Wiards of the Coast R&D #wotcstaff member Gavin Verhey was asked about Diversity in Magic by Judges for Diversity and had the following to say (and it even sort of Kaladesh-themed in that this story starts out at a train station):
Have you ever heard someone say “Can’t we just enjoy playing Magic?” when asked to stop saying something like “that’s so gay”?
Logistically speaking it can’t really work that way – if we were allowed to act however we wanted without a care for how it affects other players then the chances people will do something to ruin each others’ experiences skyrocket. In other words there’s a silent implied second part to that sentence: “Can’t we just enjoy playing Magic without giving any thought to whether our actions are (inadvertently) detracting from others’ ability to do the same?”
Unfortunately, the majority of players hear sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and racist remarks in places that they play Magic, and a considerable proportion of players report that such comments reduce the chance that they will return to play Magic in that place again.
Luckily, there’s no need to get into a philosophical debate when it comes up in your Local Game Store because it’s literally in the rules that anywhere sanctioned Magic is played must be welcoming and inclusive regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, ability, or anything else that has nothing to do with the game.
While all players have a role to play in changing the reality of this situation, lets drill down on what players can expect from Magic Judges.
Judges have a responsibility to ensure that places Magic is played are welcoming and inclusive
Magic Judges are all bound by the Judge Code of Conduct which has the following to say about creating welcoming environments (taken directly from the code but the order has been changed here):
First and foremost, hopefully players will never experience behaviour from judges directly that discourages them from feeling welcome but if you do and are not comfortable pointing out the code of conduct to the judge in question, you can always use the Judge feedback form (which includes an anonymous option).
The second bullet directs judges not to contribute to an unwelcoming environment through inaction. So if you have a problem relating to discrimination, judges can be expected to assist with solving that problem. As discussed in the judge seminar video below, it’s not always clear when and how to intervene but generally these principles were agreed to be helpful for judges:
Finally, the code directs judges to actively work to improve the welcoming atmosphere of and contribute to a culture of inclusivity everywhere Magic is played through an “additional responsibility to act positively to create environments where … all members of the Magic community can feel welcome”. Some ways that judges can do this include:
There are actual rules for handling discriminatory behaviour at all levels of play
The focus at Regular Rules Enforcement Level (like Friday Night Magic, a Pre-Release, or most other sanctioned events at your Local Game Store) is educational. Since there are no official warnings at Regular, judges should start by assuming players are unaware of why their comments are not allowed and inform players of what is expected. If a player becomes argumentative, the judge can explain that whether this policy makes sense to them or not is immaterial. Rather, this is was is expected in Wizards Play Network stores / at sanctioned Magic events. They will need to comply and can discuss their opinion of the policy at another time. Persistent and unrepentant behavior constitutes what is referred to as a “Serious Problem” in Judging at Regular. There are no game/match losses at regular so a player who continues risks being disqualified and asked to leave the premises.
At Competitive events like Grand Prix, judges have additional tools to use in the form of warnings and match loss penalties.
Unsporting Conduct (USC) – Major is a match loss and is defined as occurring when: A player takes action towards one or more individuals that could reasonably be expected to create a feeling of being harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. This may include insults based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Threats of physical violence should be treated as Unsporting Conduct – Aggressive Behavior.
There is some discretion here but it’s important to avoid “gamers like to be irreverent and no one was bothered” types of excuses. The Major and Minor USC infractions do NOT depend on if anyone felt uncomfortable or on whether harm was intended. An infraction is committed if language was used that reasonably could be expected to make someone feel uncomfortable.
USC – Minor is a warning (though multiple warnings could result in an upgrade to game loss) and covers things that are generally disruptive but would not necessarily be bothersome to the average person on the street.
For more detail on what kinds of scenarios would be infractions see: How to make Unsporting Conduct Minor and Major rulings with Diversity in mind (Judge Seminar Presentation by Violet Edgar)
Many judges are new to handling such scenarios and might need some feedback
Although these rules described above clearly support the importance of judges creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, there is a lot of subjectivity in interpretation. Unlike common rules interactions where you can expect most judges to give similar rulings, many judges could miss the mark simply from lack of experience with these situations. That’s why the Inclusive Environments Victoria BC 2016 Judge Conference Presentation (PDF) includes four real life scenarios and group discussions about how to handle them. The video includes the report back from small groups where you can hear that around half of the judges present might not have understood how to handle the situations at first. If you’re facing some kind of discrimination and the judges involved don’t seem to be taking it as seriously as this article suggests they should, feel free to get in touch using our contact form here as we can help with this – it’s not your job to educate your judge but it is someone’s!
