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Limited Magic | July 24, 2014

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How Do We Get More Women to Play Magic?

How Do We Get More Women to Play Magic?
Afton Bentle
  • On November 5, 2013
  • http://www.limitedmagic.com

I see this question asked with relative frequency in the various communities I haunt. I’d like to take a stab at discussing this issue, both because I myself am female and because I’d like to unfog the veil that surrounds the female Magic: The Gathering player. The sad and boring truth is that there’s not much difference between us and your average player; we appreciate the same things. However, that makes for a quick article, so let’s discuss exactly what that means.

Though it’s difficult to generalize any population of people while being only one of them, I would say confidently that female Magic players really appreciate a sense of community. This rings true for players of all genders and ages, as the quickest way to push a player out of the game is by refusing them entry in the beginning. Players tend to be especially fragile during the liminal stage, and the community has the ability to influence whether they really become a part of the group or hit one FNM and drop out. Encourage all new players if you’d like more women to play the game, both because many women are the new players and because a strong sense of community is likely to make future females more apt to stick with it.

It’s also important that male players treat women like other people. Regular, boring, other people. Engaging women in the community is important, but only insofar as it is important for the community elspethto engage all new players. Creating or allowing an environment in which women are deified simply for being women makes us more aware of our femininity, and therefore more aware that we are somehow “different.” Though the intentions may be good, we too are searching for a space in which to relax and enjoy our hobbies without being judged or categorized as the other. Men who treat us as special create an environment in which we feel pressure to meet their expectations without really knowing what those expectations are. This creates an overall malaise that may be enough to make female players who want to return give pause.

In the same vein, refraining from sexualizing women in your playgroup is important. I keep saying reversal of fortunethis, but we prefer to be seen simply as people.  If you must, remember that we are all somebody’s daughter, sister, or mother and remember those women when you interact with us. There is no other way to make a female player more uncomfortable than to imply that you are attracted to her simply because she is female and shares your hobby.  Not only does this imply to us that perhaps you are less interested in us as people than we would prefer, but it makes for a very awkward conversation.  It’s clear we enjoy one of the same things, so perhaps attempt discussing some of your other favorite hobbies.  We may have more in common than you’d think!  We want to hang out with you simply because you’re cool, and we hope you feel the same of us.

It also happens frequently that women in Magic communities become demonized. Though I can’t speculate as to exactly why it is, it’s obvious by my first paragraph on community that this is unlikely to create a larger female player base. I believe that if you’ve taken the time to read this Lillyarticle this far, that you are not one of the these people. I ask you, however, not only to continue your steadfast commitment to equality, but to hold those around you accountable. It’s all too easy with the anonymity of the internet and more female players hitting top 8 to take part in a snarky conversation in a chat room or message board somewhere. While you may not think these conversations are likely to impact how many women show up at the shop Friday night, you must ponder for a moment how many men’s girlfriends saw those conversations and decided not to come. I challenge you to question these remarks and guide the conversation in a positive direction.

Lastly, I will hark back to this point again and again, but keeping stores clean will go a long way in keeping more women (and more people in general!) in them. One of my greatest desires of my stores and therefore the game, is a space in which I feel comfortable playing. In order to be comfortable, I need to be able to sit on the toilet seat without fear. I know many wives and girlfriends of avid players who would be more likely to give the game a real chance if they didn’t feel the need to bring Clorox Wipes with them. Just kidding! Sort of…

It’s not that changing these behaviors once or twice will make more women join the game, but setting an overall tone of inclusion without expectation will benefit not just women, but all players in the long-term. The more minds we have join our game, the more creativity and challenge will arise from our commitment to being an enjoyable community.

Until next time…

-Afton

Photo credit for Reversal of Fortune Photoshop: James Gray (@recoculous).

