Critical thoughts on representation in Conspiracy 2

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.

-Your friendly neighbourhood @mtgdiversity editors [Note: this post was originally published August 22 and our statement above was updated on with a link to Quinn Murphy‘s thoughts on August 23rd]

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.

-Adrienne (@DreamtimeDrinne)

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.

-Mike (@VorthosMike)


Planeswalkers for Diversity at PAX 2016

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!

MTG_Diversity p4d_mtg-lgbt_playmat

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:

Challenging assumptions about diversity with data

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.
~
Panelists include:
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]

MrLuBuFu’s 365 day challenge

Hello all. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Lucas (often known by my Twitch moniker ‘MrLuBuFu’). Almost a year ago, I decided to challenge myself to stream Magic the Gathering: Online every day for 365 straight days. I wanted to do this not for viewership numbers nor popularly, but rather to put a difficult goal in front of me and see if I could persevere for both myself and any viewers of my channel.

With this in mind the rule I was to follow was simple: stream MTGO every day for at least one hour per day. The goal was straightforward enough, but the true underlying sentiment reflects one of my philosophies:

“Not everyone can like you, but be loyal and true to those that do.”

As a content creator on YouTube for over five years, I have found personal connections and interactions with the community can form a true bond between people. I wished to build a space where anyone could come in and be comfortable enjoying a technical analysis of Magic.

Now I find myself facing my final day of this challenge staring me down, I felt it would be appropriate to share my thoughts, experiences and thanks to all I have interacted with during the process.

The Challenge

The 365 day stream challenge is really, really hard. I recall mentioning to Kenji Egashira (NumottheNummy) that I was undertaking the same challenge he had completed. His response was honest: “Good luck. It’s going to be rough.” My naïvity at the time was simply on the burden of just fulfilling a quota rather than the truth of the matter. You have to sacrifice your time, your sleep, and a fair amount of your social life outside of the stream. Everyone has both good and bad days. The good are easy to stream. You sit and laugh and nothing can go wrong (except maybe drawing ten consecutive lands). You feel the strain in the rough days. Nobody talks about streamer depression, but it’s very real. Watching numbers go up and down, not making headway, or dealing with the stresses of everyday life make the bad days seem like pits of despair. It takes a toll on you to pull yourself out and try to stay positive. The important thing is to fight through it.

I found myself in a unique position to undergo the challenge as a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering with enough ‘free time’ (I use that term loosely because it doesn’t truly exist as you do graduate work) to be able to play Magic every single day whilst balancing schoolwork, research, and teaching.

Early on the challenge was much easier because the MTGO cube was available. Cube is my favorite format, and I found myself loving the stream and loving the community even more. Prior to this I had mostly just spent my time in the various Twitch streams of other MTGO players (NumottheNummy, GabySpartz, LSV, and HAUMPH to name a few), and had greatly enjoyed the interaction.

Ultimately, the stream came down to a day-by-day basis. Each day I focused on playing whatever format seemed like the most entertaining and the most fun. A combination of lots of limited (Cube, Flashback events) with Modern and EDH to fill the time between rounds.

For the most part the stream went smoothly but some major highlights behind the scenes that people may not know:

  • Swapping the stream between two different computers every 30 minutes due to a weird router error most times I visited my girlfriend in Chicago
  • Going to urgent care due to fungal poisoning. I got medication, drove home, streamed, then went back to the clinic to confirm I would be all right.
  • Streaming while technically homeless. My new landlord thought I was moving in two weeks later, so I moved into my new apartment without locks and slept/streamed in the living room because the door was wide open.
  • Streaming during multiple GPs (Detroit, Washington DC).
  • After my sister (who was visiting) was stranded on the tarmac at O’Hare Airport for three hours, I drove through a blizzard to get home to stream.

The Improvement

My goal during the stream was simply to entertain and play a lot of fun formats. I hoped that I could pass along some of the knowledge I accrued over my years drafting. Starting with a Limited Rating of 1650 and Constructed of 1612, I successfully was able to reach the following:

13633501_10210114444400220_275227815_o

Who would have guessed that streaming every day would make me a better player? I also watched other streamers in order to learn all the older formats, so I learned a lot by watching, too.

The Community

Ultimately, the charging of my metaphorical batteries came due to the fantastic viewers of the stream and other community members. Some of my favorite moments have come courtesy of people I have looked up to for a long time:

  • Worth Wollpert, the man who pulls the levers behind the scenes of MTGO labelled ‘mana screw’ and ‘mana flood’, stopped by and donated a ‘blessing’ (http://i.imgur.com/t6ak7PB.png)
  • LSV hosted the stream, which led to the highest viewership of any day during the stream
  • Cam (IlyonTV) hosted the stream more times than I can count, and has been incredibly friendly and a pleasure to talk to during the challenge
  • BillyTheFridge and I duo-drafted a ‘Planeswalkers Only/No Creatures Cube draft’ that somehow made the finals

The finale: 24 hour stream for diversity

To celebrate the completion of a 365-day streaming challenge (read about that below), I streamed at twitch.tv/MrLuBuFu for 24 hours, starting at 8 AM Pacific / 10 AM Central/ 11 AM Eastern on Saturday July 9th.

I wanted to raise money for Planeswalkers for Diversity (donate here). I love their mission to support everyone being welcome to this game, and I want to try and raise as much attention and money as I can for a group that deserves it. I have previously done 24-hour streams for various charities (Gamers Helping Gamers, Mariah Pagliocco Medical Fund Drive, and St. Jude). I think it is important to give back to this amazing community that offers so much to so many people.

