
      You take them aside and ask if they'd be willing to remove the hat because it is a serious threat to many many players, and wearing it compromises their safety. Privately explaining the effect of the hat and giving them the chance to correct their offense might help them understand the damage white supremacy causes elsewhere as well. If they remove it, they play. And you keep an eye out to make sure they're not espousing unsafe behavior. If not, everyone wins. If they refuse to remove it, or if they compromise the safety of other players through their speech or actions, you ban them and explain why.

      3. What if someone shows up to FNM in a "Make America Great Again" hat?
      This is really tricky.
      One approach is to talk to them privately, and suggest that this isn't the ideal place to push politics; see if they'd be willing to stow the hat.
      Another is to read the hat literally, forget its associations, and give them the benefit of the doubt. The trouble with that is not everyone will be able to do so because of the very serious personal danger that campaign poses to minorities. By taking this route, you endanger their feeling of safety.
      Another approach is to take the player aside and explain how this hat makes players feel unsafe and ask them to stow it.
      Some of those require more patience and emotional energy than others, some are riskier for the player, some are riskier for other players.
      I think my recommendation is to start with the private conversation and see how they speak. If it's clear they're wearing the hat for the purpose of making others uncomfortable, they should be removed from the event. If it's clear that's not their intent, they should be allowed to reduce their threat level (by stowing the hat and refraining from further rhetoric).

      4. What if someone shows up to FNM in a "Kill Trump" hat?
      Same response as 2. This is a threat, and inappropriate for a game event.

      5. What if someone shows up to FNM in a "Hillary" hat?
      This is where I must show my own political bias. Hillary's campaign was not based on fear or hatred, she didn't make threats regularly, she didn't gladly accept the endorsement of hate groups, and she wouldn't have appointed a hate group leader as her chief strategist. That said, there are plenty of folks who feel deeply insulted by her 'deplorable' comment and their feelings are fully valid.
      I would still say that a game event is not the place to force one's politics in front of others, and ask them to stow the hat. Again, as with #1, I wouldn't worry about a Democrat playing at all, but them trying to wear the hat to the game would be a warning sign that they might be interested in stirring up trouble.

    2. So, short answer:
      Discourage players from bringing any paraphernalia or rhetoric to an event that is contentious and unrelated to the game. Give players the opportunity to reduce the threat they presented by doing so, and help them understand why that's important. Keep an eye out for potential agitators. Remove agitators from the event.

    3. Would that include a Black Lives Matter shirt?

    4. Organizers are going to have to make their own judgment calls, and that means some of them will be bad.

      I would personally support a player wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt because the movement is offensive to no one who understands it. I would be happy to explain to an objector how that is true, and I would inherently be skeptical of the intentions of anyone who refuses to acknowledge that truth. But I'm not organizing every event, and I'm not always right, either.

      Suppose the organizer has an incomplete understanding of the movement, and thinks that it's an attack on non-black lives (it's not) or on police (it's not). In the context of that understanding, they would be 'right' to ask for that shirt to be hidden.

      Again, the common ground has to be the willingness to have an earnest conversation, to share your point of view without accusation or insult, and to better understand theirs.

      If a facilitator held firm to the "no politics" rule, that would be slightly sad here but fair enough, and entirely reasonable. Hmm. I guess players will see a double standard when I approve the Black Lives Matter shirt but disapprove the Blue Lives Matter shirt (because unlike BLM, it isn't about calling attention to a people disproportionately killed, it stands in opposition to that movement. Suggesting that the lives of police are more important than the lives of black people). In situations where the organizer can't substantially defend one choice over the other, those choices will seem imbalanced (and, on occasion, be imbalanced), so maybe we stick to the "no politics" rule even harder?

      I'm not the final voice on any of this, by the way. I welcome other opinions (so long as they are constructive).

    5. How would you feel about a "Jesus loves you" T-shirt?

    6. I'm about with Jay on these questions, but I agree it's really hard to find a good balance. I think it's understandable that there'll be some variance between events, even if hopefully outright-depicable messages will be banned most places.

    7. I think we have to apply the same model. If we can discourage contentious messages, that's our first approach. If not, we talk and try to determine motive. and clarify risks. Some 'Christian' groups are demeaning or worse to non-heteronormative folk. That shouldn't be the connotation from "Jesus loves you" but it could be the wearer's intention, or the viewer's interpretation. So we encourage players to explain their intentions, and their feelings/discomfort, so that we can reduce potential harm immediately and in the future.

  2. See this follow up piece on Safety Techniques tabletop games can borrow from RPGs and LARPs.

  3. Check out this excellent article by Thea Miller. Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts details micro-aggressions she personally faced. These are not theoretical concerns. They happen to nearly every woman who tries to play Magic in public. Thea is inspiringly diplomatic about it, but there's nothing remotely okay about what she experienced, and we have to speak up as a community in support of women and minorities, in support of positive change.

    One of the most important points she makes that I missed is how invisible sexism is. You don't have to try to do something sexist, it comes naturally to all of us because it's that ingrained into our society. Doing something unintentionally bigoted doesn't make you a bad person; Refusing to change these behaviors when they're called out does.