Organizations working on improving inclusiveness in Magic
Some feedback from participants
On November 8th, 2016, I settled in to enjoy Hillary Clinton’s expected victory. While I knew Hillary wasn’t widely beloved, I thought Trump’s attitudes towards vulnerable groups would be a deal-breaker for enough people. I exchanged messages with anxious friends assuring them that polls looked good. I retweeted photos of women joyfully voting in their pantsuits. I was sick to my stomach, unable to forget the many protections Trump promised to strip from the people I care about, but I was cautiously optimistic.
By the time my husband got home from work I was lying in the dark with my head covered. I knew it was over. He tried to keep my spirits up a while longer, pointing out when she won Virginia or her electoral numbers rose, but I am seasoned at spotting and digging in against a wave of despair.
I have autism, PTSD, and limited physical mobility, so it is difficult for me to consistently take part in most communities. The internet is basically my home. When the results of the election were officially called, I went where I go to heal: MTG Social Justice Twitter.
To understand how I ended up there, it’s important to know how I began: scared and lonely. The details from my childhood aren’t important, but the lessons are. I learned to always be on guard, no matter the situation. I learned to get adult attention without letting them figure out that I had Serious Problems. I obeyed. I overachieved. I cried a lot, mostly in private. And most of all, I survived. Seizing joy and feelings of safety in the moments I could find them, sometimes falling apart, but mostly just shutting down inside so I could go about my day.
I can’t remember when or how I first discovered MTG Twitter. I’d experimented with the platform before but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I do remember that the second time I looked into it, I was lucky to encounter the helpful and welcoming Liz Cady (@jhoiraartificer). I was mostly quiet, because people were scary and there were a lot of them and I could not catalog and avoid all the ways these hundreds of people might want to hurt me if I stepped out of line. Mostly I listened.
And I had certainly picked a good group to listen to. I’m sure I vaguely identified as a feminist before—I have a remarkable extended family of ass-kicking aunts—but a whole new world of information was opening up in front of me. My timeline constantly featured modern feminist fundamentals that I’d never heard before, values that certainly weren’t encouraged in my home. Your body is yours alone. You can say no to being touched and you do not have to defend your reason. What? You are not obligated to give your attention to every person who demands it. What? Pointing out that someone is being abusive does not make you abusive yourself. What?! Several times a day, I scrolled through my timeline—preview card, friend’s new haircut, life-altering truth, cute meme.
Right around the time I joined the community, Wizards of the Coast started realizing they were behind the times. Although they had some basic policies that were progressive when they were implemented, such as no damsels in distress, the women still tended to be oversexualized and made up a small minority of existing planeswalkers. Although the style guide instructed artists to illustrate a variety of races, ages, and body types, this was treated very loosely. The striking progress can be seen between Innistrad and Shadows Over Innistrad, when all the human women finally got to bundle up for the cold weather, and we found people of color besides Grizzled Outcasts and Tiago Chan.
With the release of Avacyn Restored in 2012, Wizards found itself in the middle of the growing debate of whether feminist players were being “too sensitive” about representation. The art on Triumph of Ferocity showed a key moment in the story, where Garruk is demanding that Liliana remove the curse she placed on him, and his pose ended up unintentionally looking somewhat reminiscent of sexual assault. Jesse Mason pointed this out in an article on Gathering Magic, where he carefully qualified his statement by saying that he believed it was entirely accidental, did not think the artist was sexist, and was optimistic that Wizards would be more careful in the future. This elicited a reaction from many that I would more or less characterize as “Nuh-uh, shut up.”
The art did not affect me personally. I basically went, “Ooh, I can see what he’s talking about, that’s unfortunate. I hoped they learned something.” What I did find disturbing was all the people on social media who were angry that someone even voiced a concern. How eager they were to convince us that we weren’t seeing what we were seeing. It’s an experience survivors tend to know well—“Why do you have to make waves?” “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.” “You’re so sensitive.” But what I learned that day, what my MTG Twitter friends showed me, is that I could keep telling them what I thought over and over. I might not convince them but I didn’t have to obey them. My friends and I could keep reminding each other that we see what we see and we know what we know and it’s all worth saying.