I also wanted to give back to the viewers, so every hour I gave away something to celebrate.

The 24 hour stream itself was fantastic. In addition to cubing for nearly 20 hours (took a quick break for a Shadows over Innistrad draft to finish off the night), there were lots of great moments:

Thank you all for the support. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity and all the positive messages since I started the challenge. I hope to see you all this Saturday!

I would like to thank everyone who has supported the stream by stopping by, watching, commenting, donating and more. Each and every one of you has been amazing and incredibly kind. (Except the trolls. You know who you are.)

-Lucas ‘MrLuBuFu’

twitch.tv/MrLuBuFu

Standing up for what’s right when you’re sitting down playing

You may remember my friend James, owner of The Two-Headed Giant, from my last article on creating an inclusive playgroup. You may also remember that we were successful in starting a healthy and inclusive P4D/LPS chapter in the shop using our combined super-powers of being aggressively friendly/persistent, and free coffee. We also consistently shut down negative, destructive, and inappropriate language and behavior by following the platinum rule to which we held every patron; namely, ‘don’t be s*^tty’.12966389_10103799127894162_640240188_n

No, that’s not ‘don’t be Scotty’- these are the expletives you are looking for.

A lot of behavior can fall under the platinum rule, but for us it was specifically reflective of any behavior that would reflect badly on the character of the shop. This doesn’t mean we jumped the case of anyone who dropped an f-bomb (we dropped a few ourselves) or had words with anyone who made a snarky comment, but we did maintain vigilance against anything that made other patrons or ourselves uneasy. We also took the LPS/P4D mission statement very seriously, and made a point of calling out derogatory language (using the word gay as a slur, making derogatory comments about women, etc).

Now that’s easy for me to say and do, I’m a teacher (and an extrovert) so I am monitoring and correcting behavior all the time. How can I possibly expect you to comfortable doing the same in your shop or chapter? Calling people out is scary and uncomfortable, could easily be taken too far, and could end in shouting or table flipping or all sorts of shenanigans… can’t it?

Well FEAR NOT! That’s exactly why I’m typing away at this article. You can do it, and while it may initially give you that little butterfly-flutter, I can promise you that it is both worth the momentary discomfort, and vital to your shop and chapter. Your example to others, establishing standards of behavior, and keeping your space positive and friendly is a major key to your group’s success. Here’s how.


1) The language of ‘We’

There’s a game of Boss Monster going on at the table next to you. Someone laughs as a Boss levels up, and says “damn, that monster is so gay!” You feel a subtle flinch from the person across the table from you; the time to act is now. You screw your courage to the sticking place, and tap the gay-sayer on the shoulder. They turn, still laughing, and your mouth goes dry.

A lot of the anxiety and difficulty people experience when confronting unwanted behavior in others comes from feeling alone, of putting themselves at personal risk. The best way to alleviate these concerns is to use language that indicates group consensus, or ‘we’ speak. Instead of standing up and saying ‘Please don’t use the word ‘gay’, it’s not okay’, modify the sentence to include others. For example “Hello! We’re working on making this store an inclusive safe space, so we don’t use ‘gay’ as a slur here. We just wanted to let you know for the future, thank you!”

Cheesy? A little..but it works. And it gets a lot less cheesy after you do it a few times and it becomes a genuinely natural way of speaking for you. By saying ‘we’, the speaker sub-textually includes everyone else in the space, as well as the person being addressed. It implies a behavior code backed by group consensus, even though there is only one person speaking, and includes the person being addressed as part of the group; in this way, the addressee is not made to feel singled out or excluded, and the speaker is not putting themselves as an individual at risk for reprisal.

 

2) Have my back, ‘bro

When truly troubling situations arise, such as particularly objectionable comments or a consistent unwanted behavior, LPS/P4D members as well as shop staff should support each other through proximity and reinforcement. If you see someone standing up for your rules, physically move to be near them. Be persistent in asking for unwanted behavior to change. In a gentle and friendly manner remind everyone of the culture you’re trying to create in the shop or the chapter, and above all be patient. In general, it takes eight repetitions for a person to create a habit; it takes at least a month to change one. I’m thinking in particular of a young man who had a tendency to swear almost every other word. Again, while swearing is tolerated a the THG, this was excessive. It took a few weeks of friendly reminders from everyone, but eventually the habit dissipated, and now he is the one asking new members to watch their language. Did I laugh? Oh yeah. But really happy laughter.

 

3) Call in the big guns

The most important support comes from the shop owners and staff. Without their backing, the most you can do is continue to politely request change. But if the staff and the owners are on board with the platinum rule, they can be a true ally in helping to affect shop culture. Either way, these are the people to turn to if altercations get significantly out of hand; if situations become angry, violent, or insults/slurs become harassment. Most stores have anti-harassment policies or protocols for when things get out of hand, but some may not. Just as important, Magic has very clear rules about respectful behaviour in both regular and competitive events: judges and tournament organizers alike have not only the right but an obligation to call out or even throw out players for bad behaviour.

 

Bottom line, talk to your owners and staff about what to do if a tense situation arises, or under what circumstances you will want/need their help in dealing with a patron. Clear communication is imperative!

