Why I Don't Play Magic Any More

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

There’s a really painful post going around called Tabletop Gaming Has A White Male Terrorist Problem, and it’s one of those essays where you think “Oh, that’s a clickbait title” and then the more you read, the more you walk away with this unsettling feeling that it’s not a clickbait title.
But basically, it deals with the fact that a lot of gaming stores have That Guy – or Those Guys – who really make it a rude and unforgiving place for women, and blacks, and gays.
Running into That Guy is a large portion of why I don’t play Magic any more.
I no longer have friends in the area who play Magic – so for me, going out to throw down some cards means hauling my socially-anxious self out in person to hang out with complete strangers.  (If you don’t have social anxiety, imagine Friday Night Magic as going to a four-hour long job interview where occasionally they play games.)
And when I’ve gone, there’s about a 70% chance I run into a bunch of dudes making gay jokes or some other really Not Cool gag.
And I’ve gotten so used to finding this sort of badness at the heart of Magic that it’s not fun for me to go.  I am, as noted, nervous as fuck among strangers anyway, and waiting for the nerve strike of Oh, will these nice people turn out to have the nasty underside is like being at the dentist knowing the guy has a bad habit of drilling right into the nerve.   It makes it even harder to relax.
So I don’t go.  And I’ll note that of the three shops I’ve been to that had the stereotypical Comic Book Guys making crass jokes, two of them have shut down, and I like to think that is in part because I refused to hand these schmucks money.
Now, I should add that the last prerelease I went to was perfectly fine, and from everything I’ve seen Magic has gone a long way towards cleaning up its act.  Magic’s had its first trans character, and gay couples, and has been working hard to expunge the usual boob-armor from its art.  Major Magic tournaments have gotten a lot more female-friendly from everything I’ve heard, and that makes me really glad.  The people at the top are very concerned about this sort of alienation.
But what I want is a local place I can go to to draft on a weeknight, and find people that I want to hang out with, and the local places tend to have a wider variance.  For me, Magic’s never been so much about the cards as it is the fun of hanging out with people playing the cards, and so going to various card shops in the hopes of finding buddies is kind of like auditioning for bands – yeah, I could play drums anywhere, but I want to play drums with people who make the kind of music I enjoy.
And there’s a grim part of me that goes, “Well, you should go to these wayward stores and change them!”  I should put on my Social Justice Warrior armor and get the fuck out there and if these people make the wrong jokes I should snap the fuck back at them and become one of the regulars and set the environment for the store until it’s friendly in the way I’d want to hang out with…
But the point is that I want to play Magic to blow off steam.  That sort of effort would be a job on top of the jobs I have now, and it wouldn’t be a hobby so much as a crusade.  I’d need another hobby to relax from the crusade.
(Some call that privilege.  Damn right it is.)
And you know, I’m not even the target.  Again, read that woman’s experiences – they’re not unusual, from what I’ve heard.  (Such tales are less common these days, thankfully, but they’re also not unheard-of.)  Some women thrive in some gaming environments, and I’m glad for them, but there’s also a lot of women and minorities and gays who have to endure the lovely experience of chewing tin foil in order to “enjoy” the game they love.  That sucks way worse than what I have, because when I get zapped it’s because I don’t like hearing insults directed at other people – when they get zapped, it’s insulting or harassing them directly.
Again.  For me, Magic’s about the experience of playing with people, and part of this is that I am a severe introvert and it’s hard for me to open up.  But given that, it’s not hard for some off-handed slur to make me think, Okay, I’m having enough problems talking to strangers, talking to stupid strangers isn’t worth my time.
Which isn’t really a problem to be fixed.  I’m writing for two to three hours a night to put out my next book, and I don’t have a ton of time for hobbies anyway.  I can get by without Magic – I miss it occasionally, and I watch the streaming Pro Tours like an old high school jock watching the game on TV, but for me the best stories involved people, not winning PTQs.
And not all people in gaming are bad.  Not all game stores are bad.  But enough of them have problems that it’s hard for me – someone who’s slow to make friends with strangers anyway – to know which ones have the folks I’d like to hang out with.
Saying otherwise is like knowing that one in ten McDonalds is going to serve you a snotburger and going, “Not all McDonalds!”  It is, factually, a true thing.  But if there’s no way to know whether this is the good McDonald’s before you unwrap the burger, then chances are you’re not encouraged to sign up for snotburger roulette.
Basically, racism and sexism and all the isms in gaming continue to be an issue.  It doesn’t tear me apart, because I have other hobbies I can get by with – but for others, who really need to get their RPG on, that’s a significant loss for them.
And I suspect that for many like me, there’s this soft tide pushing people away from gaming – yeah, we’d like to be a part of the local community, but some parts of that community are repellent and there’s no good way of knowing which places make us feel comfortable until we’re right in the middle of what could be a very unpleasant experience.
I don’t have a sweeping conclusion here. I feel like I should offer some grand, practical solution that rallies everyone to my glorious banner. But sometimes, it’s enough to go “Yeah, this is real, I’ve experienced it, and it affects me.”
It’s real. I’ve experienced it. It affects me.
That’s all.
(And if I had to recommend a game store I knew would be good, I’d go to Critical Hit Games – which is, unfortunately, 45 minutes away from me on the other side of town.  But on the occasions I’ve been there I’ve met the manager and his girlfriend and seen a really nice mixture of all sorts of people there, and I’d trust ’em.  If you’re closer to there, I’d give ’em a shot.)

