The latest Magic community kerfluffle seems based around this counter-post to the people pushing for more women in coverage: Why Girls Need to Take Charge in Magic. I’d suggest you read it, but I’m planning to take it apart piece by piece below, so that might be a waste of your time. Suffice to say it is well-meaning but riddled with logical errors and misunderstandings of how change happens. But, since this is a commonly held viewpoint, it’s worth breaking down all the ways in which it’s wrong.


There are many communities which are dominated by a single gender, such as gaming. Games like Magic: The Gathering have had a push to diversify their general demographics, yet this may not be improving the quality of the game on a competitive level.


We start out with a basic category error. No one is suggesting that the reason it’s important to bring women into the mix is because it would improve the quality of the game at the competitive level. People want more women because a) it’s the right thing to do, and b) because the percentage of men at the competitive level doesn’t remotely track the demographics of the broader playerbase. This indicates a cultural problem. If like 35% of Magic players are women, and that drops down to 5% at the competitive levels, which is more likely: there’s a barrier in place, or women are just less capable of grasping the subtleties of play?


I mean, some folk die on that hill, but the former is far more probable than the latter.


Recently there has been a push for women to be put into roles in the eye of the community such as coverage but this does not contribute to the improvement of the way women are viewed as they are not held to the same standards their male counterparts are. This creates an environment which is easily comparable to the implementation of affirmative action which has been proven to be less necessary in recent times. The game itself rewards the players based on results, so why shouldn’t job opportunities in this community hold similar requirements.


First off, I just want to point out that the idea that affirmative action is no longer necessary is absurd in a day in age where school desegregation is still a thing being enforced by the courts. It takes a privileged perspective to handwave all that away as though it’s assumed knowledge, especially when it’s not knowledge at all. I mean, generally knowledge requires the known thing to be true. What she has stated is a false belief. And not a particularly flattering one.


If one is interested in learning of the types of systemic factors that make programs like affirmative action important even in 2016, I would advise you to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Case For Reparations. It’s not specifically about affirmative action, but it is about the economic burdens of inequality.


And no matter what, it’s a bad look to use the civil rights movement as a way to casually dismiss a course of action that would increase diversity.


Many argue that female role models for gamers must be in the spotlight in order to gauge their interest for similar endeavors but they will see someone who did not have to work as hard as they may have to for similar results strictly based upon their gender. While there may be those that disagree, I believe that the most qualified should receive the desired position. This would be possible in a perfect world but we have yet created such an environment. Those in positions where they are not fully qualified will lower expectations of quality throughout the community.


But let’s get back to the meat of her argument: meritocracy. First off, esports are a relatively new thing. As they represent a brave new world in content creation, the idea that there is a set resume for the people they put in those chairs is laughable. It’s not like you major in esport broadcasting, after all. Because it’s still relatively new, we can decide what we want in our commentators. Spoiler alert, tight technical play means very little when we’re talking about being an on-air personality. Randy Buehler is a brilliant man, I’m sure, but when I think of all the flubs and offensive things he’s said on camera (including doing a deck tech with a racist name and implying that Chapin was being unethical in an important match, both of which were quickly rolled back by Wizards of the Coast within the same broadcast), I am more than a little surprised he still does commentary.


Meritocracy is clearly not the sole factor in who gets the spotlight. And if you like Buehler’s commentary, you’ll think the game is better for his inclusion, whether or not there’s someone out there who could could beat him nine out of ten games.


But meritocracy relies on the ability to rank people, and Magic is a game uniquely positioned to show how arbitrary a system of ranking can be. Prove to me one Magic player is better than another Magic player, and you’ll start to see how quickly Magic’s impartiality breaks down. While you can make the argument when there is a gross difference in skill at the game, such as saying that LSV is a better Magic player than I am in a tournament context, the granularity breaks down quickly. You can’t make fine distinctions, and even the one above is incredibly reductive. I’ve seen LSV brew a Commander deck; I’m pretty sure that in that specific context, I’m the better player. So how do you balance those factors? You weight LSV’s tournament experience more heavily than my Commander experience.


What people are arguing for is that a diversity of experience and representation deserves more weight than it’s being given. No one thinks we should grab a woman who hasn’t played any Magic off the street; we just want it to be more of a consideration when they’re deciding which people they want to promote in esport commentary.


Also, we all have experience in the many different factors that can influence a ranking; if you spend any time watching commentary, as I do, you’ll see excellent Magic players get stranded out of top eight by tiebreakers every single tournament. Since you have no control over either the people you get paired up against or the records they go on to have, this is a clear example of one of the ways in which ranking systems fail to reflect pure talent, no matter how desperately we want them to do so.


Plus, meritocracy is not an equitable way to divide resources. If you look across our country, you’ll see deep income inequality, something that the pro players are generally shielded from by dint of the privilege it takes to keep up with this expensive game. That’s where the meritocracy gets us. And if you think that hard work equals financial success, work a fast food job and then tell me that there aren’t hard-working folk getting paid a pittance for all their labor.


But you shouldn’t need to agree with that last paragraph to grok the wider point.


Magic: The Gathering is a male dominated game and males will not often dispute this as anyone wouldn’t want to be outright rude to a lady. Women will not often argue against this as well since having women in the public sphere theoretically pushes forward feminist trains of thought.


