This post is going to have a bit of a different flavor.
It should be pretty obvious at this point that I love Magic. It’s an escape when things get too stressful at my teaching job. Mechanics test the logical side of my brain the same way chess did in high school. The storyline keeps me engaged through the card art and stories posted in Uncharted Realms. Best of all, it’s let so many amazing people into my life through the playing and judging community (at least half of my friend circle plays or judges Magic on the regular).
Magic has even saved my life, but that’s a story for another time. This is about the words we use when playing Magic and how they affect the environment around us.
At this point I’ve been playing Magic for close to four years. I jumped in the deep end and started with Commander (which was EDH at the time). It was fun because everyone’s deck had a theme, and while I often lost games, I died in a different way almost every time. I enjoyed the variety; coming up with a new theme every week or so and throwing a deck together around it was a blast.
Then I went to my first FNM, was handed a GW humans deck during Phyrexia/Innistrad block and there was no going back. My EDH play group was fun but not super competitive. Standard was competitive and that made it even more fun. I didn’t grow bored waiting for a player’s infinite combo to go off or have to sit through four other players’ turns. I had to think a lot more about how I played things and when I played things.
I was hooked.
But the overall attitude was very different. The game store I played Commander at averaged about twenty players each night the league was going on. The game store I went to for standard averaged 70 people for an FNM. The number alone was intimidating the first few weeks but as I got to know more people at the store it got easier. There were a lot of friendly faces and a lot of people helped me learn how to play my deck better (like not playing five creatures on the board when Day of Judgment was a legal card).
The first weeks were frustrating but fun. I had to completely change how I played Magic but I began to adapt to the quicker round structure and faster games. I even started winning a few and that only served to increase my drive to get better.
There was another big change: I was one of two or three girls playing in a field of sixty or more Magic players. My Commander play group had almost as many lady Magic players as men so the gender disparity being so large struck me as odd.
Then I got smacked in the face with one of the reasons why more women weren’t playing with me.
I sat down across from my opponent and introduced myself. One of his friends was sitting next to him and he blurted out something like the following: “Man, you get to play a girl. I hope you don’t lose. That would be embarrassing!”
I physically recoiled back from the statement I was so shocked. What did my gender have to do with my playing ability? I also felt, not for the first time, that I was suddenly the representative of women Magic players, and that if I lost, it somehow meant that all women were bad at Magic. It didn’t matter that I was still very new to Standard; it didn’t matter that neither of these guys knew my ability to play Magic. I had been reduced down to my gender and was somehow made less because of it. I had been equated to being a less capable player and that a loss to me would somehow be embarrassing.
I really wanted to win that match, but I lost.
I felt awful, like I had somehow let people down. The gloom was strong enough that I left that FNM early and didn’t play FNM for about a month after that. The whole experience had left a sour taste in my mouth and I honestly considered not going back, all because someone decided something about me without knowing me.
I did eventually go back. I was determined to get better and I have. I don’t have a natural affinity for the game that some players have but I began to find the colors that I could play best and the kind of deck I’m best with. I put in the work, began to go to bigger events, and playtested in my free time. I got better and I could be counted in with an average, good Magic player.
But to several male players, especially at large events, my playing ability still didn’t matter. How did I know? Here’s a sampling of the comments I heard while playing:
“Did your boyfriend teach you to play? I’ve never seen a girl play Magic before. Do you have a boyfriend? Do you want to grab coffee later? Man, I get to play against the cutest player in the room, I’m so lucky! Well, this is going to be easy. I’m surprised your husband lets you play (I’m not married). What’s a pretty thing like you playing a complicated game like this?”
I could go on, but you get the idea.
I’ve had players refer to their cards (which usually depict a female character) as bitches, sluts, whores, and hoes. A friend, who is married, had a player write his number in the notebook she keeps score in without asking for it. I’ve been there while that same friend has been hit on so much that it got to the point I had to step in to dissuade the man from following us to our car.
These experiences all happened while I was player. I thought they would end when I became a judge.
My very first night judging, I had a player demand that he wanted ‘a real judge’ with the feeling that he didn’t like my call because I was ‘a girl.’
I even had someone question my staffing for a GP because of gender.
I haven’t even touched on the things I’ve heard said about race, sexuality, and mental capability.
Recent decisions not related to Magic prompted me to write this for several reasons but the point I’m most trying to get across is this: my gender does not make me less of a person. It does not mean that my inherent capability to play or judge this game is any less. And it certainly doesn’t affect my ability to judge in the least.
As a player or as a judge, be aware of the power behind your words. You can either build someone up or tear someone down with what you say.
Be the reason someone wants to play Magic.