Why Women Are Seen Differently In Magic the Gathering Compared To World of Warcraft

5 Apr

Typically when I write a blog post it usually consists me of telling you how it is and then you comment to either expand on what I have just put out there or to say that you respectfully disagree and why.  In this case, I wanted to write a blog post because I don’t know why something is the way that it is and I am hoping to start some discussion to find out for myself.

About two months ago I started playing Magic the Gathering again.  I felt like I had the time and the interest in playing another game, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to play another computer game.  I really missed social interactions with people that didn’t involve sitting behind a computer screen and having to wear a headset.  I started to remember all the good times that I had playing the Magic the Gathering and I was curious to see if I could recreate that magic (no pun intended) all over again.

Back when I quit playing, which was around 1998, Magic was a very different game – especially for women.  I remember being the only girl at the card shop.  I remember reading Duelist magazine and seeing that all of the writers, all of the authorities on how to play the game were men.  I remember seeing special edition decks that would be released with the names of tournament winners and all of them were named after men, too.  There was nobody for me to look up to.  There was nobody around that I could relate to.  It was very frustrating for me, especially as I was starting to enter my early teenage years, I was extremely conflicted about my sexuality and my gender identity, and I already couldn’t relate to my peers for various reasons.

I was quite surprised with how much things had changed in the course of 14 years.  Women were reaching the top 10 rankings in various high end tournaments and sometimes even winning them outright.  The Friday Night Magic event that I attend regularly is comprised of about 50% women – some of whom may happen to show up with their boyfriends or other male companions, but who are still extremely skilled and knowledgeable in their own right.  Women were contributing articles to various blogs and magazines at the same rate and at the same skill set as their male counterparts.  It was incredible to see and it made me even more motivated to come back to the game and to see what I could accomplish for myself.

Unfortunately, the examples listed above are still very much exceptions to the rule.  Magic the Gathering is still very much a men’s game.  This is something that most people in the community will freely admit to.  For as much as people might say that World of Warcraft still has a long way to go, with regards to how women are seen or are how they are treated, it is still leaps and bounds ahead of where Magic the Gathering is today.

What I want to know is why.

Here are my thoughts on this.

Internet anonymity.

It is no secret that people tend to feel more uninhibited or more comfortable with themselves when they are sitting behind a computer screen and not actually having to converse with someone in a face to face manner.  Some people choose to channel this in really positive ways, as in they feel like they can truly be themselves, while others choose to go in the opposite direction with this (e.g. The Internet Dickward Theory).  Regardless, there is something to be said for not having a total stranger sitting in front of you who you do not know and who you are expected to engage in conversation with.

Throw in an extremely competitive tournament setting, where you know well ahead of time that you are going to be one of the only women present, where you are seated very closely to people on either side of you who you do not know, where casual observers might approach you with unsolicited advice in the middle of a round, and where time restrictions are strictly  enforced, and you have all the makings for a potentially stressful situation that would deter most women from even making the effort to participate in such things.

Compared to a Magic the Gathering tournament, participating in a World of Warcraft raid or battleground may seem like a much safer option.  You can sit in your own chair and group up with people that you know and who you are comfortable with.  You can wear more comfortable attire, like your pajamas or your sweats, and bring a snack (or even a drink).  You are most likely playing in your home, your bedroom, your office – your sanctuary, of sorts.  There is a lot of comfort to be had from those trappings that being out in the open in a Magic the Gathering tournament can’t provide you with.

Tangible rewards.

Some would say that the reason why Magic the Gathering seems so much more competitive than World of Warcraft is because the stakes are higher.  People who become very good at Magic can win trips, money, endorsements, trophies, and other sorts of prizes.  These people actually have something tangible that they can gain (or lose) by taking part in these tournaments.  In World of Warcraft, the best guilds typically end up with bragging rights, achievements, special mounts or gear, but the rewards aren’t tangible.  You can’t actually touch these things or show most people what you have won for completing such feats.  On the other hand, cash prizes and actual physical trophies or plaques are things that everyone can understand the significance behind.