Once upon a time, Erin Campbell (the popular commentator and community cup alum behind the Girlfriend Bracket, Magic Mics, and the Deck Tease) and I had a disagreement over whether or not lady was an inclusive term. It was in the context of the Lady Planeswalker Society, and Erin was of the mind that it’s a neutral term for women. I held the opposite view, that “lady” is a label distinct from “woman,” and that it implies a certain set of behaviors that can lead to people being described as “unladylike” and whatnot.*


Guess whose opinion this particular usage supports!


You can’t be like “equality, meritocracy, no leg up,” and then lean in to the idea that women are delicate flowers who can’t handle some cordial rudeness. That is some bullshit. If men are unwilling to be rude to you, that’s a sign they don’t consider you as full a person as they consider their male friends. Chivalry is misogyny.**


I’m a little horrified that I have to even say this shit in 2016.


This idea holds the same value when feature matches are selected for coverage, at large and recently successful players should be featured as opposed to selecting a female for the sole purpose of showing a female.


Fun fact! I had a feature match in GP New Jersey. It was round one, and it wasn’t televised, but I got to sit in the little arena and smash face all the same. Now, I can tell you with near certainty why I got that feature match after not playing Magic at all that season: I wrote for StarCityGames, who ran the event, and they saw a familiar name and gave me the slot with the hopes that there might be some minor name recognition for a round where most of the Pros weren’t even playing.


If you think only meritocracy and luck govern who you see getting coverage, you’re naive. And wrong.


There is also the assumption by a majority of players that when they sit down across from a female that they play decks that require the least amount of decision making; such as aggressive decks. This stereotype needs to be challenged and women should try to push their skill level even further.


This one pisses me off on a personal level, because of the casual disdain displayed to one of the three major deck archetypes. Whomever started the rumor that aggro strategies are easier is pushing a pernicious stereotype. Aggro strategies require a different mindset than Tempo or Control, this is true. But try to tell me that Patrick Sullivan, @BasicMountain, is not an artist with his burn decks. Or that it doesn’t take skill to know just how low your life can go when running a deck like Death’s Shadow Aggro. Or that it’s easy to know when to mulligan an Affinity hand and when to keep it.


If you let someone talk down to you because they have less than a full understanding of the complexity of the archetype you’re playing, that’s on you. That’s the harmful stereotype here. There are plenty of reasons that women would rather play decks that end the game quickly in a competitive play event. If those decks were Control decks, you’d see the same exact players slandering that archetype instead.


Don’t buy into the misogyny. This isn’t a real thing.


Women need to show that they are not there simply to support their significant other but to play an event for themselves.


And here’s where my point breaks out and starts to sing. Women don’t need to show jack shit. The idea that women are at a Magic tournament solely to support a man is a stereotype which lives in the heads of men. They are the ones here who make those assumptions. Women don’t assume other women aren’t playing in a Magic event; we know we can play.


Until we gain the power to mind control people, we will not be able to solve a problem which exists solely in the minds of others. They’re the ones who need to change. And you can’t force that shit, you can only keep exposing people to these foreign concepts (like women’s equality) with the hope that eventually they’ll care enough to change their frame.


You can’t dismantle a system of oppression through individual choices. Collective problems require collective solutions.


I am often criticised as being sexist when I voice these opinions when I do not support all behavior by females at magic events. While I am fine with anyone playing magic, I believe it is better for the game if everyone is playing for the right reasons. Gaming is fueled by various strong passions but there are those who play just to make others feel content. At competitive events, while there is not always a prerequisite to enter these events, the level of play, intensity, and integrity of the game is challenged.


This is the point at which I wondered to myself, “is this writer one of the Gamer Gaters? They were quite fond of catfishing to make their abhorrent ideologies sound like they were coming from the voices of the very people they were trying to drown out.” Evidence in the “for” category includes overuse of the term “females,” preemptively declaring that any opposition to your viewpoint comes from a place of ad hominem attack, and asserting that the only “right” way to play a game is the way that you play it. Evidence in the “against” category is that these days most of those dudes are filling their time stanning for Bernie or Trump.


Look. There is no such thing as playing Magic “for the right reasons.” You play Magic for your reasons. And the problem is, a lot of people don’t play Magic for the same reason: the culture can be off-putting. That’s an issue that Wizards has stated a desire to address. When you have such a dramatic split between the casual players and the competitive players, and those competitive players are primarily funded as a marketing strategy for the game, there is a financial incentive to remedy it.


That it’s the right thing to do is basically a convenient side effect.


In order for women to be taken seriously in a male-dominated game they must understand and push themselves to be as successful as possible.


No, in order for women to be taken seriously in a male-dominated game, men have to decide to take women seriously. Expecting every minority to be a perfect ambassador, and then thinking that’s not going to cause a drag on that person’s cognitive functions when they have to do everything a man does backwards and in heels, is logically incoherent.


I think the author of this piece should have spent more time trying to understand this issue. Because this is me taking her seriously. This is me taking my oddball role as Magic feminist seriously. And there’s nothing about the way her opinion was written that makes me feel like she did the same. This whole argument reeks of incuriosity, and that’s a trait that’s incompatible with becoming one’s best self.


Jess Stirba has the curiosity of a cat.


*I also call myself a trans lady, so to be clear my objections stem not from its use to self-identify, but that as a generic term for woman it leaves folk out.

**I was raised to hold the door for women, but because I was raised to hold the door for everyone. If you’re only treating women with kindness, you’re not some polite cavalier, you’re a condescending dinosaur.

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