Most people who know me have probably heard me talk about a trading card game called Magic: the Gathering. I’ve been playing since 2013 and I’m currently heavily involved in running and sustaining our local player community.
Which is why when I saw this Daily Mash article in my timeline and realised it had been shared by a local store with a slightly patronising “Now remember lads, it’s just a joke!” tagline, my eyes rolled so far back in my head I could examine my own spinal cord.
I, along with others, suggested that presenting the article in that way was perhaps not a positive reflection of the community. I was (predictably) accused of not being able to take a joke. The joke, of course, being that men who go to gaming stores are all sweaty neckbeard virgins who panic at the mere thought of a woman, and that the women who go are there for literally any conceivable reason other than they want to hang out and play games. (Spoiler alert: WE JUST WANT TO HANG OUT AND PLAY GAMES.)
I was also told that the problem lies with me if I have a problem. Let’s get real. Anyone who thinks that is missing the point so wildly it looks deliberately obtuse. I really don’t care what people spend their free time laughing at in their own little groups, and if there are people that still actually think this flogged to death meme is funny then crack on. “Lads”.
This is not an isolated incident. Oh it’s rare – I’d go so far as to say almost unheard of – in Scotland, where there’s a tight-knit, inclusive community who aren’t afraid to shout if something’s not right. But widen the net and you see that this “joke” is actually being played out in stores all over the place. Women being asked where their boyfriend is, women receiving comments like “man, I can’t believe I just got beaten by a girl” when they win. Women who, despite making up around 40% of the total player base, are not going to events. Meghan Wolff from the Magic: the Amateuring podcast wrote an excellent article two years ago on this topic, after encountering – as we all have – people who, in her words, “don’t believe it’s even an issue and who don’t want to be convinced”.
Am I looking into this too much? There’ll be thousands who would argue yes, that I’m a snowflake who looks for excuses to be offended, or that I’m a “feminazi” looking for an excuse to throw my weight around and stop all the boys from having a good time. Maybe that’s what they meant when they said the problem lies with me. Maybe that’s what you think too.
But let’s be absolutely, categorically clear. It doesn’t.
The problem lies with sixteen-year-old Sally who’s just come across Magic and wants to know where she can play locally. She is going to see that post and never attend an event. Why would she? It’s not a huge step to assume that the community will be full of men who’re going to patronise her, avoid her, assume that she’s there for a reason other than to play a game she enjoys.
The problem lies with fifteen-year-old Jimmy, who’s going to think that by hanging out in his local store, this is how he’s going to be perceived by people, who’ll make the correlation between “game store” and “any main inept character from The Big Bang Theory”. Even worse, he’s going to see that article being shared and think that his local store will have a laugh at his expense. Because that’s what it looks like.
The problem lies with twenty-two-year-old Molly, whose hobbies exist in traditionally male-dominated spheres, like gaming. Molly has to specifically create a gender-agnostic gamertag because if she doesn’t she’ll get messages saying “get back in the kitchen you whore”. Molly will look at that post and think, what’s the point?
I’ve spent the best part of the past four years watching, actively working to grow our local player base, listening to feedback from people who perhaps don’t feel comfortable or welcome in these spaces and trying to do better. I like to think I have a decent understanding of the nuances of creating a good community, and I’m afraid not being an asshole to your customers when they’re in your store simply isn’t enough. We know this. Scotland knows this. It’s why most of our shops and players and judges and tournament organisers are so wonderful.
And therefore I would ask you to consider, that if you post something and have to double down and argue with the numerous people pointing out the way that it reflects on your community – people who are the butt of the joke you’re inviting your customers to laugh at – that an entirely different problem lies very much with you.