With that said, the World of Warcraft trading card game (which bears a lot in common with Magic the Gathering) also offers some tangible rewards, as well.  Yet that game is still considered to be rather casual and inviting towards all different kinds of players in a way that Magic the Gathering still is not.  So maybe it is something else.

The community.

World of Warcraft has one of the most vocal communities out there.  There are hundreds of blogs devoted to the game, from people who raid casually, to those who don’t raid at all, and everything in between.  Sites like Blog Azeroth and WoWInsider act as hubs, or ways to bring the community closer together, and as ways to spotlight voices in the community that may be worth paying attention to.  Podcasts also pop up from people with different takes on all things World of Warcraft, again some from people more experienced with such things and some from others who may not be.  At the end of the day, there is something for everybody.  You really can find something that represents you and that speaks to you.  We have just about every niche filled and if we don’t, there is always room for someone to come along and fill that niche themselves.

From the brief time that I have spent delving into the Magic the Gathering community the opposite seems to be true.  The only people blogging or doing so with any sort of visibility appear to be those at the upper echelons of the game.  The same decks are covered over and over, along with deck ideas that exist solely to beat said deck in a competitive setting.  You don’t see anyone at a more approachable level talking about their experiences and what they may have learned.  The barrier to entry is quite high for these activities.

The game isn’t sold in these formats in such a way where it makes you feel like you too could take part in the action.  It does contribute to the feeling that you need this many DCI points, or this win under your belt, or this deck in your box to be worthy of having a blog or a podcast worth listening to.  And that’s not to say that the authors or podcasters themselves are solely responsible for this.  The audience determines what makes it and what doesn’t.  And if the audience decides that they only want to see people who are successfully taking part in these endeavors, then those are the blogs that you are going to see more prominently.

So what do you think?  Why do you feel like Magic the Gathering is still behind, when it comes to how women are seen, compared to a game like World of Warcraft?  Maybe you feel the opposite.  Let’s talk about it!

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28 Responses to “Why Women Are Seen Differently In Magic the Gathering Compared To World of Warcraft”

  1. tomaj84 April 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Great post! I do have a question, though (and very possibly because I misread something, and could use some clarification).

    You say that there are about 50% women present, but then go on to say “one of the only women present” – this implies that there’s a massive majority that are men. Is this relating only to tournaments then, or on a general basis? If the latter, then why the two conflicting statements?

    That said, I think that it comes from gender roles and how we are trained as society to like certain things, and dislike other things, at least in part. For sure, many women aren’t interested in trying new things (e.g., M:tG) because they’re pressured that they have to fit into either the Susie Homemaker role, or the stand-up breadwinner role, or the hot supermodel role, or whatever else. Gaming is not a thing that is advertised as something that women can or should do; as such, they generally don’t, because in part, those outside influences don’t exist. This isn’t the whole of it by any means, but this is definitely a part of it.

    • Oestrus April 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      Friday Night Magic is not the same as a tournament. You typically don’t pay money to come play at an FNM event, whereas you do pay money to enter most tournaments.

      They are very different beasts, as I learned recently. Think of it like healing a Normal mode raid versus a Heroic mode. With a Normal mode, you show up. You make sure nobody dies. You don’t really break a sweat. You’re trying, but you’re not exerting yourself.

      With a Heroic, you may spec differently for it. You sit upright in your chair. You really bring your A game. That’s sort of how it is here. People come to FNM to see if their decks will stand a chance in a higher format. Or they come for fun, and if they win something, too – that’s great.

      Hopefully that clarified the difference there. You are more likely to see women (plural) at Friday Night Magic than you are at a serious tourney. Hence the mention of being the only one at an event. I was referring to a more serious tournament.