 

4) Make and Keep Your Cool

Always, always always always, no matter what gets said or done, be polite, calm, and respectful. This is not a war, you are not the Vikings of Social Justice; you are a group of people trying to make a positive change in a subculture, and that requires patience. LPS/P4D members and especially leaders should set the example of the culture they want for everyone. If you get called a name, get sworn at, gestured at, mocked, etc, it is imperative that you are the one who is calm, collected, polite, respectful, and positive. You don’t break the rules, you try to make the rules by obeying them yourself, in all circumstances.

 

5) Keep it simple- and pick your battles

Sometimes, the moment just isn’t right to deal with a particular problem. If you’ve recently had a blow up about a sexist comment and everyone is still tense about it, that’s not the time to get on a soapbox about not using ‘man-lands’ as a descriptor for creature lands. Remember that change takes time and patience, habits are hard to break, and people may say things offhand without thinking that are mildly offensive. Don’t jump down their throats swinging the righteous sword of political correctness (not Vikings, remember?) but pull them aside quietly and individually when you have a moment, and just mention that the comment might make people uncomfortable. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a sheepish apology. Open dialogue, don’t shut it down.

This example comes from my friend Trevor;

I am thinking of a guy who used to use derogatory terms for women and gay peoImageple on a regular basis. One time, when I played Thragtusk and he responded by saying “Thragtusk, fagtusk” all I needed to say was “that’s not cool” Most people aren’t looking to be malicious but are just pursuing misguided attempts to be clever. Letting them know that the result is the opposite of that can be very effective. In this case, the player is now a regular at LPS/P4D events and has eliminated his bad habit of derogatory language.”

 

At the end of the day, be friendly. Be forgiving. Be patient and kind. People will see and respect the difference you are trying to make.

And whatever you do, don’t be sh*tty. Everything else will follow.

Fighting Back Against Persecution in Magic

By Mark Nestico, re-blogged from Mark’s facebook

I’m a funny guy.

I like to write satirical articles about decks or other trivial bits of nonsense that are meant to make you laugh. Sometimes people don’t understand that, at their core, those pieces are meant to hold a mirror up to the community. Whether it’s about the outcry for bannings in Modern, the distaste we may have for a format, or whatever else…I have always tried to give you something that would make people smile. I don’t always do the best job, but the heat from it never really bothered me. All I ever really want to do is entertain you.

Bear that in mind. It’s not about being entertaining- at least not today.

Over the weekend StarCityGames posted about the recent legislature, HB2, as it pertained to the upcoming Grand Prix in North Carolina. I won’t speak to it, because Pete explained everything about as perfectly as he could. The issue I have doesn’t stem from Mr. Hoefling’s words, but rather some of the comments posted in regards to them, and more so over various forms of social media.

Perhaps I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

I had this set up all differently. I’ve already deviated from my outline. I guess it’s just time to write from the heart.

So anyhow.

None of us are normal.

Make sure you understand that before you proceed, because I assure you that’s a point we are going to drive home today.

Ok.

So.

None of us are normal.

Imagine for a moment you don’t belong. That shouldn’t be a terribly farfetched concept, right? You’re not the captain of the football team nor are you the head cheerleader. You’re just you, and for some people you isn’t good enough. This is high school, middle school, elementary school, work, or wherever else all rolled into one. Eventually you start to think that you’re not good enough.

Depression sets in. Pain sets in. Suffering sets in.

You are suffering.

You’re not the person now that you were then, but you’re certainly a byproduct of it. All the downers, bullying, trolling, vicious comments, physical assaults, psychological assaults- they shape you. Not everyone can just “brush it off” or “stand up for themselves.” Amputate the leg and you’re no longer a track star. Amputate the self-esteem and you’re no longer capable of fighting back.

Time passes.

You find Magic. Maybe you stumbled upon a store or saw it on the internet. It’s a children’s card game, but it has millions upon millions of people that play it, and there is a convergence of other people who just don’t belong meeting there a few times a week to battle, discuss, and share in a hobby.

“What the hell.”

Forsaking your baser intuitions that tell you to avoid these kinds of interactions completely predicated on all of the unfavorable ones you’re used to, you go. You learn. You observe.

Time passes.

Magic isn’t just a hobby to you anymore- it’s the very air you breathe. Your friendships exist because of Magic. Your self-confidence has grown because of Magic. Your time is now spent between when you get to go to your local game shop and be happy and the life you loathe. Your life means more because of Magic. It has saved you.

Time passes.

You’ve spent so, so, so very much time being different. Not good enough in your own eyes, but Magic and good friends have finally given you the courage to be who you thought you always should be. When you go to these Opens or PPTQs or random events you’re surrounded by literally thousands of people who were all a little different, or made fun of, or outsiders/geeks/nerds/whatever the hell people need to call other people to make themselves feel superior. They all convene in one place for plenty of different reasons: commander, cosplay, to meet artists, trading, play competitively or casually, hang out with friends, draft, and a multitude of other possibilities.

With that in mind you decide you’re going to go to your first Grand Prix. Maybe it’s in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Developments in that state make you feel significantly less safe. Your pragmatism sets in, and you do your best to understand the “whys” and how they directly impact you. It’s not just HB2. It’s the reaction. Polarizing. You’re called names again. Your very state of being is called into question. You begin to feel those old notions of inadequacy- the kids in school who relentlessly tease you, or the adults who stare and point. It’s not just the bill.

It’s not just the bill.

It’s the people and their treatment of their fellow man or woman.

Anxiety sets in.

Here we are again, suffering- wasn’t I silly for thinking I could escape from you.