Comments

  1. I agree with this 100%, but I’d like to highlight a few of your points that are incredibly relevant.

    Just an overall statement: Magic is a strategically interesting game, full of complex decisions and planning that is, in general, just fun to play. The first major problem with attracting people to the game actually the name. While the name of the game is incredibly relevant, something about wandering up to someone and asking “WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY MAGIC” just feels a bit…awkward? Not that anyone can or should change the name of the game, but making new players feel welcome helps counteract a good bit of that awkwardness.

    The problems with how players treat others definitely comes into play (pun intended) regarding potential female players, but it also any potential player. Cleanliness is incredibly important, in my opinion. With the territory and stereotypes that Magic is associated with, people expect everyone to be dirty, sweaty, what have you, though it doesn’t have to be that way. Keeping LGS’s organized, clean and friendly definitely helps fight against those common stereotypes.

    Treating everyone like people is also very, very important. I’m a very good limited guy. I draft well and place often. There’s a few other technically good players at the LGS that I play at (I’m going somewhere with this). There are also new players that come up to play every week. I love seeing new people come to play! However, with the other guys up there, the Spike’s that are there to win really hate the new players.

    “I hate playing against someone who’s lost 0-2 their first round, they’re always just new and bad, and the match is boring”.

    This is the completely wrong mentality to have. The veterans have to understand that in order for them to keep playing their game…new blood has to stick around. Without new players, the game will stagnate. I love helping people out with questions about mechanics or how drafting works, or even during a match if a new player messes up strategically (if they want the help). It’s fun to win, I realize, but being sociable and friendly goes a long way in player retention.

    I’m going to begin to move into the female side of this.

    I’m a regular guy. I have my social life, job, post-graduation student loans and hobbies. I follow the Bill and Ted philosophy of “Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes.” I also talk a lot.
    I have to travel an hour and half to the LGS that I draft at. The last time I went was the first time that I’ve seen a female player in that store at FNM. All of the things you noted above are incredibly relevant. People don’t need to be creeps, dirty, aggressive and should treat female players like everyone else. While I was there, I was passively observing the interactions people had with her…and my expectations led me to believe everyone was going to just creep on her. The exact opposite happened, but not in a good way. Everyone kind of just avoided her (except for one guy who was trying to bamboozle cards from her). It was strange to me.

    That being said, I learned a lesson that night as well. I’m 25 now. When I started playing MTG I was around 10 or 11. My group of friends who played back then included a lot of female players, so it was never really out of place. But I stopped playing when I was probably 16 or 17 and didn’t pick it up again until after college. I hadn’t played with female players since high school. I was paired up against the girl at that draft and I think subconsciously I was thinking “I’m going to go easy on her”. Now, I wasn’t being an ass or verbally treating her any differently than anyone else there, but strategically I started the match playing poorly. She was playing a Blue-white Heroic Lifegain deck and it was vicious. When I realized that I was unfairly judging her as inexperienced and started playing better, we actually had a really good match! It went until the judge called time. My point in this story is that treating everyone equally makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

    The last thing I want to mention is that there are players who make me uncomfortable. Incredibly so. I tend to shrug it off though, because the pros outweigh the cons and I hope that new players understand that sometimes there are just bad apples in the bunch.

    I’d love to see more diversity in MTG players, because part of the fun of the game is figuring out the different player dynamics. I hope that the MTG community will push forward in becoming more open-minded and friendly. I know I have hurdles to overcome and I hope other players challenge themselves to be excellent.

    • 1. Awesome Bill and Ted Reference.
      b. Thanks for the awesome comment.
      Thirdly. Party on dudes!
      :)

  2. Michael

    This is why groups like The Lady Planeswalkers Society (https://www.facebook.com/groups/103040043116452/) are important. My wife started it in Seattle and it’s now worldwide. There’s no “NO MEN ALLOWED” style ruling that happens. In fact, 50% of the group are boyfriends, husbands, partners. Anyone new to the group, male or female gets the same speech, that this is a friendly, welcoming environment for people of ALL skill levels to learn and play.