      • tomaj84 April 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

        So in short, yes, just tourneys. ;P Thanks for the clarification. 🙂 (Though, interesting choice of analogy.)

        • Oestrus April 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

          I didn’t know how else to break it down!

  2. Pete April 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    I think part of it is that women have always been involved in some respect of MMO community. Everquest and WOW have always had a reasonable amount of women involved… Magic, while having plenty of female players… really hasn’t seen them shoot to the public eye as they have this year. You always see girls at events (depending on the city), but having them rise from a “player’s girlfriend who happens to also play a cute elf deck” to “Pro Player who will beat your face” could very well be seen as some kind of a threat to the insecure. I welcome our new female Pro tour overlords…

    • Oestrus April 5, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

      I welcome our new female Pro tour overlords…

      This comment was literally the highlight of my day.

      I could not agree more. Bring on the lady overlords!

  3. Noëlle April 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    It’s interesting to think of the difference in the treatment of women as Magic as having a (tall but not insurmountable) barrier to entry, and of WOW as having (uncommon but present) punishment for entry. This especially since from the perspective purely of entry into the game, Magic’s barrier is so much higher. We’re beyond the days where Magic cards were sold alongside baseball cards in grocery stores and convenience stores (at least, we are where I live) – in fact, I don’t even know where I would get Magic cards in my town if I wanted them. World of Warcraft, meanwhile, has television and web ads, and can be had for less than a dollar at pretty much any store that sells DVDs or video games.

    In other words – getting into World of Warcraft can be done on a whim, without foreknowledge of the game. To get into Magic you essentially need to be (or have been, in your case) introduced, which does nothing to reduce the feeling that membership in its community is membership in a club.

    On the other hand, the barrier works both ways. In World of Warcraft, it’s difficult to tell the people who just joined to hang out with their friends from the people who have been subscribed since November 2004 and want to be super-competitive World First raiders; since anybody can just drop in, you have no idea whether the Night Elf you’re playing with is the stereotypical mother of three, getting some alone time after the kids are in bed, the stereotypical guy in his mother’s basement, shouting up for more grilled cheese sandwiches, or the girl sneaking online on her laptop, after her mom’s gone off for some quiet time, killing a few more kobolds before bed. (Yes, those are vast stereotypes and aren’t meant to encompass even a small fraction of players; it was an illustration.) And many people just assume the worst – that since anybody can drop in, anyone they haven’t met before has just dropped in.

    In Magic, though, the people who are in the community are there because that’s where they want to be – since the barrier is higher, they need specific interest in order to surmount it. So the Magic community, by nature, will tend to be filled with people who want to be there, rather than people who just dropped in on a whim. As you said on Twitter, the people in the Magic community are often more interested in strategy and deck composition than the identity of the person they’re playing against – “I think most players just see everyone as a deck of cards.”

    To summarize: the difference between WOW and MTG on the subject of new female players is that in MTG, the prevailing opinion is “okay, can she play?” and in WOW, the prevailing opinion seems to be “okay, she can’t play”. (This is a subset of the general opinion on new players – “okay, can they play?” vs. “okay, they can’t play” – but it seems to be a little stronger when it comes to female players, for reasons that are well-tread elsewhere.)

    Wow, that comment was longer than I meant it to be…

  4. David Wolfe April 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Your thoughts on women in tournament Magic settings ring true. The tournament community has maturing to do when it comes to accepting women.

    However, your post seems to primarily focus on the competitive aspects of Magic. Just like in World of Warcraft there are significant casual elements as well; most Magic games played are unsanctioned. There are many more casual Magic players than competitive ones, and perhaps you are the type of player who would enjoy casual play more than sanctioned. I know I do.

    The difficulty there is that finding or making a casual play group is harder than simply showing up to a Friday Night Magic tournament. Still, I would give it a shot if you find the competitive scene intolerable.