The Island of Misfit Toys

We are all beautiful, and beautifully broken. From the lowliest internet troll who seeks to inflict pain in order to feel something…anything to the most holier-than-thou crusader who finds offenses in everything regardless of if it exists or not. We all are something special, and usually that conflicts with the opposite end of the spectrum.

Magic is the Island of Misfit Toys. Its where a lot of people who have never felt a sense of belonging go because they don’t know any other options. For some it’s the first, and for some it’s the last stop on a journey to find their place in this world.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

There is something wrong, however, with acting like your place is somehow more sacred than another’s.

Bullying is a hot-button topic. It has been for a few years.

There are two camps:

1- Those who think the bullied should stop being soft and fight back.

2- Those who are bullied.

The interesting dichotomy that exists is that those who think it’s as simple as raising a generation of warriors often fail to realize how damaging it is to constantly be put down. Have you ever seen a boxer get knocked out? Does their corner rush to their side and scream “get up! You’re letting us down by being unconscious! What kind of loser are you?” Or do they rush to their side and try to take care of them? I’ll give you one guess, and it’s not the first one. We learn from getting knocked out, but some people become punch-shy, and they learn to dodge better rather than absorb a hit.

When I was a kid I was bullied, but I had a smart mouth and I wasn’t afraid to take a beating or dish one out. That’s just who I was, but when I went home do you know what I did? Watched television. Played with my action figures. Ate dinner. Talked to mom and dad. Went to bed. That was it.

People nowadays have no escape. Are you tortured at home? Lovely. Let’s continue that when you get home over social media- tweet at you how much we hate you, and tag you on Facebook statues about what a terrible person you are. Are you scared? You should be. Here come the text messages because we somehow got your number. Emails. Don’t even try to cover your ears. We’re everywhere.

This is the life that the bullied live nowadays. It’s not as easy as when I was young. We threw some punches and called it quits. There is literally no escape from being condemned for your race, sexuality, gender identity, looks, weight…your everything is on trial.

The Magic community, which is supposed to be a Safe Haven for those who enjoy the game, instead has fostered a subset of members who believe their hatred trumps compassion and reason. Look no further than the various comment sections of articles. We make a play or write about something you don’t agree with? We’re idiots. Don’t like our articles? We’re illiterate. Constructive criticisms are a thing of the past, because why be kind and understanding when you can just tell the other living, breathing, alive person with feelings that they should kill themselves. That’s the ticket, right? Forget the middle. Straight to the endgame.

It’s not about safe spaces or secret clubhouses. Magic is a game and it is meant to be enjoyed by every person who chooses to play it, and the injection of prejudices and ad hominem should be a notion so far removed from it that it makes almost no sense to me that a group of people just searching for happiness would cannibalize itself with hatred. Malice doesn’t come with impunity.

The Remedy

So far I’ve heard “stop shoving your changes down my throat,” “things were fine the way they were before,” and “political correctness is destroying America.” I’m here to hold your hand through this. It’s not the end of the world. Listen to my words: change is a good thing, accepting your fellow man and woman is ok, and not spewing hateful rhetoric will do your soul more good than it will harm.

We are blessed. So blessed. Beyond blessed that we have Magic. It’s not the game- because a game is just that. For some it’s a living, or a passion- a hobby or an escape route. You don’t know the extent that someone has ran away from persecution just to be able to sit across from you at the table, shake your hand, roll some dice, and battle some cards. Their struggles- internal or external- are a catalyst for their strength and determination, but are also scars they bare from battles you know nothing about. Just being in your presence shouldn’t be another war, nor should telling them how much they disgust you.

They are a human.

You are a human.

Despite philosophical, perceived, real or fake differences, hurting someone is never ok. Your rights do not begin based off of ending someone else’s.

Empathy.

Understanding.

Respect.

Emotion.

You can never underestimate these qualities. They are literally the perfect starting hand for interacting with those around us.

Magic should be all-inclusive, and even though the vast majority of it is, that doesn’t mean we can’t be better.

We should want to be better.

After all, what would you rather do?

Destroy a life

Or save it? Your words can do either.

Embrace the power your can have over the Magic community. Spread love, not hate. Spread positivity, not malicious thoughts.

Free yourself from the thorned bonds that would prevent you from helping those around you. Exile bullying or doing harm to your fellow players.

This is my declaration today, tomorrow, and for the rest of the time I play Magic.

Next week I’m sure I’ll write about some deck or do some satirical piece. I’m a funny guy, right?

How We Started An Inclusive MTG Playgroup and Rocked It


“Hey, I was at Value Village the other day and I saw a new game shop had opened, thought you might want to check it out, looked really cool!”

“Yeah? What’s it called?”

10403610_428122920674475_5394026372825486848_nThe Two-Headed Giant.”

Already I’m divided. New shop in Nanaimo! Different stock from the same old same old at the local (unfriendly) Magic vendor, maybe some older release packs, different sleeves…and yet that shadowy, ever present concern in the back of my heart that it would be another stereotypical game shop. A dim place full of dark corners and mouldy copies of Fangoria on mismatched shelves, a washroom of doubtful cleanliness, and the obtrusive male stares and snickers that have been my game shop experience in two decades of gaming.

Age 6: “Give me that controller, this is a boy game.”

Age 9: “You got lucky, that’s all, give back the controller.”

Age 11: “You cheated, no one wins Clue that fast without peeking.”

Age 12: “I don’t think you want to play this, Magic is really complicatewhat-if-the-girl-from-idiot-nerd-girl-meme-really-is-a-nerdd, there’s a lot of math. The girls are playing with ponies at the other table, if you want.”