And, miraculously, the last word came from Wizards itself. Elaine Chase made a statement acknowledging our concerns and accepting the experience as a learning opportunity.
(Image borrowed from here, ironically a blog post expressing annoyance at our protests)
Much of my life experience had convinced me that my opinion didn’t matter. Not only that people would ignore me, but that they were correct to ignore me. Because I didn’t know what I was talking about. Because I was too sensitive. Because other people didn’t have a problem with what was happening, so why should I make trouble? It is difficult to convey the impact of someone with authority stepping up, telling the people trying to silence us that they actually want to hear what we have to say.
Time passed. I continued to struggle with PTSD symptoms but steadily improved. I don’t want to downplay the impact of other influences, like my wonderful husband and an incredible employment experience, but Magic has come through for me in a million unexpected ways. I got to work closely with gentle and supportive men in the judge program. I got stranded in an unfamiliar airport in the middle of the night, dead of winter, and the local Magic Facebook group organized to pick me up and take me somewhere safe. I started getting the idea that finding security was not just an immature fantasy.
Meanwhile, Wizards also steadily improved. The social justice community grew. My Twitter feed became a hub not only for women’s issues, but all kinds of social justice concerns—race, class, gender identity, disability. It taught me about Black Lives Matter. It taught me about boundaries, about oppression, about what is and isn’t my responsibility. It taught me to listen to the voices of the people I’d been overlooking, and it lifted up my voice when I needed to be heard. And this wasn’t some carefully moderated safe space tucked away in a corner—this was the vision presented by Wizards’ in-game representation and social media. Caring about the concerns of marginalized people was no longer “niche.”
And so, when faced with the reality of a President Trump, the first place I turned was MTG Social Justice Twitter. Some people were in shock and terror at the dangers they saw headed their way. Some people were offering comfort. Some people were offering practical help. No one was telling anyone to “stop overreacting” or “be reasonable.” This place, at least, was free of ugly surprises. A few days later, as the mainstream media starts to normalize the frightening developments and people begin to tell me I’m being divisive, I still see friends calling it like they see it.
Seven years ago I would have been totally lost. I would have seen myself once again surviving only by letting myself go hollow and silent. I would not have known that I could do otherwise, or how. But thanks to my friends, I have words to explain why this isn’t right, and information to back up the intensity of my reaction. I have a sense of right and wrong that can’t be corroded by false equivalence or moral relativism. I can speak my mind to people outside my “bubble” and shake off their efforts to shut me down.
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked up Magic ten years ago as a lonely college kid. I wanted friends and a distraction from my misery. I certainly would not have predicted “This is going to treat your PTSD. This is going to make you part of something much bigger than yourself. This is going to empower you when you are personally terrified of your president.” But looking back, looking at the people who mixed valuable life education in with their Magic tweets, looking at everyone who pushed Wizards to open their eyes and everyone at Wizards who listened, looking at the leadership provided by Lady Planeswalker Society and Planeswalkers for Diversity, it’s not surprising at all. This is what we’ve all worked for.
A few of my favorite Twitter accounts combining social justice and MTG:
You can find me at @Natasha_LH and firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet Felipe and Kevin, movers and shakers on the Brazilian MTG LGBT scene.
By Leigh Fryling
It’s impossible to argue that some of the greatest draw to Magic the Gathering lies in its stunning, beautiful, and sometimes hilarious artwork (Goblins, am I right?). I can clearly remember the first cards I ever saw, a green red mess of a deck a forgotten cousin of mine brought to a snoozer of a holiday party. I didn’t even bother reading the instructions, I was mesmerized by vibrant flames and lush velds and one heck of a fiery dragon. I was hooked. The pictures told tiny snippets of story that was more fascinating than anything I’d seen before. And that was 17 years ago.
Now I’m enthralled not just by the card art, but the incredible fan art that has come out of storylines, cards, characters, and in this case, a push towards inclusivity with this stunning playmat and logo for MTG LGBT Brazil. Artist Kevin Silvestri and director Felipe Bracco have generously allowed Planeswalkers for Diversity to sell their playmat at our table at this year’s PAX, and we snapped up the chance to interview the two of them about art, MTG in Brazil, and diversity.