    • Oestrus April 5, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      Hi David,

      On the contrary, I never said that I found them to be intolerable. I’m excited at the idea of learning how to be better and to build decks better so I can maybe try for something more serious in the future. I’m planning on going to GenCon in August and signing up for some tournaments there.

      Like I said, I wrote the post because I saw and have seen a very obvious difference in how women are perceived between the two games that I enjoy and I wanted to know why that was. I agree with you that more casual environments and even games you throw together yourself can be more inviting towards women. The same goes with scenarios that you can organize yourself in World of Warcraft.

      Unfortunately, you’re not always going to be able to play in “bubbles” like that. You are going to visit card shops where you don’t know anyone, or play in tournaments where your friends can’t always be near you. In times like those, you may feel like you’re more on your own in Magic the Gathering than you would if you were playing World of Warcraft. That’s the way I see it, at least.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. karmakin April 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Eek I had a bit of a comment but I lost it. So shorter version.

    I think where the similarities lie between WoW and Magic, is terms of local community structures. If people find a good, welcoming guild or even a server (but I doubt that exists at this point), then it’s easier for players who might not normally play MMOs or even games (my old WoW guild had quite a few players for who WoW was literally the only game they played. Most of these were women, but not all of them). Likewise, good local playgroups or Local Game Stores provide welcoming environments, for example my own is seeing good growth, with a higher % of new players being women. However, I’ve seen other LGS’ that are more on the misogynistic side (but it’s more than that…it’s more about being on the side of jerkdom)

    That said, it may be a big problem in general that there’s very little media/focus on moving from low-level play to medium-level play, from a theory side for Magic. It might be that laying down all the concepts is something that nobody ever really thought of, or assuming that it’s all obvious. Even on the Mothership there’s an assumption that everybody just knows how to play “correctly”, or will practice and eventually gain through osmosis those skills. Maybe someone should start to write from that perspective and try and lay things out :p. (My wife is having a hard time making that jump, because she’s a theory person. I think I might try my hand at writing some articles regarding that).

    • Oestrus April 5, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

      Hi Karma,

      You do bring up a really good point about there being a lack of resources for beginners or people who are on the road to getting better or good enough to start playing Magic at a higher level of competition. I agree that a lot of the blogs or places to go nowadays assume that you are either already there or you know just how to get there.

      The only thing I’m curious about is if that is a reason why there isn’t a strong female presence in Magic at the higher levels. Obviously male players are dealing with the lack of resources that can help them get there or show them the way, so I would think women could get by without those things, too.

      I’m certainly not trying to be inflammatory. I’m just trying to understand how that reason would be the reason why more women aren’t playing competitively. It sounds like you could be saying that they need those things, when maybe they don’t.

      Let me know what you think.

      • Frankie April 5, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

        I think your information about women playing magic and your question about competitive Magic players are less related than you think. You’re relating the number of people you view to playing any type of magic to the number you see at the very highest level of tournament play. The reality is that, thought they are all magic, they are very different things.

        Magic has many different levels of inticacy and play, and different players are satisfied by different levels of involvement. For most, the game is played for the fun, creative, social aspect; the chance to hang out with friends and see what decks they thought up. This is the casual level, where there is no “format”, people don’t buy cards from online, and people rarely care about winning or losing. As players immerse themselves more into the game, they start to attend weekly tournaments, FNMs, and maybe some prereleases or Game Day tournaments. They start to care about winning, out-thinking other players, and might try their hand at a few PTQs or Starcity Opens, but for them it’s still just a hobby. This is as far as most players go. It’s not thet they’re not good, it’s just thet they’re happy at that level.

        Finally, we come to Professional Magic players. These are the guys who always seem to draw their best cards. They can come to the tourament with the same deck as most of the field and run circles around the competition. They are the greats, and everyone knows it. They see magic differently, because to them it is different. It’s their way of life. Sure, they still have fun at tournaments and love catching up with their friends there, but they’re there to win. Every little choice matters; every card interaction, every attack, the way they word their plays, it’s all calculated. It’s no longer “Just Magic”.