Age 14: “Are you someone’s girlfriend? Oh. Roll a character if you want, I guess.”

Age 16: “Playing goblins, yeah, girls always go for the easy tribal decks.”

Age 18: “Are you single?” or uncomfortable stares, sideways glances, and the silent assumption that I must be waiting for a boyfriend or picking out a gift.

Age 20: (during a complicated interaction my opponent doesn’t un
derstand) “Ugh! Judge! Can I get a disqualification? This chick doesn’t know the f*#$%(* rules!”

Age 23: “I can’t believe I just lost to a girl!”

Age 25: “Have you played Magic before? You’re really pretty for a gamer chick.”

I pick a Sunday afternoon and go. I tell myself as I prepare for battle, “Maybe it’ll be different.” I know I can emerge victorious with at least one booster pack and a set of pretty new sleeves for a green-black elf deck I’m brewing, but that’s not really the battle for which I need to steel myself.. The door swings open.

I am dead wrong about everything I had preconceived about this place.

The room is open and bright. There’s a deep red couch in front of an old tube TV, 80’s all the way, with two primary school kids taking their first romp into Mario Bros on an original NES. I waver, not quite believing what I’m seeing. There are rows and rows of comics, from My Little Pony to Deadpool and a thousand shades of glorious storytelling in between. Board games, Dungeons and Dragons, practically a swimming pool full of gem coloured dice glimmering in the late autumn sunshine. There are two women playing Boss Monster at one of three kitchen-style tables filling the rest of the room. There’s an entire wall section covered in Magic. Boosters, sleeves, spin-downs. My jaw almost hits the floor. There is simply no way this place was real. It’s too special. It’s too friendly. There are other women here and they are not here with guys and they are playing a game I love!  

12038128_544704079016358_4309890445962704441_n

“Can I help you find anything today?”

Now, I’m a talker. A chatterboxing, glad-handing, elbow-rubbing, shoulder-bumping extrovert of the first order.  James McIlwraith — the store’s welcoming and magnificently bearded owner — and I talked for at least half an hour about Magic, gaming, my history as a gamer, the shop, Star Wars, and sushi. In spite of that, I was so flabbergasted that I don’t remember a thing that I said to him outside of a half-stammered, “This place is amazing,” and, “Absolutely, what do you need?” At some point I told him that I’d been gaming since I could remember, playing Magic since I was 12, that I was a teacher in training, and at completely loose ends for anything to do on weeknights. Before I knew it, I was going to open a chapter of the Lady Planeswalkers Society (LPS, about which I knew nothing), hold regular meetings and events, and help create a community in the store that was open and welcoming to women and anyone else who wants to draw some cards or roll some dice.

How did this happen? James is very, very convincing. I also believe he has magical powers in his long dark ponytail.I’m going to let James tell this part of the story because he remembers it better.

539638_336872913064206_1733622574_nI met Tifa Robles (founder of The Lady Planeswalkers Society) at Emerald City Comic Con in 2015 before we had opened The Two-Headed Giant. The purpose of LPS matched perfectly with ours, put simply, everyone is welcome and no one is a dick about it. I immediately knew I wanted to open a chapter once the store was up and running. However, I would need to find someone to run, it felt slightly odd and presumptuous to run a Lady Planeswalkers Society as a man, even though everyone is welcome. Enter Leigh Fryling:

Coming in roughly a month after open, she was boisterous, engaging, fun and, most importantly, ready to approach and teach anyone who walked through the door. I think she had been in the store for maybe an hour playing Magic the Gathering when I asked her if she would be interested in opening a chapter of LPS. Happy to take on the responsibility, we arranged for an introduction, a draft, and mapped out several weeks of activity.”

D’aww. Give me a moment to blush. Ok, we’re back. As most life changing events do, it happened quickly: “Want to do this thing?” “Yes I do.” “Awesome, do the thing.”

I went home to look up what exactly LPS was and figure out what the heck I was going to do. I immediately wanted to do everything I could to make our chapter of Lady Planeswalkers Society success. I also learned about another organization with the same mission but a slightly different focus. Planeswalkers for Diversity (P4D) is the sister organization to LPS. Both groups work to ensure places where Magic is played are welcoming to women as well as all minorities, LGTBQI folk, and anyone else. I felt, and still feel passionately, that something was finally starting to shift in game culture. The joint chapter of both LPS/P4D was a manifestation of changes I had been quietly hoping for my whole life. logo

There are two really wonderful advantages James and I had in creating our LPS/P4D chapter that others may not. First, the store was brand new and James had a very clear vision for how he wanted his community to look and feel. Second, both organizations have websites with very clear mission statements for what they intend to achieve, but not how it has to be done. Do not go to the website expecting “On Saturdays you will run an 8 person draft of the latest release and on Tuesdays you will have your new player recruitment events.” Instead, what LPS & P4D lay out as their mission is almost verbatim what James and I discussed; create a safe, welcome, inviting place for literally anyone who comes in the door, but most especially for the young, the new, and the fringe. There are no rules in the mission about playing Magic, or membership, or events, or anything. Just that wonderful driving goal of ‘make it great for everyone’.

Awesome. How?

This is how we did it.I’m sure it looks different from every other chapter because every chapter has their own community and needs. We had the double-edged sword of not knowing who was coming or what they would need. I sat down with paper and pen and asked myself the following questions:

“If I could go back to 12-year-old me and show her the amazing things that could come out of gaming, how would I introduce her to this world?”