9 Comments

  1. Lauren
    Apr 4, 2016

    Thank you.

  2. Eric
    Apr 4, 2016

    I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Shinji
    Apr 4, 2016

    Step 1–Move to Dallas
    Step 2–Go to Common Ground Games
    Step 3–Enjoy one of many, many shops in a growing list of places that do not tolerate that kind of crap.
    Sorry that you’ve had so many poor experiences. Many folks have. As a straight, white, male, I’d stand up for any non-straight, non-white, non-male (or otherwise) folks in the room. And I’d be in line behind a dozen others. Please know it’s not *everywhere.* There are places that pride themselves in being an open, inviting place. And business is booming!

  4. Sbinji
    Apr 4, 2016

    Or move to Denton, TX, and go to More Fun 🙂 Same as the above, just a further drive for me. I’ve taken 9-10 year old kids to both locations, and have been proud of my fellow Magic Players.
    Any more shout outs for places that do not tolerate Not Cool behavior? Let’s make this comment area a shout out to the stores fighting the good fight! Ferrett is not alone, and needs to know how many amazing places there are out there where he…where WE…are welcome and welcome others.

    • Dash
      Apr 5, 2016

      From TX too and also had nothing but fun in Grapevine, Colleyville, and Fort Worth. 🙂 The players there were very polite and fun. In Austin now and also wonderful MAGIC players here. <3 Much love for MAGIC in TX!! 😀 Fight the good fight and make sure it has plenty of mana

  5. Martha S
    Apr 5, 2016

    Greg and Grant work extra hard to make sure that behavior like that is not tolerated at Crit Hit. I wish you could visit us more at CHG, Ferret. 🙂 It was so nice getting to chat with you last time we were there together. Not to brag, but I was very excited this weekend when I went into the Saturday pre-release event to drop off lunch for Greg and saw how many girls there were at the event. I started to try to count and then realized that even though there were definitely more guys, for the first time ever at an MTG event I couldn’t sum up the number of girls at a glance and decided that it wasn’t worth trying to count during my quick stop. The guys there are worth their own mention as they are largely awesome and respectful and willing to have serious conversations about being inviting to under represented populations. It was such an exciting moment for me, personally, I really wanted to bring it up. I’d never experienced being able to go “Eh, there’s some number of other girls here” and dismiss it as irrelevant before. It was so NORMAL feeling.
    If you get the chance to stop by and play games some time, let me know. I will try to come play with you so you have someone who at least you have met ever to play with. 😀 I always enjoy some EDH and have a derpy standard deck too.
    Thanks for being willing to talk about this very real, very serious issue. I hope that someday it’s one that isn’t anymore and we can all notice that there are girls in gaming and go “Eh, whatever”.
    (In full disclosure, I’m said manager’s girlfriend. But it’s a topic that’s important to all of us closely involved with the store and I assuredly don’t represent them. If you don’t believe me, please feel free to ask the CHG patrons yourself!)

  6. Mark
    Apr 5, 2016

    Wow, that is a disturbing article. I can’t say I’ve observed this behavior too much when I used to play Magic in local tournaments, but that may very well be due to white male privilige. And I can’t remember too many women attending those Magic tournaments, while those that did attend usually went with their boyfriends or some other group of friends, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if women felt unsafe even though I haven’t seen this behavior in practice. Crazy to think that this woman was sexually assaulted and this is apparently accepted behavior. Makes me shudder.

  7. Dash
    Apr 5, 2016

    As a girl playing magic for a long time, I guess I got lucky? I went to many magic events and the only thing offensive at the comic shops and cons/tournies was the lack of deodorant?… It’s not always bad out there and I suggest playing magic still. If some idiot is being rude, believe me people will call them out quick.
    Don’t give up on MAGIC because some group of people made it stupid, just move on to the next comic shop, or find some people that are awesome and fun to play with <3 The internet has a lot of great spots to go to for groups. I can guarantee there are PLENTY out there. 🙂

    • Dash
      Apr 5, 2016

      Oh! I forgot to say that the place I work at has game night and a lot of us are similar and know each other. So it makes things less scary. Maybe a suggestion for those that are scared of meeting new people… I will bet a lot of people that you work with like MAGIC… just gotta ask 😉

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why Should We Listen To Anecdotal Evidence Of Harassment In Gaming? | Ferrett Steinmetz - […] some random dude’s Facebook comment in response to my “Why I Don’t Play Magic Any More” piece, where I spoke…
  2. Tracer Rounds: Don’t Be An Ass | GrogHeads - […] on MtG around the time Mirage was being released, so it’s been a while.  But it’s not hard to…
  3. MartinRalya.com & Yore | You can validate others’ experiences without invalidating your own - […] I read Why Should We Listen To Anecdotal Evidence of Harassment in Gaming? and Why I Don’t Play Magic…

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.