Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Being a Girl and Magic: An Origin Story

This story is about how I got started playing Magic. I thought about writing what it's like to be a girl and to play Magic, but then I realized I don't know how other girls feel about it. There are so few girls playing Magic that I don't meet up with them to talk about it very much. And they're all so different anyway that there's no way to generalize their experiences. I can only speak for myself.

One of the reasons there are much fewer girls playing Magic is that they have more humps to jump over than guys who want to get into it. Let me point to an outside example. From a recent study, it was shown that the negative stereotypes surrounding computer scientists had a statistically significant impact on the number of females in the field. Computer science is a very lucrative major that leads to good paying jobs. But it's incredibly male-dominant right now. One of the reasons is apparently because ... well,

The picture speaks for itself. The same applies to Magic.

I'm not condemning nerds here. I am just saying that for many females, this stereotype of Magic being for smelly weirdos drives them away. The people they encounter who play Magic may drive them away from the game. And there are more humps than that to get over. I mean, that's just the beginning.

What allowed me to jump over all these humps -- well, that is the story I'm telling now.

Ultimately, it's not really much of a story. What it comes down to is that I'm truly passionate about gaming. But I didn't really discover competitive gaming until Magic came along and changed everything.

It started one summer more than two years ago when I came upon a bunch of my friends, sitting on the floor in a circle. They were slinging spells, and I guess I was confused. I asked what they were doing. When they told me, I scoffed at them and lavished them with insults. "What? You're playing Magic? Laaameee." Because that's how I react to anything my friends do. :/ It's what friends are for!

But also, I just didn't know a thing about Magic, other than that it was geeky and "lame." I figured, similar to World of Warcraft or Age of Empires, which are also games they played that I refused to touch with a ten-foot pole. So I berated them for weeks whenever I caught them playing this monstrosity.

I would eat my words later, though. And how!

It came to me suddenly. I was lying in my room, bored out of my mind. I wanted to play a game. But what? Out of boredom, I played some Yu-Gi-Oh on a Game Boy against crappy AI players. (I should probably be ashamed of this? Mostly I'm amused at myself.) It had so little challenge to it. So little real strategy. And it was RIDICULOUSLY repetitive. It was just something to pass the time. I wanted to play a card game, I realized. But an interesting one with depth. Where could I find something like that?

I decided I had to give Magic a whirl. I had nowhere else to turn.

So, being the kind of person to read manuals before starting new games, I immediately turned to the internet to find the rules of the game. I read the Basic Rules found on the Magic website. It took me a while, though. And when I told my friends I was reading the rulebook, they told me, "Just play! It's easier to learn while you play the game." But I wasn't the type to approach things half-handedly or "on the fly", so I at least finished reading the basic gameplay rules before starting.

Here, I have to be thankful for my friends. They were all Casual players basically. Except for one, Cheng, who was a bit Spikier than the rest. However he didn't contaminate the meta by playing broken decks -- in order to be fair, he also played with casual builds. This relaxed setting was best for learning the ropes. And because of the multitude of cards and decks being used, all kinds of rules situations came up. And this increased my exposure to unique situations, plays, and combos.

I don't remember the first deck I ever picked up. It might've been mono green or something. But I know that soon, I came to enjoy playing Slivers. I also liked Cheng's casual Boros build, which was a simple aggro build with a nice curve. I think on the low end, it had Boros Swiftblades. On the high end, I think it had one Razia, Boros Archangel. My first proxied "netdeck" was Relentless Rats with Thrumming Stone. I wanted to play with a bunch of Relentless Rats, but it wasn't until I discovered Thrumming Stone that I felt it would be viable. I proxied the whole thing with slips of paper. (I think I also proxied Dark Rituals. !!!) I swiftly discovered that no one appreciated this, and that I was annoying my playgroup by playing this deck, despite the fact I didn't really win with it all that often in a multiplayer setting. It was getting kind of boring, too, so I just disassembled it.

And THAT was probably my small first giant step into competitive Magic... even though it was still technically Casual. It was that small taste of power, but the road to real competitive Magic would be another long path with its own obstacles.

As an aside, if you've never heard of the Relentless Rats - Thrumming Stone combo, it works like this: when you play a Rats with Thrumming Stone out, it basically ripples through your entire deck, which is full of Rats, playing out every Rat in your deck. The 20 or so rats are all big-big. They swing. Opponent dies. Preeetty basic.

So at this point, the question comes up, where are all these obstacles that I should be facing? As a girl? Well I think many of them ran right under me by this point. I was at a Tech school surrounded by nerdy guys. These guys were not only my friends, they were just like me, a nerd. And they liked games. Going to a science and engineering school as a girl was already no small achievement. That's one barrier I crossed. The other was loving games and actively seeking out new games to play. The other was getting over the bad stigma surrounding Magic and just trying it. And the other was having good friends to help me along. I never would have started playing Magic if they weren't there first. So I guess I have them to thank... thanks, guys! (You've created a monster; how do you feel about this???)

These barriers were not even things I was aware of when I was starting out Magic, but these same barriers prevent other girls from sharing my experience. I think most girls need a nurturing type of environment to start playing this game. They need some encouragement beyond the norm.

Boys will walk into a comic book shop or a gaming store because they feel comfortable there; it's their zone. It's got the stuff they like in it already. It's got a lot of other boys to talk to and be friendly with. A girl has to have real BALLS to walk into some of these places by herself (pardon the phrasing :P). And even if she discovers guys playing Magic there and inquires as to what they're doing, what are the chances they'll ask her to join in with them? I don't know! I haven't encountered these situations!

So, from genuine experience, I can say all the girls I know that play Magic had someone introduce them to it. She didn't go up to a random playgroup and be like, "Sooo can I play with you guys and can you teach me the rules to this game that you're enjoying so much???" The MTG girls that I know have always had either a boyfriend, a group of friends, or maybe a family member teach them the ropes first.

And I think that's how it's going to be for a while, until Wizards or the Community or Both figure out a way to attract more female audiences. I hope they do, too! Sooner the better!

NEXT: My foray into the Competitive World of Magic !!!