“How would I teach her the games that I grew to love but also teach her how to appropriately handle other gamers and the challenges that sometimes come with belonging to our particular hobby?”

This was going to be about more than explaining the stack — it was about behaviour, protocol, winning and losing with grace, and having patience for everyone. Phew.

Step One: Doing

I decided that the best approach would be a series of workshops, a sampler of staple games (D&D,Magic, Munchkin, etc). Gamers who were curious about Dungeons and Dragons could come and try it out but disregard the Magic nights if that wasn’t their thing. I could take a Magic night and focus on just one aspect of the game, such as deck building or the stack, so new players wouldn’t be so overwhelmed with ideas and information. The list looked something like this:

 

Newbie Tuesday: Intro to Deck Building12279145_553511351468964_1023332743738291478_n

Wednesday: P4D Nerdcrafting! Make your own life counter!

Saturday: Beginner Draft 12:00 with “How to Draft” training, Open Draft 4:30

 

Newbie Tuesday: Intro to Dungeons and Dragons- character creation

Wednesday: LPS MtG; Deck Building Basics and Strategies, all welcome!

Saturday: Intro to DMing – build dungeons, make adventure happen!

 

I deliberately placed the focus on the words ‘Intro’ and ‘Beginner’ when making the workshop list, balancing those with ‘open’, ‘free play’ and ‘Nerdcrafting!’ days. Those gamers who were dipping their toes would have dedicated time and guidance, but more advanced players would also be welcome and have a chance to engage with the new players. For example, our opening day was a double draft. One specifically for beginners with time set aside for explaining the format and a slower pace, followed by an open draft. Because the two drafts happened one after another, players who enjoyed the first draft had the chance to play again with the more experienced players, and experienced players who showed up early caught the end of the beginner draft and would sometimes help out with advice and pointers.These were specifically not sanctioned events, which kept the pressure of winning off and made sure the focus remained on the game. This was key in setting the tone for future events.  We made it clear that the idea was to mingle beginners and advanced players. The beginners could feel comfortable and supported and the advanced players were welcome and encouraged to help. Since no one knew what they were doing on craft nights before I showed up with craft glue and glitter and balsa wood, everyone was on level ground being creative and having fun.

After approving activities and times with James, the next step was setting up a Facebook community and connecting it to the Two-Headed Giant page so announcements and events could pass easily between the two. A permanent schedule was pinned on the Facebook group with some TBA dates included so that in future members could request games or strategies they wanted to focus on for an evening. We also made sure that LPS/P4D nights and events were clearly posted in the shop. James and Scotty (the beaming co-owner of Two-Headed Giant) made mention of it to every new player that came through the doors and — more importantly — to parents. There were also plenty of little parties, drafts, and celebrations that kept things lively. Halloween was a real doozy! But, as ever, the focus was on the balance between introductory and open play.

Step Two: Open and Outreach

11050092_10103471795106692_4251037133647687372_n

Key 1: Be willing to be the face of your chapter. We talk about LPS and/or P4D at every opportunity; what it is, why it is, what we are doing, where, when, who, and to anyone who comes into the shop. Several of the regulars turned up to the Chapter Opening day just because they’d listened to us talking about it day after day and wanted to know what the fuss was about. They became some of our staunchest supporters and allies. Anyone who came in the doors was fair game, especially if there was an event later that evening. Talk, talk, talk!

Key 2: Invite everyone. At all times. Interrupt games. Give up your spot to a new player who has just walked in. Introduce them to everyone even if you only met everyone else three minutes ago because the same thing happened. As the organizer, you’re there to facilitate the community. It starts being open, welcoming, and friendly if you are these things also. James and Scotty giving new players free D20’s and occasionally booster packs for brand new players didn’t hurt, either. It’s about generosity of spirit, but that needs to start with you. Everyone is invited to the table.

IMG_0043

Key 3: Keep it friendly. I don’t just mean “Have cookies.” Take the competitive edge off as much as possible; that’s what FNM is for. This is the game for the love of the game, for whomever wants to play. We all scoot down and make room for the seven-year-old who can’t remember how many mana anything costs, but gets excited when he plays any card at all. Play mistakes are laughed over and gently corrected. Players are allowed to take things back or take as long as they need to plan their move. Mechanics and strategy take back seats to just playing and enjoying each other’s company. There can always be specific times when those things are the focus, but in general the joy of the process is the point for all levels.

 

 

Step Three: Prosper

12036541_545399332280166_5524251331390175934_n
Both the chapter and the shop have grown and thrived. One or two players who had a great time on Tuesday night became three or four on Wednesday night. Players who came in once in awhile came in once or twice a week (or once or twice a day, in some cases), always sure that they would see a friend in the shop and strike up a game of something. The more they played, the better their decks became, and the more cards and sleeves and boxes and mats came off the shelves. Board games people brought to share at LPS/P4D nights turned into purchases of the same games from the shop, and strangers a week ago were now meeting up to play them once a week. Members of their own accord started inviting new people to play, even when the organizers weren’t there. What was good for the group was good for the community, good for the shop, and good for everyone.

And it continues to be good. There’s a bittersweet part to this, though. After four months it was time for me to move back home to Michigan, which is about a thousand miles away from this community we built love.The core group of middle-just-past-high-school kids came in night after night to learn, to share, and to play, who made ridiculously cool and silly crafts and more importantly created strong and lasting friendships.

