• First Impressions: it’s hard to have fun with CCGs when you’re a woman

    by  • September 18, 2013 • People & Events • 2 Comments

    My favorite thing about this year’s GenCon was that I got to attend with my husband for the first time in about seven years. (I’ve lost count, to be honest.) I’d gotten so used to coming on my own and doing my own thing that having someone else along for the ride, someone whose interests mostly overlapped with mine, but not completely, was a new experience. I wound up doing several things that I wouldn’t have thought to do on my own.

    One of the things that I enjoyed most was participating in some super-casual Magic: the Gathering tournaments. I’d played maybe twelve games of Magic in my life up to this point; it was my husband who had the monster collection from when he used to play seriously a long time ago. But the tournaments we would be playing in in were sealed booster drafts, where everyone got four booster packs to build a deck with. Cool. So when my husband proposed it, I was willing to give it a shot. At the very least, with the two of us taking up a quarter of the eight slots, we stood a good chance of winning some swag.

    And then I walked into the CCG room (more like a hangar really), and for the first time since arriving at the convention I felt really self-conscious about being a woman in an incredibly male space.

    One of the things I enjoy about GenCon is that the demographic has been getting increasingly family-friendly. We saw quite a few men wearing babies, and I’d estimate that women accounted for around 40% of the attendees that I saw outside of the CCG area. Inside? Once we reserved spots in the first tournament and were waiting for the other spots to fill up, I decided to see how many women I could count within my immediate sight range. I counted six.

    During the half hour that we waited for the tournament to fill up, I had quite a lot of time to look around. And I have to say, as much as I bitch about the awful art in a lot of games, there are also a lot of games making an honest effort to be inclusive in their art. That trend, however feeble, toward inclusivity felt almost non-existent in the CCG room:

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    Okay, it’s cheating slightly to use this image, since this was taken in the dealer’s room and not in the CCG hall. Still, that’s a CCG they’re playing and those are some super egregious boobs. Way to make me feel valued as a (potential) customer, guys. Keep up the good work.

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    I’ve gotten pretty blase about terrible game art in my years of blogging. I mean, one of the problems that I’ve run into in attempting to do parodies of awful game art is that it’s impossible to be more extreme than art that actually already exists. It gets to the point where I hear myself saying things like ‘yeah, yeah broken spine’ or ‘wow, more anti-gravity boobs’ or even ‘yup, that’s a serious case of invisible corset she’s got there’. But this? I don’t even know what to do with this. WHY IS HER CROTCH GLOWING? WHY? DOES SHE HAVE MAGICAL LADYBITS? WHY WOULD THAT BE A THING??

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    This shot does a pretty good job of capturing the problem that I’m talking about. The space was so overwhelmingly male, and then you have banners like this random O-face chick that are Just. Not. Helping. I am a super-cantankerous feminist gamer, and even I felt intimidated venturing into this space, because crap like this might as well be a giant sign saying No Girls Allowed.

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    This says pretty much everything that needs to be said about gender in the realm of CCGs. Men get to be AWSUM and women get to be SEXAY. And when the space that you dedicate to playing your game is splashed with life-sized images of broken-spined, O-face women with chest TARDISes and anti-gravity watermelon boobs, is it any surprise that women don’t want to enter that space? Because, surprise surprise, when you mark a space that heavily as a male space, a lot of women make a judgement that entering that space would require putting up with a level of bullshit sexism that they just don’t want to deal with.

    The thing is, GenCon is a pretty expensive trip to make. The badge is expensive, the hotels are expensive, and the events, depending on which you participate in, can be expensive. So why would you waste any of the limited time, and money, you have by venturing into such an unwelcoming space?

    Now in my case, I wound up having fun, in spite of the off-putting atmosphere. We played in two sealed booster tournaments and had quite a bit of fun, and the people we played against were quite nice. But the fact remains that it took my husband expressing direct interest in checking out the Magic events for me to even enter that space. During the seven years I attended GenCon on my own, I never once set foot into the CCG area, nor was I ever likely to. Frankly, I deal with enough bullshit online, I don’t need to deal with it in real life too.

    And that seems like a serious mistake on the part of the CCG companies. Given that GenCon drew in nearly 50,000 people this year, with 40% female attendance, that is a huge number of women. So why go to such pains to drive those women away?
    Wizards of the Coast in particular were making a clear effort to reach out to new players and draw them into the world of CCG tournaments; anyone with a badge could drop in and get a free starter deck, and there were several tournament options for more casual players who play occasionally for fun and aren’t really into hardcore play. So if they’re looking to expand their audience, why assume that that new audience has to be male?

    It seems to me like all of the CCG companies, Wizards included, would do well to make concrete efforts to recruit women into the hobby. Or, at the very least, they should refrain from decorating their spaces with anatomically impossible cheesecake art.

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    About

    I’m an occasional game illustrator, and game designer, long-time LARPer, and player of tabletop roleplaying games (mostly indie games). I have a terminal addiction to board games. I also play both PC and console games – mainly RPGs of all stripes, but I do enjoy puzzle games like Katamari as well. My main source of gaming notoriety, however, is the feminist gaming blog Go Make Me a Sandwich. In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am a photographer and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.

    http://gomakemeasandwich.wordpress.com

    2 Responses to First Impressions: it’s hard to have fun with CCGs when you’re a woman

    1. avatar
      Sally
      September 20, 2013 at 03:21

      “…when the space that you dedicate to playing your game is splashed with life-sized images of broken-spined, O-face women with chest TARDISes and anti-gravity watermelon boobs, is it any surprise that women don’t want to enter that space?”

      Thanks for that amazing phrase!

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    2. avatar
      Lisa Padol
      September 23, 2013 at 08:15

      I was wondering why I don’t notice this. I mean, I go into the CCG room as Girlfriend, not as gamer, but such exclusion as I feel is that I don’t do CCGs. Then I remembered — Josh plays Shadowfist. The art there isn’t perfect, but no glowy crotches.

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