    Getting women to play is hard because of the current view that this is a “boys club”. But when women new to MTG, or the area come and see this female group they drop their guard and seem to become more open to playing with people they don’t know.

    • This is awesome. I had no idea this existed!

  3. There have been many an LGS that I have refused to go back to because the bathrooms were disgusting. Is it really too much to ask that the bathrooms get cleaned daily?

    • Checked out your site. My wife is in roller derby, small world!

  4. I think the real issue is “How do we get more women to play COMPETITIVE Magic.” If you look at the demographics of tournament play, the game is skewed male to a high degree. Wizards has done an excellent job of making sure that competitive female players like Jackie Lee and Melissa DeTora are featured prominently to try and combat the notion that the game is a “boy’s club.” I also think they have toed the fine line between “Make sure we feature good female players” and “Overhype these women until people roll their eyes each time they’re on camera” very well.

    If you look at kitchen table demographics, which is much harder to do because those people don’t tend to attend tournaments or register with the DCI, the gender gap is much narrower. If you look at an average PTQ there are maybe 2 or 3 female players per 100 total players, but if you look at something like a prerelease or Magic Celebration, routinely stores in my area get a player base composition that is closer to 30 or 40 female players per male player. Casual Magic is the biggest part of the game but it’s also the hardest to get data on because how do you track people who buy cards at Walmart and play at home? However, (anecdotally, I know) my experience with the casual community is that there is a much higher percentage of female players.

    So the question becomes “How do we get more women to play Competitive Magic?” and I guess the only answer I can come up with is “You can’t.” We can police some of the unwelcoming behavior of the competitive community to an extent. We can feature successful women like Melissa and Jackie to an extent. What you can’t do is “get women to” do anything they don’t want to do. All we can do as a community is appear as welcoming as we can, stop tolerating bad behavior that puts women off of it, and take a damn shower in the morning before an event. I think as the game grows, the competitive female base will, too. That’s my hope anyway.

    Mike, I just wanted to say I think Tifa’s Lady Planeswalker Society is excellent, a lot of the women who participate are women who in their own right are doing a lot to make the game more attractive to female participants. Tell her to keep up the good work from me, and congratulations on the recent nuptuals.

    • Glenn Godard

      “So the question becomes “How do we get more women to play Competitive Magic?” and I guess the only answer I can come up with is “You can’t.””

      Jason, I believe you can certainly get females to play more competitive magic, just like you get anyone to play competitive magic. You give them help (when they are interested in it). You treat them just like any other player (i.e. don’t drop any other agenda beside playing the game into the mix). You play at stores where females (and new/young players) are treated with respect. Don’t be a hero and don’t be a creep, discourage those who do quietly and without a fuss.

      We ran a PTQ a week ago Saturday and had 7 female players out of 80, several who were in the hunt in the late rounds. It takes patience, a willingness to apply peer pressure for the greater good and mostly just be yourself regardless of the new/young/female player you’re paired against.

  5. Sabrina

    Well The MTG Girl Squad is another Girls only MTG group.

  6. Kenton

    not to nitpick, but the second image is edited from the original card art to have larger boobs. original: http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=73564

  7. Eric

    [Coming from Reddit]

    I appreciate your article. It seems that the topic, about women in Magic has been discussed quite heavily for the past two years. I recall having this discussion upon my introduction to Magic.

    (My girlfriend at the time introduced me to Magic, so it was obviously a topic that came up)

    Outside from personal discussions I’ve had with female players or judges, your article seems to be the most rational, and overall enlighten piece I’ve seen on the internet, coming from the female perspective.

    Personally, I feel like this topic is irrelevant – the reason why some portions of the Magic community are unwelcoming to females, is because those male individuals are projecting a mistrust, or a underlined hatred for females. This has nothing to do with Magic: The Gathering or Wizards of the Coast. The game has done a great job of making the game accessible. I sympathize that you may feel uncomfortable at times while playing magic at a local event, against some hateful misogynistic asshole.

