There’s a Magic: The Gathering tournament this Friday. I was invited because they want as many people as possible to come to the game and I used to play way back in the day. It’s been quite a while. I started playing in, what, 1996? I don’t even remember. But it was a long time ago. I played because my youngest brother wanted to play but needed someone to play with him. So we picked up cards, learned the rules and played. I’d sometimes even played with a few of his friends. It was addictive. Fun and addictive. I loved it.
Then, less than a year later, we heard about a tournament. First, it’s important to realize that we lived in a small town about 2 hours from the nearest city. This wasn’t going to be a big, official thing. Just a few folks getting together in the local strip mall and playing a round-robin game for a few extra booster packs.
I showed up, excited and hopeful to actually play with new people. The tables were filled with guys, all of them in their 20s or 30s. All of them somewhat overweight or with questionable hygiene (or in one case, both). I hovered at the edges, trying to figure out where I could register. Or maybe just watch a game or two. Immediate I was looked at with some suspicion and asked if I was lost. Then if I was looking for someone in particular. Then treated as some kind of bug they’d just stepped on when I mentioned I wanted to watch a game or two.
I was so summarily dismissed that I couldn’t bring my young, teenager self, to ask for a game. I couldn’t even watch, the players were so casually cruel and suspicious of my presence.
So I left
I didn’t play magic again until some time in 2002, over five years later, when I met another couple of women who also played Magic. And we had fun. We didn’t do much to buy cards because we were all quite broke, but we would play these lightning rounds where we’d randomly select two colours and have to build a deck in 15 minutes (45 cards), then play.
These games are some of my fondest memories of Magic. Fast games requiring building decks without being able to carefully match and compare cards. You had to think fast. You had to understand the core of the game without spending hours testing. You just had to act.
Then, for various reasons, we didn’t have much time so I didn’t play again until maybe 2005. And here I learned, again, that I wasn’t welcome much in the hobby.
Another set of players, all highly competitive men, who would build what they called “tournament” decks. These weren’t designed for fun, friendly games. They were designed to absolutely shut down your opponent as quickly as possible, exploiting any tiny little mechanic they possibly could. The players were indifferent to trouncing me. They were uninterested in explaining how they were building those combinations1 or in treating me more than an easy win to be able test a new deck.
They made fun of me for being so awful.
Now it’s 2013
I’ve been assured that this is a friendly tournament, not something highly competitive. There’s even a prize for last place. So I should be fine. I have nothing to worry about. No one is going to mock my lack of recent knowledge of the game or the fact that I never did play competitively. I should be fine.
But then I found out that I will be the only woman playing.2
At first, you may be thinking, why should that be a problem? I’m not going to be only woman present, so it’s not a question of being surrounded by only guys. And I know many of the other players and none of them strike me as the kinds of jerks who will make fun of my rusty skills as being the fault of my gender. In fact, many of them would probably think that kind of comment was strange and stupid given that they know me. They aren’t going to judge the whole of women based on how well I play.
But there are others there. Others who might. Others whom I don’t know.
And I’m so worried. So worried that this will just be another repeat of the story I’ve seen before. I’ll be excluded, mocked and trounced by uncaring players who have no interest in actually having fun because, to them, the only fun is winning.
Because, to this kind of person, mocking me for losing will take on a certain tone. You know the tone. The one that contains a sneer of contempt. How dare I pretend I could play with the boys? I should know better.
I don’t want to feel like that pre-teen girl again, shut down by people who know better than to let me play. Who are uninterested in me being an equal and see my gender as a reason to exclude me.
I’m going to go. And yes, I may be terrible. But you know what? I’m going to be worried and I’m going to be nervous. But I’m not going to give up just yet. Because, dammit, this game is fun and I want to have fun.
ADDENDUM: I should also note, as a fun aside, that a local Magic group recently posted a facebook event that I had mistaken for this event because they were referencing the same thing. I quickly realized the mistake, but then realized that the group was boasting how, at the next release event, there would be strippers. So, yeah, I’m still not feeling that the Magic community is being very welcoming.