        So getting back to your question on why there aren’t many competitive magic players. It’s because Magic is hard! It takes years to get to that level, and you can’t get there just by playing. You have to train, and focus, and most importantly CARE. A LOT. And. Most players don’t care. Not because they don’t want to win, they just don’t really WANT it, ya know? Like, they want to be great, but how many are willing to but forth hours of focused playtesting? How many are willing to not play their favorite, because it might not be their best? Not a lot. It’s like Basketball. How many people are content just playing at the gym with their friends, and how many are willing to sacrifice hours of training each day to get on the NBA? If it’s not what you care about, then why would you?

        I think the question of “why aren’t there more competitive female Magic players” isn’t a good question. I think a better question is “why aren’t more female magic players Competitive?” Or maybe even “who cares how many competitive female magic players there are?” I think the fact that we have competitive female players says that it’s possible. So do female magic players really care about being competitive? I mean, do they WANT it? If so, then do it!

        Frankiemach@hotmail.com

      • karmakin April 5, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

        I’ll be honest, I think a massive chunk of it has to due to female-based pressure. Gaming simply wasn’t something that women did, by and large. It wasn’t socially acceptable, and while some of that was coming from men, of course, a whole lot of it (possibly more) was coming for women. Doesn’t make it not sexism, of course.

        That’s changed over the last 2-3 years in a big way. It’s much more socially acceptable to game (and to generally have geek interests in general) than it was. The problem is that you won’t see the biggest part of the end result for a few years in top-level competitive Magic, because of the amount of time it takes to gain the skills to be a top player. In most cases, it takes playing for several years before you “get there”. There are exceptions…kinda..but generally getting there is nowhere close to quick. That’s why I put the focus on presenting inviting LGS environments. That’s the key in the short-run. Getting women in to play FNM is MUCH more important than getting women in to play in GPs.

  6. Lynesta April 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    So since my work laptop ate my original comment here it is again (while I try not to get auto logged out of beta on a full sever)

    I think it comes down to the individual corporations support.
    For example I know one of Cryptozoic’s main goals is to cater to the casuals to make it generally easier and more comfortable for new players to start playing.

    This may partly go back to what one commenter said regarding how gender roles are so defined by society. Girls “cant” be nerds, so they seek out other forms of entertainment.

    Since its more “main stream” to be a girl that plays games now and more widely accepted as “ok” I think you see more and more girls trying to learn to play these games that they’ve been interested in for however long.

    Again it comes down to a corporate support thing.
    Cryptozoic (WOWTCG) blatantly goes out of its way to make “starter decks” for new players to use that are easier to play and understand than top tier decks.
    Wizards and MTG to my knowledge don’t do anything like this, nor do they have any plans to, and have a track record of being vastly more expensive to get good cards than WoW does, which deters a lot of new players.

    The other thing is that it seems like our top tier players are relatively more open to newbs than MTG’s. I always felt like I was getting looked at down the end of someones nose when I talked to MTG players. Even when demoing they seem to have this air of superiority over you – even when you know your shit and can compare things to a game they understand.

    I’m not saying all MTG players are like this, but the vast majority that I’ve encountered are.

    While this may not be a huge turn off to men, because maybe they can cope with it better or can just throw it back in whoevers face – I feel like maybe women, even those who want to play competitively, are just not appealed by this attitude.

    If I’m going to learn to play a new game, I want a pro player to be enthusiastic about having new and different competition. I don’t want them to be snide and ask me if I learned to play this game to get boys, or if I learned to play this game for the money, or if I learned to play this game for x, y, or z (and I do get asked this a lot generally by players of MTG)

    The short version: Wizards simply does not support to new playerbase they could have, and their community of players doesn’t either. It’s a trickle down effect.

    How this effects women directly its hard to say – but I feel like if it were easier to get into a game it would be easier to excel at a game, and it would be easier if women weren’t constantly put down for being a female playing a game.

