Winds of Change

This week, I sent this e-mail to the GM of one of my local LGS’s:

[name redacted],

Tonight, I went to your four-round Standard event. It’s a nice setup you’ve got going. It starts at six, and I can always count on the entire four rounds being played by 8:30. As a guy that works a day job, it’s really convenient.

However—and this isn’t your fault—the player base is skewed pretty heavily male. The average topics of conversation make me feel like I’m in a locker room sometimes.

In round one, I played a guy I’d played once before. He was very timid, but very nice. The match finished quickly, and I wished him well in the next rounds.

Fast-forward to round three. I’m sitting across from my opponent, and that same timid guy is there, now with his wife. Up to this point, they have had to endure the surrounding men talking about strippers (“there were tons of fat girls there, you’d have been in heaven! They need love too, y’know!”), how to talk to women (“how do I talk to a white girl?”), and their sex lives (“Ain’t no way I’m paying for sex; I have Facebook!”). I don’t get easily offended by this kind of stuff, being male, but I am cursed with this crippling condition called empathy, and watching this woman constantly steal sad glances toward the exit made me supremely uncomfortable.

As the two finally leave, she asks her husband, “which one is [name redacted]?” Her husband points him out, and she begins to have a spontaneous dialogue with him, about how she knows all about him telling her husband that, “it’s okay, I **** your wife all the time,” after a loss. This is the impetus for another regular at your store to yell straight to her face, “Oh, why don’t you go home and cry about it!” and she leaves, upset.

I play a few turns while the players all around me discuss what happened. They dismiss her, claiming that [player redacted]’s taunts are funny, non-threatening, and not to be taken seriously. There is an almost immediate consensus on this, and they quickly start making jokes about it to each other.

I say nothing, and, I’ll be honest—this might be why I’m so upset. I do still feel like this e-mail is warranted, though.

I’m about to win my match, when I tell my opponent, “you know what? I’m scooping. You win.”

“Ruined your mood, huh?” asked my opponent.

I just nod.

He just says, “yeah,” and I get the distinct impression that he wishes he could leave too.

I acknowledge that what happened to me tonight is not necessarily your fault, but I’m still totally furious. I didn’t name players because a) the names don’t matter, and b) you know who they all are anyway. It is really frustrating and saddening to me that someone could get treated this way in your store. Those guys still there won’t think about that again tonight at all. That couple, though? That single finite, sad, hostile interaction is going to dictate their whole night. And that is beyond unfair.

I’m not going to be back to your store for a while, at least until this problem and others like it are addressed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard racial slurs in your store. Like I said, these words don’t hurt me, but they hurt other people. There are those that will try and dismiss their crass language at jokes, but as it’s always been: no one gets to tell someone else how to feel. If words hurt you, they will hurt no matter how many times you’re told it’s all a joke.

The PTQ last weekend was incredibly well-run, and you guys did an excellent job, but I would not be able to walk in that store for a Magic event tomorrow with a clear conscience. I don’t want you to take that personally, because you’ve always done right by me, even though I worked at a competing card store for a while, and I totally appreciate that. I have a ton of respect for you for that; I’m not sure I could’ve done the same in your shoes.

All the best,

My girlfriend read this, and the first thing she said was, “take out the cursing,” so I did. Then she asked,

“What do you expect him to do?”

I still don’t know. All I really know is how frustrated and disappointed I was as I left the store. My mind kept going back to that couple, who were, at that moment, almost guaranteed to be arguing with each other, while the jackals I once shared a tournament with got to joke about it with each other and essentially dismiss it.

I wasn’t lying. I did like those Monday night tournaments, but in that moment, I’d lost them.

So I wrote a stupid, sanctimonious letter to a guy that’s been nothing but nice to me.

Now, it’s pretty clear to me that I was writing out of entitlement.

The recent conversation about gender equality in the Magic community has gotten, for lack of a better term, stuffy. Recent scores of guys espousing “real talk,” be it on Twitter or elsewhere, is a reaction to this. Finding a middle ground between ignorance and irreverence is more complicated than ever, but then again, you could say that at any time in history and be correct.

Magic’s player base is maturing. Stuff like Mark Justice’s revolt at PT-LA in ’97 is interesting to hear about now because it’s impossible to imagine it happening now. For better or worse, today’s pros are a bit more calculated in their actions, realizing that Magic looking professional is in their best interests, and that while leading a player mutiny can be very satisfying in the short term, it’s probably in the best interests of the Magic brand to not play host to open player rebellion. These days, cooler heads prevail.

As with all things, with maturation comes different responsibilities. Now that Magic’s maturing, a higher code of conduct gets placed on the shoulders of the players. I like to think that I associate with the kind of people that either don’t mind these responsibilities or just don’t notice them altogether. That’s not to say that there’s a considerably high amount of people that do mind these adjusted expectations. Before, Magic was a refuge from political correctness, where you could be as crass as you wanted. As more players from increasingly diverse walks of life discover the game, though, this once small, predominantly white male hamlet becomes more diverse. Fortunately, white males are known for their acceptance of change and diversity.

It’s easy to blame whoever’s spouting off hateful language or whatever and dismiss them as close-minded. It is infinitely harder to try and talk to someone and figure out what they’re actually pissed off about. I felt helpless and embarrassed on Monday night, but it’s important to acknowledge that I also said nothing at the time. I felt uncomfortable, but I kept my mouth shut and I sat with it, until a local erupted at a woman simply for asserting herself, at which point I left in a huff. I didn’t try and convince anyone that her point was valid, and that the remarks made regarding her were inappropriate, I just packed up my stuff and left.

Taking an authoritative stance is hard for me, especially with regards to how someone should behave. The fact that I like to curse a lot and try to be funny only compounds this—the few times I do try and tell someone they’re being inappropriate, I always, always get the response, “this coming from you?” from some dummy, at which point I decide to skip trying to explain what an ad hominem argument is and just drop out of the conversation altogether.

What I should’ve been doing was framing the conversation differently. Instead of trying to be authoritative at all, I could’ve simply asked questions and listened. But I didn’t, because that’s hard, and I’d rather be intellectually lazy than try and take an active role in bettering my community.

Trying to understand someone is hard enough; when they’re seemingly abrasive and ignorant, it seems more like a fool’s errand than anything else. Reaching out to these types seems like a waste of time, especially considering the alternative—doing nothing—is far easier, and I can’t even recommend trying; I’m not the “do as I say, not as I do” type.

However, if your local community is important enough to you, then by all means, try and open up lines of dialogue with the ones you find repeatedly making you feel uncomfortable. Groups often conform to themselves as quickly as possible; members of a local Magic tournament are no different. If someone in the group is talking in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re probably not the only one that feels that way. You’d be surprised at how much nicer a group feels to be in when you have more agency within it and you aren’t forcing laughter at the guy going, “I told [racist joke] at a GP and got a warning! So I says to the judge, [blah blah blah]!”*

See you next week.

Jon Corpora
Pronounced ca-pora

*actual thing that was said at my LGS


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