Most importantly, the community has continued to grow and reach out on its own. Though I cried when I left, I’ll admit that I cried harder the day that James called me to tell me that the kids had started taking on the role of the organizer. They had begun inviting new players. They were greeting the people coming in the doors, making new friends and connections. They were teaching the strategies, smiling at mistakes, and offering kindness and advice.

I want to tell you more about them in the future, because that journey and those transitions are moving and worthwhile (and hilarious) and I’m sure that I will, but I want to close with this:

The LPS/P4D community we built was important for two reasons that feed each other.

First, it significantly helps the shop. Not to sound mercenary, but more people staying l
onger means more money.
We all loved the shop so much that most people would buy something at least once a week (some of us with a pack-a-day habit). Hanging out at the shop is free, and so is the coffee, but there was the understanding that it was our responsibility to help make sure the shop stayed open so we could keep our home. There are more than a few members who helped upsell a game or bring new players to our favourite mental addictions, and continue to support the store in any way they can.

Most importantly for me, they were good for each other. People who barely made eye contact or spoke above a whisper in September were leaders and cornerstones of the shop by December. Kids who struggled to make a friend suddenly had new ones every time they walked in the door. I never saw a fight or bad sportsmanship. I saw stumbles and mistakes and tense moments, but as time went on the LPS/P4D crew learned to laugh through those moments and then reach out to each other.
I miss it every day. I know I’ll start another chapter, and someday my own shop. James keeps on me about making sure I don’t give up on that idea, and I was lucky to find two such stout friends in he and Scotty. We’re in contact every day, and I get regular updates about the shop, and how the LPS/P4Der’s are doing. “Wonderfully,” is the answer. There are few things in my career working with youth that I’m more proud of than the Nanaimo chapter of Lady Planeswalkers Society and Planeswalkers for Diversity; and there’s nothing I’m more excited for than our next adventures.

 

Arlinn Kord, Savior of Planeswalkers

Okay, maybe not that dramatic. However, the Magic Community and the Vorthos community today on just about all social media sang her praises, which is very strange to see. We got our first tidbits of the Shadows Over Innistrad storyline today as we learned of Arlinn Kord and then also Halana and Alena in Under the Silver Moon.  For a set I was kind of meh on to begin with, I’m certainly very excited from a flavor perspective now!

Anyway, like I said, social media was incredibly positive over both of these events, with the focus certainly being on Arlinn.  This pretty much summed up much of the reaction:

But it wasn’t just that we had a Werewolf Planeswalker. It is also part that Arlinn is a woman, with a practical outfit and then additionally doesn’t seem like our typically 15-25 year old looking Planeswalkers, meaning she opens up the demographic within Magic that has aged along side of it for 20 years.

This is key. We’ve had a wide array of characters presented to us across a lot of spectrums, with of course more to be covered, but all of our ‘aging’ or ‘middle aged’ main characters have been male.  Very few of our female characters are portrayed as ‘mature’, ‘old’, ‘or ‘experienced’.  This is a great thing!  This goes outside of the fantasy art and story lines of either telling the story of the maiden(Elspeth, Chandra, Kiora could all fit this) or crone (Mother of Runes, Fate Stitcher), but neglecting the middle.  So this is a great step forward in Magic being more inclusive to a little bit of everyone.

Other people were using Arlinn to replace long lost loved ones in the Vorthos community.  I mean, if we are going to ‘lose’ Elspeth, at least in the comic book sense, we may as well get something equally awesome out of it!

A couple of us went a bit to far into Tin Hat Story Mode, although I’ll laugh is this is the case:

Then there was the fight over what to call her. Wolf Mom seems okay, until you then realize that we automatically assign mom to women at that age, which I’m kinda iffy about.  It belittles people who took other paths and her own story.  It isn’t as if we called Sarkhan Dragon Dad or something silly like that.  Kiora is too ‘young’ to be called Kraken Mom.  So I like this guys solution:

He works for WOTC, so I think I can take it as Gospel.

On the other hand, we had Jack LaCroix who got to the real important things:

I guess everyone has their priorities, even if they don’t align with everyone’s.

And then we had the inevitable sads…

And of course we had this comment ‘all that matters is what is under the picture, I don’t care’

Screenshot 2016-03-02 at 6.34.25 PM

Dude, it is totes okay you don’t like pretty art and full rounded stories, but don’t take away from those of us who do, mmm’kay?  You can have your chatter time when the card is revealed, let us revel in our time! FOR OUR TIME IS NOW!  It isn’t like you are like Jack appreciating some other facet I don’t see, because we don’t know the card yet!

Some of us were doing useful discussion of a card, trying to figure out what she might be.  I’m on team Red-Green personally, but White-Green is also viable, as is perhaps just Red or just Green.  I don’t think we’ve gotten a new Red walker that isn’t Sarkhan or Chandra, so we could be due.  Now watch we get a curve ball thrown at us where she is one color or set of colors on one side, and the complete opposite on the other.  Although, that doesn’t feed in very well with keeping her mind post transformation.

Anyway, at a minimum, Arlinn has gotten everybody thinking about Innistrad in spectacular fashion and overall she is a hit with the community.

#NotAllManLands

The Magic community on Twitter recently revisited a discussion on what to call lands that can turn into creatures (e.g. Shambling Vent, Mutavault, Mishra’s Factory). Traditionally these had been called “man lands,” a semi-rhyming slang that has become fairly entrenched in the community.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa asked his female twitter followers whether the name bothered them, particularly when translating ‘manland’ to Portuguese make a feminine phrase.  Most said it did not, but many recognized there was something to it and some questioned posing the question this way.  It is important to realize that people can recognize things maybe aren’t optimal, and there is a need to improve, without it greatly affecting them in one direction or another.