    • Frankie April 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

      I cannot disagree with you more on this comment. There are many avenues for new players to get into the game and advance their play. Wizards provide stores premade decks to hand out for FREE to teach new players the ins and outs of the games. For each set that’s released, Wizards produces at least 5 preconstruced theme decks, along with tips on how to advance and play the deck. They also release more advanced theme decks with rarer cards (called Event Decks) so players can get into competitive tournaments. And to top it all off, they have a MTG game for the PS3, 360, and for the computer (Duels of the Planeswalkers) that has customizable decks, multiple difficulties, and online play.

      As for the players not supporting newcomers; Magic players love their game. It makes no sense for them to not want it to do well and grow. Pro players would not write articles or make videos if they didn’t care about the players. Local stores cannot grow (or survive for that matter) by not introducing more people to the game. That being said, many communities are not always the most open to newcomers. This is true in all areas of life, not just Magic. Don’t be discouraged if players aren’t trying to be your best friend when you first go to a shop, as they don’t know anything about you. Gice it some time, show them you’re serious and are willing to roll with the punches, and they’ll open up to you more.

      • karmakin April 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

        To be honest, I thought the event decks were fine…then I saw the new starter decks brought out for Legend of the Five Rings. Holy canoozle. That’s an attractive product.

        I do think that WotC has to, if they want the growth, mess up the collector/investor/speculator a bit and improve the consistency and power of those products. A big problem with increasing the power of Intro decks is that then they’re no longer comparable and may be overpowered at a casual level, which would be bad for other people as well. Event decks would probably be fine, but again, if they make them TOO good then people just buy up all of them for the good cards and they can’t get to the people who need them.

        I really don’t know how to solve this.

  7. Azuriel April 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

    Your comparison seems odd.

    Yes, there are obviously many women in the hardmode raiding bracket (although… 50%?). But cooperative raiding is not the same as professional competition. What you should be comparing is MtG’s Pro Tour breakdown and WoW’s Arena breakdown. How many women were in the Battle.net 2011 Invitational? I don’t actually know, but I’m willing to guess “not many.”

    As for why that may or may not be the case, I dunno. Could be disinclination, could be social/society pressures, could be exploitation of insecurities to gain advantages (e.g. men preying on the self-consciousness of women in those environment to gain an edge), could be anything. Probably the only way to encourage more female participation in the upper levels of gaming competition is to make it so that women competing at those levels in these hobbies isn’t newsworthy (i.e. it’s expected, normal). Maybe it happens over time, maybe it never happens.

  8. spinks April 6, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    I used to play pen and paper RPGs a lot and noticed the same thing about female participation, especially at gaming conventions. It was puzzling to me then and it’s puzzling to me now, since I don’t see roleplaying as being a particularly male activity and I’ve always had several women in my groups. I’d say RPG conventions are on par with computer gaming conventions for how few women attend.

    So I’m going with a mixture of “it’s how the game is advertised and presented”, and “fewer women interested in the ultra-competitive end of the spectrum, which happens to be best represented by social tournaments/ functions.”

    Now, in comparison, sci-fi conventions tend to be around 50% female from what I’ve seen. It’s a massive massive culture difference, and women are equally involved (if not more) in the planning and organising as much as attendance. These conventions also, probably not surprisingly, tend to be more family friendly with more sessions for kids. But here’s the thing: if a sci fi convention includes a gaming room (ie. boardgames and card games), it gets well used by both male and female attendees. So if you plonk a bunch of geeky women down and leave some games around, they’ll certainly play them.

    Now the ethnic representation is another whole issue, and computer gaming in particular seems more diverse in that respect than cards or board gaming, from what I have seen.