Felipe, tell us about MTG LGBT Brazil!
Felipe: Our official name is Magic: The Gathering LGBT, and our goal is to gather the MTG LGBT community in a “safe place” where we can be what we want without judgments. Then spread our views and wills to the MTG environment like Stores, Tournaments, etc.. so we can show ourselves and educate people. We got started when the MTG Facebook official page changed their profile picture (with the vivid grove in June 2015) to support the USA gay marriage, and we started a discussion praising WOTC for taking that position. Then a few of us had an idea to start a Brazilian community focused on LGBT people.
So how did Kevin and his art get involved?
Felipe: In our first months, we wanted to create our logo and identity, so we posted looking for someone to help us, and Kevin was the first to show up with will and an amazing talent. Worked so well, that we work together since then. We have a super respect for his artwork and we want him to go further with whatever help we can give him.
Kevin: Our group is very young; it was created around 2015 but has grown so fast. It’s so crazy and amazing to see so many LGBT people that play Magic The Gathering, while also having a safe place to talk, joke, and meet new people, you know?
During my participation of Magic-LGBT, members were asked to come up with a “logo” for the group. I had this idea of a five petal lotus icon (one for each mana color) because the lotus symbol is a very special thing in the MTG universe and to me; a flower sends a message of something new blooming… They ended up loving the idea and I became the “official” designer of the group!
Kevin what inspires you to make your art?
Kevin: So many things; usually it’s things I see, a song I hear, that suddenly strikes an image in my mind. Sometimes these images grow to become a character, a universe, or a whole history, so I’m constantly meeting new people in my head and thinking about the universe they live in. I might think up a story that would be cool to see them go through, to grow or achieve something.
That speaks to me, I feel like the stories or the potential stories we find in art are personal and compelling. What’s different for you between making your own art and MTG inspired art?
Kevin: MTG art for me is totally bat shit crazy, it’s definitely on another level. The style was the first thing that hooked me into in the game: I remember being nine or so, I found a lost card on the ground of my school and was mesmerized by the artwork. The card happened to be Hollow Hounds of the seventh edition (it creeped the hell out of me!). I still have it, by the way. So I started to research more about the game after that. I started to collect the cards for the art alone, but little by little I learned to enjoy and love the game. MTG art is not totally my style (well, maybe in the first editions when the art was more crazy), but usually I draw more B&W, concept oriented, sketchy, children’s book cartoony style. The main difference I think is that Magic art is so realistic, with a very thought-out character and universe design process. You really have to follow these guidelines to create something that feels like it belongs in “Magic the Gathering”. If you just look up the art you know that the “weird plant thing” is from the Kamigawa set, or that metallic monolith-like sphinx is from Alara. It’s a very well-constructed universe and I really love it, it’s something that makes the game so special to me.
The playmat and logo are both amazing, but even more amazing is how quickly Magic the Gathering: LGBT has grown and expanded! What are the challenges you’ve been facing, and what are your hopes for the future?
Felipe: For me, it is keeping things up and always search for new opportunities, ideas, and partnerships on the MTG environment.
For our group, it is keeping the inner management and join the brazilian no-capital community; some foreigners don’t realize, but Brazil is such a BIG country.
By the way, the Brazilian MTG community has been very welcoming (like stores, organizers, some players, etc…)
For the future of our group, we want to keep the Brazilian community stronger and stronger and exchange more and more experience with other groups. But a near goal is to make a 2017 playmat, which Kevin has great plans for.
Kevin: I think what any artist would want: to wow people, make them feel something, tell a story that brings them happiness, sadness, nostalgia… to raise a question or put some issue in the spotlight. I think that the greatest joy of an artist is being able to create and finish something and see the people react to it, have their work respected and cherished.
More acceptance, more inclusiveness, more discussion. We still have a long way to go, but I’m really liking the new but small details that Magic is inserting into the world, like the flavor on Guardian of Meletis card or the trans character Alesha. I was very happy with the new planeswalkers Kaya and Saheeli Rai, they look so badass and cool.
