The Women Behind Magic: The Gathering

My husband plays a tabletop fantasy card game called Magic: The Gathering (MTG).  It's a nifty (and hugely popular) trading card game generally played by two people. Each player assumes the role of a wizard, which is referred to as a planeswalker, and he/she uses sorcery, creatures, and artifacts to defeat opponents. It's challenging and mystical, so I immediately got sucked in. The beautiful artwork, the game language, the flavorful text on each card which could read something like this:



Or maybe a tad more lighthearted, like this:



When I would drop my husband off at his obligatory Friday Night Magic (a staple weekly tournament for any player) at a gaming store in the suburbs, I'd notice something quite obvious: no ladies, or maybe one in a sea of dudes. What is that about? I started asking myself and my husband, but it wasn't enough. I needed the perspective of other female players.

A few weekends ago, I got my chance to figure it all out.

Star City Games was hosting a tournament in town. The higher attendance rate meant better odds for finding female players, right? I walked into the giant convention room and counted how many women I initially saw. I figured it could be 5, but I actually saw 15. YES! GIRL POWER! There were female players almost everywhere I turned, some playing casually and others trying to qualify for the tournament's grand prize competition.



This news was fantastic, but it made me wonder what kind of female presence exists in gaming shops at Friday Night Magic, where many players get their start. I spoke with a few women about this, and found that you can typically count the number of female players present on one hand. The range of reactions women have had to this is interesting. Some are inclined to feel outnumbered or bothered by the lack of women. Others try not to make it an issue because the game is what matters most to them.

Under-representation aside, MTG women love the game much like their male peers. Some women start when a specific set of cards is being released, while others find it casually through an event or someone close to them. Emily, a former art student, found Magic through her love of art. Her friends were playing and she noticed the intricate, beautiful images each card possessed and felt the drive to learn more. For women in Magic, connecting with it through a personal passion seems like the way to create a lasting relationship with the game. You can collect, trade, and personalize. You can use logic skills, heavy imagination, and it appeals to socializing and introverted types alike.

Once this choice is made, however, there are still stereotypes to get past. Peer influence is crucial, and given that Magic's audience is mostly on the young side (teens-30's), that influence can bolster or discourage interest in the game. The women I spoke with named two specific problems females have:

  1. There's a perception that women would prefer to do “girly” things over something nerdy and challenging. “Society portrays women as more feeble. There's a stigma.”
  2. It's male-dominated and the male players are intimidating. “Ooh, you got beat by a girl. How does that feel?”

I'm sad to see that these traditional perceptions still lurk in young female minds. But, if this is what is happening, how can women who play Magic positively influence women who don't? Set an example.

A few women at the tournament knew of female players who play at a high, competitive level: Lady Planeswalker Society and Gaby Spartz. The Lady Planeswalker Society is a Facebook group that welcomes female MTG players of all levels to discuss their game. Gaby Spartz is an avid player who is using the Internet to increase her game knowledge and show her gaming style via a live stream.

These women are providing advice and proving their abilities in front of a global audience, and the more this happens, the less likely a male-dominated Magic constituency will be.

Another, more tangible method of peer influence is being a mentor. There's nothing more empowering than ignoring petty, sexist bullshit—especially if you have an ally. Here's some advice from lady planeswalkers on how they would introduce Magic to a new female player:

“Buy an intro deck. Get a sense of what you like and don't like. Find someone you like who plays and have them be your Magic mentor.”

“Go to a local shop. Get started with Friday Night Magic.”

“I would explain why I love it. There will be guys that will stare at you, but you just gotta deal.”

“Start out casual. Don't be stressed. Be open-minded, and don't be afraid of losing.”

“It doesn't take up that much time in your day. Play with friends and family.”

“Ignore the males and KICK THEIR ASSES.”

“The strongest draw is the game. You shouldn't be afraid.”

The power of peer influence is what keeps women from playing. Male and female players need to share the playing table and realize that getting beaten by a woman is the same as being beaten by a man. The growing force of female players want to show other women that strong, competitive playing is more than possible, as is beating male opponents.

I'm going to get my starter deck. How about you?