  9. antlergirl April 6, 2012 at 3:35 am #

    One of the reasons I never got into Magic was just because there weren’t any other girls around to play it with. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind playing against the guys, but they get uber-competitive at times and when I just want to learn it, it can be a bit much. It’s the same when I’m trying to play Warhammer Fantasy or 40k, I try to cram those rules in my head, but there are always 10 guys fluttering around me ‘trying to help’ and it’s just driving me insane (especially when a debate breaks out among said guys about certain rules). I think it would be easier for girls to get into games like that if there were some more females playing it and being head figures of the community, but that is my personal preference. In the meantime you’ve got me interested in magic again… mmm how to pick it up again will be the question 😉

  10. dangdangfool April 6, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    I wanted to Comment, but I filled this little box so quickly, that I switched to writing an entire blog post.

    http://kallixta.blogspot.com/2012/04/different-experiences-with-magic.html

  11. clra2 April 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    I don’t know if you follow the Starcraft 2 scene but recently at IPL4 (which is a HUGE tournament if you dont follow) a female Canadian player that goes by the tag Scarlett made an amazing run through the open bracket, beating some top pros (including a few Koreans). I thought it was wildly impressive and hope for more transgender stories in gaming. I’m not a girl but I’m all for breaking down stereotypes whether it be in gaming or in sports (ie Jeremy Lin).

  12. blackvises April 30, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I’m a female MTG player who briefly dabbled in WoW for a few weeks years ago, and actually have been blogging on and off about my experience as a woman playing in this heavily male dominated field (the address is http://pinkvise.wordpress.com/ if anyone’s interested). It’s always nice to see other people delving into this topic, and haven’t seen a direct WoW vs MTG type of post before.

    I think there’s a lot of reasons for the gender gap in both games, and how gender is perceived. MTG is a complex game; unless you play online you have to seek out other people to play with, the rule book is giant, even after you get the basics if you want to play at an FNM event there’s yet another set of rules to abide by, AND then depending on the social climate of the shop there’s a ton of gender stigma. Compare that to WoW where you can sit alone at home anytime of the day, a computer will let you know instantly what you can and cannot do, and people don’t even have to know your gender unless you care to share that. One of the above options sounds a lot more approachable to beginners, regardless of gender.

    When you start MTG, you suck. You suck if you’re playing with friends, you probably suck even more at FNM. It takes a lot of time, energy, networking, and mistakes to move out of the suck zone and into the ok zone, and even more to move into the good zone. If you’re a woman chances are good people assume you sort of suck anyways because at least in my area most women who play are beginners. These people’s assumptions will be reinforced if you are a beginner, and instead of focusing on the fact you are a beginner who also happens to be female they focus on the fact you’re a female and equate that to suckage. Most people (including women) don’t like losing, and so they don’t stick to the game and never get better, creating a vicious cycle of assumed suckage based on gender. WoW during the brief time I played it was very easy to pick up, very fun, and it was much easier to quickly feel like you’re getting better at the game. Compare that to my first few months at MTG where I felt ashamed because I went 1-3 or 0-4 at FNM and only my stubborn pride and desire to do better kept me at it.

    So, not only is MTG difficult to learn and you help enforce stereotypes simply by being a beginner who happens to have breasts, you get to deal with the joys of face-to-face social interactions where you are often the minority. Male players as a whole have been really amazing people. Most of them are very supportive, welcoming, and kind to me as both a woman and when I was a beginner. Then you have the few bad apples who either make things extremely awkward or are down right disgusting. I have been asked countless times for my phone number, dinner, movies, etc. Sure, I’m single and don’t mind a date here and there, but there’s a time and a place for it. Asking me when I’m there to play a game I take fairly seriously, in front of a ton of people who I consider my friends, is just awkward. This is especially true if the offer comes totally out of the blue. Then there is the time when not only a guy who cheated on me but also a married man with kids who asked if I was interested in engaging in rather unseemly interactions with him showed up to FNM. Four rounds of Swiss turned into four rounds of character building and it was my stubborn pride and obsession with the game that kept me there. How many people regardless of gender would actually sit through that just to play a game? My experiences are probably a bit more extreme that many female players, but I’m sure similar situations do occur and it takes a pretty hardcore interest in a game to stick to it. Again, compare that to WoW where it’s easier to hide your gender, fend off unwanted attention since they probably live 3k miles away anyways, and if things get super bad you can probably (I’m not sure of this, just assuming) just block people you don’t like.

