Watching Culture Change in MTG

Years ago now I wrote an article about Magic: The Gathering and its representation of women. Please don’t go looking for that article; it’s not very good and even if I do make points I still stand by to this day I also sling around some really inappropriate ableist and whorephobic language which was both totally unnecessary at the time and cringeworthy now. I’ll summarise the points of the article here:

  • Tity armour is bad
  • Most of the big, tough and badass things are boys
  • Most of the dirt and junk things are girls

This was not a hard and fast rule by any measure (I mean c’mon, it features the words ‘most.’)

At the time of writing this article I was a StarcityGames Featured writer for the free side of the site, back when the site had a forum of its own, a forum that got pretty weird as I related to it. It was a weird place because on the one hand, I was a featured writer paid for his words, and on the other hand, I had an actual banned topic list of people I shouldn’t talk to or talk about, and I understood, some other featured writers had even more restrictive rules on how they could post on the forums.

This was totally reasonable, by the way: I was at my best a condescending snot and at worst a volatile dickheel on those forums, even as I was, without really articulating it, trying to argue for accessibility and communality while being a total dick about it. Even if I wasn’t a dick, the suggestion ‘don’t talk in a way that looks insulting about one of our other featured writers’ is pretty obvious. I still remember, though, the way that the forums reacted to this article.

I saw three basic takes:

  • This isn’t a problem
  • Women don’t play Magic so it’s not a problem
  • You’re a dude, why do you care?

What makes this even more interesting, in hindsight is that while the forums were negative about this, that article was being referenced by other featured writers. The culture of the game as we spoke about it was negative and hostile to the idea of examining this feminism issue. I remembered at one point, when someone asked me why do you care, you’re a dude, why I didn’t ask a woman if she wanted to write the article, with the statistical examination and the breakdown of the characters and whatnot…

And at the time I was struck to realise I could not name a single SCG woman writer.

I’m not bringing this up to point at SCG by the way. The top level people at SCG I’ve dealt with, by all accounts are genuinely good people. I have seen Pete Hoefling be in a lot of situations an Unnecessarily Good Guy. Ben Bleiweiss, as both a forum moderator and a dealer, has basically got conspiracy theory websites written about him and not one of them ever lines up with the guy who I remember putting me in my place in some extremely awkward situations, being very harsh but also very fair. My editors, Ted Knutson and Craig Stevenson, were both by all accounts stand-up people.

(I’m pretty sure Ted thinks I’m still a total joke of a human, but you do what you do).

That was where our culture was: The second biggest MTG site, and I, with the tools of the website’s inner workings at my disposal, could not find or name a single woman writer of the game. The writers for SCG were international but somehow precariously all very similar.

Fast forward ten years. I stopped reading StarCityGames years ago. Not any mark against them, but a shift to video in some production fronts when my country still didn’t have good internet infrastructure and the increased demands of MTGO kinda edged me out of the game for quite some time. I went back to MTGO as our internet improved, I started using Youtube all the time, and eventually, eventually, found myself looking at all the things that had changed while I was out.

I actually agonised over this paragraph because pointing out and naming names kind of spirals off into just this ridiculous list of people like I’m trying to brag about All The Girls And Enbies And Queer People In Magic I’m Fan Of, and that feels gauche. But I’ll give you this as an example of where we are now: I tune in weekly to watch someone’s mom play Magic. That would have been a punchline once.

As I get to the end of this article it’s hard to frame the conclusion, because I don’t want to say ‘well, we started including girls, go us!’ or ‘thank you, strange and wild unicorn girls, for coming to the culture and sharing your wisdom.’ I certainly don’t want to start patting everyone on the back for Not Doing The Obviously Bad Thing Any More. At the same time, the voices in the game – both making it, producing content for it, and being part of the play experiences – are more, more diverse, and better.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m just really, really happy that things have gotten a bit better.

And we can make it better still.

This was written a few weeks ago, back before one of the Youtube Poop-Boy squad and his assorted jerkhole dinguses coordinated and sustained harrassment of Christine Sprankle leading to her leaving Magic and the community.

These people are reactionary jerks. They are not to be given countenance or power. They are absolutely to be dismissed and ignored and spurned from the scene. And if you find yourself saying ‘hey, well now, let’s not be too hasty,’ then you might find you are too close to those people to be someone I trust to make good decisions for the community.

My central point remains: The hobby is growing in its presence of women. The directives controlling the voice of what the game is about are seeking to enable and include women and nonbinary people. This space has gotten better and it can keep getting better. The awful parts of our community are lashing out louder and harder in their efforts to control it – and they should be driven out.

Also, being against the harrassment and abuse of Christine Sprankle doesn’t mean I think she’s blameless for things she said in the past regarding Alesha, Who Smiles At Death. But now is not the time, nor is now the time to tell people who are trying to make good happen and give people hope that there’s no point in doing so.

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