    However, when did it become the responsibility of MTG, WOTC, or your fellow player to ‘protect’ your sensibilities from an asshole? Obviously if someone verbally assaults you, that is a different issue, and rules are set-up for that. But why is there a ‘duty’ for fellow players/Shops/Judges/MTG/WOTC/STARCITY/etc/etc to somehow ‘correct’ this ‘negative’ behavior? Who am I to judge an individuals intent?

    1984 -

    “The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it.”

    I understand that you want to be part of community where you can be yourself. Relax, and not feel like you have to walk around landmines. You want to have fun. Not get hit on by some creepy misogynistic asshole, who just sees tits and ass or some guy who was a victim of his mothers Munchausen syndrome, and hasn’t worked out his female hatred.

    At the same time, I also want to feel comfortable to be myself. With my group of friends I don’t want to have to place an asterisk to all the bullshit I say. I am vulgar, crass, and inappropriate. Why do I need to bite my tongue because a female(or anyone) is around? Why do you(or anyone) have the privilege of not being subject to my bullshit? As long as I’m not verbally assaulting someone, or threatening – your feelings are meaningless to me. I’ll still call my friends sluts for pimping their commander decks with all foils. Whores for trade raping someone. I’m still gonna call 20 2/2 cat tokens swinging in for lethal rapage, and a friend complaining about punting a game a bitch.

    Hopefully you/or anyone else, has not misconstrued this post as me saying there isn’t a problem. The problem exist – but its a social issue. Not a Magic issue/gaming issue.

    One of the most endearing qualities of Magic is that its all based on variables, and critical thinking. The physical attributes of an individual are irrelevant. This is why individuals with psychical disabilities are welcomed to MTG. Victory can be obtain, as long as you play well. When I set across from an opponent I see just that, an opponent. Not male or female. Black/White. Straight/Bi/Poly/A-sexual/Gay. Ugly/attractive. etc/etc. You are just an obstacle between me and victory. 20 Life/Deck of cards that I must demolish to succeed. Nothing more, nothing less. See me as the same, and then maybe we can be friends.

    /Rant

  8. Erika

    I used to play, my boyfriend at the time introduced me to MTG around the time the invasion cycle/set came out. I wanted to spend more time with him and i liked having more things in common. I would play with him and would go with him and the friends he played with. I played for a couple of years, maybe until mid 2007…i had a couple of decks, had my own cards, played mostly type 1.5 restricted decks, was an ok player.
    What i didn’t like was some of the guys that i played with. Some of them had their minions that kinda worked other players for them, like tried to get advantage when trading cards and tried to make them get crappy cards from them. Mostly younger kids. There were very few girls that played where i used to live…guys really didn’t talk to us much.
    I don’t know if it was because we were girls and not part of their male community or if it was because they were just intimidated or maybe they didn’t want to take advantage of us the same way they did with boy players.
    Other thing was that some of the games lasted for such a loooong time and I guess that’s why some of the guys smelled pretty badly and why some didn’t seem to know what a shower was. Every store i’ve been to, smells the same…like dirty boy with dirty hair. Girls don’t want to be near stinky dirty people…they were really nice once you met them but still, the smell was an issue for me. Of course not everyone smelled, but a bunch of them did.
    Then i started to get bored, i guess us girls don’t like sitting on a table for hours and hours playing and playing MTG like boys do.
    I also started to lose interest on some of the sets that came out, with abilities that were kinda boring to me…only because i didn’t play type 2 i guess…i just couldn’t find cards that i really liked, except for some that got reprinted on 8th to 10th edition. I still have my cards and decks, never got to sell them or trade them. They’ll just stay with me as collectibles.
    But that’s why this girl doesn’t play anymore! I’d say i got bored i think.

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