    The issue is very complex and all of this is just based on my own experiences and speculations of the games. I think women probably feel more comfortable and safer playing a game like WoW which is more on their terms; you basically learn at your own pace, it’s easier to learn in the first place, your gender is much less obvious, and it’s pretty much non-stop fun. MTG is complex, your gender instantly forces you into stereotypes, and you can easily be put into situations where the game becomes a lot less focused on having fun and a lot more on winning, which is a big difference.

  13. Adrienne Reynolds July 15, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Actually if you’re interested I’m quietly keeping my competitive journal for mtg on the web, I write up experiences, barriers to learning results, mistakes, nonsense that gets into my headspace and recently because of the gender nonsense : art reviews of the card art. I started playing seriously with Innistrad in Sept. and picked it up in February before for a school project. I did play a long time ago but it might as well have been a different game. If that’s the kind of writing presence you’re looking for I think the real problem is that unlike a computer game where individuals have a central communications hub they can spin out from mtg players have to FIND stuff and each other on the Internet with no curating, centralization or vetting so non-famous voices are invisible.

    Here’s the blog for the journal http://pseudonewbmtg.blogspot.com . I’m not really writing for anyone but myself but I admit I made it public because I didn’t see a voice female or otherwise writing about the learning curve experiences.

    • Skipper Lufkin November 12, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      Hi Adrienne, I loved your blog on Shock Lands. You may not be ready for the M:TG Comprehensive Rules but one of the first ones is 101.2 “When a rule or effect allows or directs something to happen, and another effect states that it can’t happen, the ‘can’t’ effect takes precedence.” This is why Farseek keeps Steam Vents from coming in untapped.

  14. Jenesis November 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    The online factor probably has something to do with it. IRL Magic can be very intimidating. If you want to play a big competitive event in WoW, you don’t have to drive out to a crowded convention center to play with a bunch of guys – you don’t have to see them, you don’t have to hear them (mute function), and you certainly don’t have to smell them.

    That said, there are other competitive fantasy-themed online games, like League of Legends, that (as far as I can tell – the message boards are absolutely toxic) also have a lopsided majority-male fanbase. I think part of the reason for this is that WoW, unlike M:TG and LoL, actually has a learning curve. A level 1 newb is not expected to be any good, or at least not as good as a level 50+ player. In M:TG the only thing you have to go on in judging a player’s skill is the cards they have and how often they win or lose, which leads to people making all kinds of baseless assumptions.

    From personal experience I don’t catch any flak for being a woman, which I assume is a combination of my androgynous persona, my play skill (I finish fairly well at local Competitive-level events), and the general community awareness that I’m a Level 2 Judge. I don’t deny there is a problem of sexism within the community though (sometimes I worry that if I enter a relationship with someone who is also a Magic player, people will make the “girlfriend assumption” about me). It bothers me when female characters on Magic cards have extremely revealing clothing compared to the guys. I wish I couldn’t count the number of high-profile female pros on the fingers of one hand. I don’t have an answer for how to change these things, other than a general call for the community to respect women, not engage in behaviors that actively drive women away (e.g. hitting on a woman or talking to her BF instead of her), and acknowledge that some women may like intensely competitive play, and some other women may want to only play causal with “pretty” cards like Elves, and neither of these ways to play is inherently better than the other.

  15. Cathy Boatman November 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    For anyone who is interested. This is a documentary I made discussing the role of women in competitve Magic play. Hopefully it can bring another new perspective to this convo! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75it7qcQdpc

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