Females and Magic
A Response to Women and Magic: The Game's Lost Tribe
First, if anyone has not read Women and Magic: The Game's Lost Tribe, by Titus Chalk, I highly, highly recommend it. It is a well-written, in-depth analysis of why women don't play Magic as much as men. I found the article especially interesting, simply for the reason that I am a woman who plays Magic. I decided to weigh in on the matter, because I have firsthand experience with some of the issues keeping women from the game.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that I cannot speak on behalf of all women—this is merely my take on the issue. A good portion of what I will say is a generalization, and is not meant to be sexist in any way.
Many people assume that the reason women do not play is that there is something about the game itself that repels them—maybe the gory art? the overly competitive atmosphere? the difficulty of learning the rules, strategies, and mechanics? My answer is yes—to all of these things. Women (with exceptions of course) will not be enticed by something fantasy-oriented. Most of them cannot relate to the idea of dragons, mythical beings, and magic unless there is something relevant to them included. For an average woman to appreciate something magical and fantastical, something romantic, cute, or dramatic needs to be included. The books and plotlines of the Magic multiverse (which admittedly, I have not read a page of) are not intrinsic to the game, and therefore do not have the appeal that a fantastical, but also drama-oriented story—like Harry Potter or Twilight—has to a woman. A card cannot tell a love story between two characters, and very rarely are there cards that many would consider "cute" (I have yet to see an abundance of pink fluffy unicorns in Mirrodin Besieged).
Second, Magic often fosters an incredibly competitive atmosphere that deters many women. Many women who do comprehend the idea of socializing while playing a strategy game cannot comprehend why anyone would take it so seriously as to compete internationally or become a professional. These are the same women who think of video games as the lowest form of entertainment (unless they are The Sims or Pokémon), whose eyes glaze over at every Call of Duty commercial.
Another feature of the game that deters women is the rules and mechanics. Women (in general) do not spend their time playing strategy games—they are unfamiliar with the format and play of games like Magic, and starting a game out with no previous knowledge of card and board-game mechanics makes it incredibly frustrating. First, there are tons of rules—from turn steps to Commander-only rules to mulliganing—and to someone unfamiliar with card and board games, they are difficult to understand and remember. Second, not only are there many hard-to-remember rules, there is also a seemingly endless list of mechanics (I can think of at least twenty keyword mechanics off the top of my head). Although females have the same ability as males to learn these and understand them thoroughly, if the person teaching them is not easing them into the weird, in-depth rules of Magic, they will get frustrated and simply quit.
The final aspect of the game that deters women is the strange interactions that they have with male players. I like to think that I am an expert on this by now. I have seen every possible reaction a male player could have. I have been laughed at, stared at, ridiculed, hit on, and ignored. I have had men rage-quit against me because they were so upset that they could not beat a girl. I have been talked down to as if I had no idea what I was doing ("You know what trample does, right?"), and I have been overly praised for doing well just because of my gender. However, why am I still playing while many women aren't? I have always been the sort of girl who has a ton of male friends. I am used to men making perverted jokes or being told to make someone a sandwich. I can take it. The fact of the matter is that Magic tends to attract some people with less-than-adequate social skills, and while many players are polite and courteous, there will always be that person who makes sexist comments or stares at a girl's chest or will not stop talking to a girl no matter how many times she politely excuses herself from the conversation. These are the people who deter women; being in a room filled with men, some of whom act like idiots, for an extended period, is a bit scary, and definitely frustrating—I know. It is not what women want to do on a Friday night. Fortunately, I have a solution for this—read on!
I think that there are several things that can be done to attract more women to Magic. For one, Wizards could run more ad campaigns emphasizing the social aspects of the game. I know that they have been attempting to make joining the game easier with preconstructed decks in recent years, but manufacturing precon decks does not reach out to women if they do not know that the game exists. Although I am sure that there are a plethora of other things that Wizards could do to promote the game, I genuinely think that the one thing that could make the most difference in attracting women to Magic is the player base. That's right—you! I realize that it is impossible to make every Magic player act politely all the time and make the competitive atmosphere of the game less severe, but there are some things that you, the (generally) well-behaved reader, can do. For one, if a new female player shows up in your group, introduce yourself! Honestly, the first time I walked into my local gaming store, if one of my (now) friends had not made a point to come up to me, introduce himself, and tell me that if I needed anything or if anyone bothered me, I could come talk to him, I doubt I would have come back to draft again the next week. Second, if one of your friends (or acquaintances) is acting inappropriately around or toward a woman, call him out on it—in front of her! Not only do you get your friend to lay off, but the woman also sees that there are Magic players who do not tolerate things like that, and that makes a huge difference in her perception of the Magic community.
A lot of this might seem like common sense—and it is. But it's up to the players—you—to help foster an atmosphere that is welcoming to new female players. I'm not suggesting a new plane populated by the Magic equivalent of Care Bears; I'd find that as irritating as you would. I would not be okay with making the game any less competitive; that is what I love about it. Instead of changing the game, we should change the atmosphere—we, as a community, should make an effort to be welcoming to (female) beginners. A little diversity in the player base might be refreshing!