To reiterate: we still have a lot of work to do. but I wish that WOtC would take these small details and turn them into bigger things. I would love a LGBT planeswalker, more non binary characters. It’s so good and important to see something that represents you in a product that you love. You feel like you can be as powerful and cool as that character you know? And that’s a big thing, especially when you’re young.
And just a quick teaser haha: I’m already starting to work on the 2017 edition playmat that I want to be much bigger and powerful!
Kevin I’d really like to ask you more about your art, but I think that’s a whole article by itself. And Felipe, we need to know more about Magic and the LGBT community in Brazil! For now, is there any last thing you’d like to say before we see everyone at PAX?
Kevin: When it comes to the design in the playmat, I made it to be like a medal, like an engraved memorial on stone, to remind you to always be proud of who you are.
Felipe: Just thank you!
Representation of diversity in games is hard. It’s also important. Wizards has publicly made very clear that they care about diversity, so we should hold them to account and make sure they deliver on this. We also need to strive to be thorough, rigorous, and fair in that critique for it to be most effective. We at MTGDiversity.org absolutely adore our friends over at HipstersOfTheCoast. We applaud them for regularly tackling diversity issues. The fact that the original article this post is about is something they are interested in is fabulous. It raises some important points and has sparked an important discussion. We also thought there was some excellent food for thought in some of said discussion, as reflected in a small part of this twitter exchange excerpted below (click on the tweets below to follow the full discussion). We also highly recommend Quinn Murphy’s thoughts about the importance of critique.
This conversation between Mike and I is a discussion between two people who are at the base of things folk who love Magic and the Magic community both personally and professionally. We are also both people who have been responsible for editorial and art content and I am an ethnographer specifically working on relationships between corporations and community, and our discussion takes place with that background. Both Hipsters of the Coast and Wizards of the Coast are working hard to tackle complicated subjects and we respect both of them while also feeling that balanced critique is a necessary part of engaging with their efforts. Tackling industry wide issues and analyzing steps for improvement is no quick fix and analyzing them should merit the rigor of research.
Mike and I may spend more time looking at more places than many community members because of our own positionality, and our discussion comes from those positionalities – I’m happy to share it if asked because my own work is transparent to the community. But understand at heart this is a conversation between one friend asking another friend for her “hot take” and take that for exactly what it is.
We genuinely love all of you, and Magic.
Tackling industry wide issues and analyzing steps for improvement is no quick fix and analyzing them should merit the rigor of research. The casual nature of the discussion should not undermine the seriousness of the discussion, nor should it discount the crux of the article’s main argument. As fellow community members with advanced academic research under our respective belts, when we see articles that elevate the discussion from playing into industry analysis, we expect serious research and when questions arise, we will bring them up.
Adrienne and I have very different lenses and use them to aid in questioning editorial content just as any academic would write a book or article review. I write on art because it comes naturally to me from interest, academic background and previous work experience. Finding examples where the ingredients differ but the cake gets made still warrants why so much saffron is being used. Representation is something all TCGs in the gaming industry struggle with and that issue will not be resolved on Twitter. We may be instigators of keeping the ball rolling and we do so out of love for our community, this MtG game and how it helps future generations.
Planeswalkers for Diversity was at PAX again this year, in the Diversity Lounge where we will be set up to teach new players to play Magic and to answer questions about setting up local chapters. This year we will also have buttons and these two playmats available for purchase!
Several Planeswalkers for Diversity volunteers assisted a crew of people from our sister organization, Lady Planeswalkers Society, teaching new players to play Magic.
Finally, one of our co-founders was part of the following panel:
Friday, September 2nd at 4:30pm in the Chipmunk Theatre.
Gaming has a problem with being inclusive and with diversity. While industry is working on it, discussion can generate an ideological divide. We will start to move beyond this with good, hard data: demographics, how often people have unwelcoming experiences, what impacts that has, and how people have made change. We will involve the audience to check our collective assumptions and see what quantitative empirical evidence says about diversity in gaming and about how to improve inclusivity.
Tanya DePass [Founder, INeedDiverseGames]
Glenn White [Director of Marketing Infrastructure , EA Games]
Aurora Walker [Lead Instructor, Lady Coders of Victoria]
Trevor Murdock [Co-Founder, Planeswalkers for Diversity]
Matt Baume [Host, Sewers of Paris Podcast]
Cherrise Miranda [Conference Volunteer Extraordinaire]