The responses in favor of “manlands” broke down into three broad categories: (1) tradition, i.e. “We’ve always called them that.” (2) aesthetics, i.e. “Manland just sounds better.” or (3) semantics, i.e. “Man stands for human and is not gender exclusive.”

In truth, all three of these ultimately seem to collapse into the first.  Aesthetics, aside from being subjective, are more likely to grow out of familiarity more than any inherent virtue of the older name.

The semantic argument is also rooted in tradition. In older English style manuals, the male gender is prescribed default and it has indeed been used as a stand in for “Human” in traditional texts. However, on issues of inclusivity, appealing to tradition is rarely useful. After all, the very issue being addressed is the traditional lack of inclusiveness, so looking to the past is not a useful guidepost. It’s also worth noting that, other than Mutavault, none of the lands become Humans.

The last response that came up fairly often was, “Who cares?” Ultimately, as a poll on MTGDiversity’s own twitter showed, most of the participants (55% of 96 respondents) felt it was a small issue but a worthwhile one. But there’s room for a lot of space between “The Biggest Deal Ever” and “Literally Irrelevant.”

Ultimately, you aren’t being inherently sexist and likely aren’t directly offending someone if you say “manland”. But it’s also not discriminatory or offensive to cross your arms and sit silently when a new person enters your Local Game Store. Still, making this small change is a gesture toward inclusivity, a show of good faith, and a relatively low cost way to remove a small barrier to entry for those that the name does bother.

Instead of “manland” consider saying “creature land.” If you don’t like that, the MtG community has no shortage of quirky nicknames for things, so try lanimals, elementalands, ani-lands, critter land, or your own non-gendered way of referring to our animating land friends.

It can certainly be said that the Magic Community can and will adapt to change, it just has to be a unified effort.  Trying these alternate names on could be as simple as using them at FNM for an evening and getting people to discuss it more in depth.  Being an advocate for such change in your local community can change the community at large and make various people feel more included.

 

Thank you to Renee Hupp from Card Confidants for contributing to this article. 

Peek #17 : Violet Edgar

 

Violet Edgar is a Level 2 Magic Judge and American expat living near Stuttgart, Germany. She’s transgender, and credits Magic and Judging with giving her the confidence she needed to come out as such. She is a champion of diversity in Magic, especially for LGBTIQ individuals, and was recently interviewed at Grand Prix Utrecht. More information about her can be seen in that interview here.

       p4d: How did you start playing Magic: The Gathering?

Violet: I first learned about the game from the June ‘95 issue of Computer Gaming World where they were previewing the Microprose game. I instantly knew I needed to try the game, and, a few months later, I discovered a few people in my high school who played. I’ve been hooked ever since!image-1
Which I just realized, was almost exactly 20 years ago. Happy Magicverssary to me!

       p4d: What would you like to see Planeswalkers for Diversity accomplish?

Violet: I think one of the limiting factors to how many people of various minorities attend Magic events is a perceived image of “the average Magic player”. The image of the unkempt, socially awkward Magic player who sneers at women and flips tables has become somehow ingrained in pop culture. And I’d like to see P4D help change that perception.

       p4d: Have you ever struggled during judging with people not taking you serious because of being a woman or because of being trans?

Violet: I can’t say I have, at least not yet. People in the communities I’ve judged in so far have been, on the whole, friendly and respectful. I’ll be interested to see if I have any issues with that in the future as I judge more events, especially GPs, where people from different cultures might have different attitudes toward LGBTIQ folks.

 

       p4d: How do you think the Magic community could become more open to new and diverse players?

Violet: I feel that there are three big factors that are keeping Magic from being as diverse as it could be: There are systemic biases keeping minorities out of the game, there is a lack of representation of minorities in the public face of the game, and there are hostile environments that sadly persist in a lot of places the game is played. The first problem is a social one, one that we can all individually do our part to fight against. While we can do our part to improve visibility by being present at events and holding P4D events at our local stores, the big picture is only going to change with the support of Wizards and the bigger sites and TOs – which is, thankfully, already starting to happen.

The third, though, is something that the P4D and the community at large can actually change, and should work hard to. Look at their own behaviours, the spaces they play in, the way they treat players of minorities, whether intentionally or not. A little bit of self-reflection can really effect a lot of good, and I encourage as many people in the community as possible to do just that.

 

       p4d: Do you think that Magic could become for others what it was for you and help them find their inner strength they may need, whether it be for their sexuality, gender identity, or even things as simple as dealing with their anxiety?

Violet: I absolutely think it can! Magic is many things to many people, but for a lot of folks it’s very much a way to express themselves, to meet other people in a friendly, safe environment. I’ve heard countless stories of people who have overcome shyness and social anxiety, depression, family issues, and many more personal obstacles thanks to the game and the community that surrounds it. I hope more people can find their inner strength, their voice, as a result of playing the game, and I try to do my best to show people that that is possible.

p4d: Where can people find you online?

Violet: I have a blog at rainbowvale.wordpress.com, I also tweet @MTGViolet, and I can be contacted through the p4d Facebook group. If you’re a judge, you can also reach me through JudgeApps, and, if you’re not a judge, you can get in touch with me and I can help you change that.