Hypervigilance is a funny thing. Most of the time, it’s a drag on your mental processes. Being constantly on the lookout for threats is draining, because humans are terrible at understanding relative risks, and the truth is that our risk of injury is fairly minute each time we step out of the house. There are definite variations, like the murder and violence rate that trans women of color face for being true to who they are, but even for those people most days are going to uneventful.


Sometimes, though, hypervigilance keeps you safe. You can diagnose the danger as it’s happening, and occasionally you can even avert it. But these instances tend to retrench the hypervigilance, as the random success seems to stem from your wariness, at least superficially.


Thus, whether or not hypervigilance is a benefit or a curse is an open question, likely of the type to never have a definitive answer. But it is something that many women develop, whether on a conscious or unconscious level, as do many people of color. That intersection, in particular, leads to a default defensive posture that plays itself out in the stereotypes of the angry black woman, as if black women lack legitimate reasons to be angry and on edge.


Sure, growing up with privilege can help ameliorate the need for active processing power to be spent on this, no matter what your background, but it’s safe to say these days that, on some level, hypervigilance is least experienced by white men who are surrounded by other white men. White dudes don’t need to be worried about a cop targeting them based on a stereotype about their criminality, white dudes don’t need to be worried about unwelcome advances from the people they meet, and white dudes don’t need to worry about some guy taking their rejection as an excuse to explode in violence. Those are all real risks taken every day by people who are not white men, or whose white maleness has been overridden by another factor like sexuality.


I started thinking about this when a woman I respect mentioned some reticence towards talking about gender in Magic without the article being as perfect as she could make it. She’s not alone; Meghan Wolff’s article, for example, had apparently been percolating in her head for months before she thought it was ready to be published. Meanwhile, the “response” article submitted by a white dude was clearly dashed out in a couple of days at most, with little or no consideration about the backlash he might receive were his words poorly chosen… as they turned out to be.


That’s an example of privilege, and private law is a hell of a drug. There’s a wariness that infects you when you write about something that has caused explosions in the past, and it’s worse when you feel like you have to be a model minority or else you’ll make it harder for the next person. These are concerns specific to those who don’t see themselves reflected en masse, and they are exhausting to manage. Fear, even on a low level, takes its toll. 


Perhaps it is coincidence, but the demographic information that Wizards has collected on its audience does not reflect the monolithic nature of the “professional” ranks. According to their user studies, about 34% of the player base for Magic is made up of women, whereas competitive play tends to be around 95% men. Literally. Now, far too many people, mostly white men themselves, will point to this disparity as a sign of innate gender difference or some similar bullshit. I’d like to think we’re past that lunacy in 2015, but for some reason it persists.


I would like to posit a more reasonable suggestion. The issue is not that men are more capable of being Magic players; intellect, after all, is not gender-specific, and there aren’t exactly a ton of gay dudes or men of color at the top tables either. No, the issue is that men have to devote less energy to vigilance at these sorts of events. Because there are far fewer risks and sinkholes in their path, vanilla dudes get to focus more on the game than the person who has to wonder “is the person watching over my shoulder a friend or foe?”


That is one of the reasons that the rapist Magic player issue burned so hot for many, while he had his host of dudely defenders. If having a rapist in the mix doesn’t affect you, you may well be ignorant of the processing cost that such knowledge costs the people who do identify more with survivors than rapists. It’s not insignificant, if you were wondering… and yeah, I’m ugly as sin, so if you were thinking of snickering at my admission of a fear of an attack you think I’m unsuited for, it would be based on a misunderstanding of rape (it ain’t about beauty, it’s about power), and moreover it’s been done.


If you need an analogy, consider how you’d feel if your salty first round opponent in a long tournament slaps you after losing… and when you bring this up to a judge, they respond by calling you a pussy, telling you to get tougher skin, and saying that there’s nothing they could do without seeing the context. From that point forward you’re going to be wary whenever an opponent draws their hand back. You’re going to feel less supported by a system ill-suited to tackle these types of issues, which is going to exacerbate your hypervigilance, because it’s needed now that you don’t have anyone you can trust to get your back. That is a distraction, one that has been thrust upon you by the conduct of others. It’s exhausting.


How much does this processing tax cost less privileged players? Even if it’s minor, that tax adds up. If a random class of Magic players started every game of limited at 25 life, they are going to win more on average than the rest of us… because they have a systemic advantage, even if it’s only a 25% bonus.


So maybe it is a coincidence that white dudes are disproportionately represented at the pro tour. But personally, I doubt it. This coincidence is covering for something foul, and we should be worried that the corruption that this unfair advantage represents will eventually undermine the very foundation of the game we all so love.


Jess Stirba is living with PTSD.

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