Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting Girls into Magic

I wanted to post because Lauren Rae Orsini made a post recently entitled, simply, "Why don't more women play Magic?" Before reading any further, I would click that link and read the post - as well as the comments. Some high profile players have added opinions including Osyp and Adrian Sullivan. I assume more pros will chime in as the post gets around.

The question is actually divided into two parts. The first question is: Why don't more women try to play Magic? The second is: Why don't more women, if they play Magic, play in more competitive arenas?

Lauren touched on both of these questions. And I think she ultimately concluded that girls don't play Magic because of the competitive factor. She relates Magic to games that are more "hardcore" - like Halo. Other examples that come to mind are Starcraft, Street Fighter, and Counterstrike. But Magic doesn't have to be competitive. It can played in casual settings or with variants like multiplayer or EDH.

This is why I divide the question into two. There are probably more casual MTG girls than competitive ones, but I imagine the ratio is still really bad either way. And I don't think Lauren's end-explanation covers why more girls don't just play Magic casually amongst friends. There's something else going on.

As a game, I don't think Magic is that hard-to-grasp. There is an initial barrier where you have to learn the rules, the cards, and the interactions, but it's not a very difficult hump to get over if you really want to play. If women really wanted to play the game, they would go through the same motions that many males did to be able to sling cards. It is not a question of difficulty; it is a question of sufficient motivation.

Whenever a person says Magic is too complex to learn, I merely interpret that, as, "I don't have the time or motivation to learn this card game. I'd rather be doing something else with my energy." This is a perfectly acceptable reason to not play Magic.

But what would make more women give Magic a chance? What would convince them it's a worthwhile game to know how to play?

I think the first part of the answer is social reasons. If women found out their friends played Magic, they'd want to join in. If women found out Magic gatherings are "the place to be", they would probably learn to play just to hang out with other players. Magic is also a way to spend time with loved ones.

I think the second part is marketing. If WotC expressed more interest in increasing the female ratio, I'm sure they could achieve their goals. Changes in outreach, advertising, story, and flavor could all be used to gain female interest. Unfortunately, they seem to be continuing with what has worked for them - catering to their current market. If they are actively trying to gain female interest, then I haven't noticed.

As for the second question, why more women don't play Magic competitively... I think Lauren already made the relevant points.

I don't think girls want to turn into a total jerk just to play a game. They don't want to sacrifice their social value - they don't want strangers to turn into enemies. They are not likely to start wars over card games. And the Magic tournament scene can get pretty rough, especially at PTQs. It is not unreasonable to fear a tournament venue for this reason - I've probably taken my fair share of crap from people at events. 

My last several rounds of the PTQ were probably the least fun games I've ever played. (Except for the finals match because Elijah Herr was pretty chill.) People will try to fish, cheat, mind trick you, stall, and basically try anything to win. When Magic turns that corner, it goes into the Dark Side. It stops being fun. It is fun to try to "get" your opponent once in a while, but if you are constantly barraging your opponent with dickish behavior, it gets very annoying. And you always face at least one or two dickish people, for lack of a better term.

This leads into my final point. 

It is very important that the judges/supervisors, particularly at FNM, look out for people. As long as the judges are good people, they can control bad behavior. The judge or store owner is one of the key factors in how welcome girls will feel at FNM. More so than the player base.

If the judge or store owner is one of those people that automatically thinks men are better than women at games, dismisses the women in his store, or tries to hit on the girls that walk in, that's going to relay to everyone else the kind of behavior that is acceptable in that store. And then you're on a path to self-destruction. Good luck getting any more girls to show up.

If the judge or owner stops players from acting up, then girls will feel safer and more comfortable. As a girl, it's good to know someone's watching my back. I will add, however, that being over-defensive of girls can be bad, too. It's enough to know that girl-bashing is socially unacceptable.


Are there female MTG players that disagree with my above points? Probably. Everyone is different. There are so few female Magic players that generalizing them is impossible - we're a very unique bunch.

My hope is that more women start playing this game and realize how great it is. Whether casually or competitively. And I think once they realize that most players are actually very nice and that large tournaments really are "the place to be" to hang out with great people and make new friends... well, I won't have to write articles like this anymore! For one thing! :)

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