Debuted in 1993, trading card game Magic: The Gathering has amassed over 20 million players, making it one of the most successful and popular games to date. With some cards coming in at around $14,000 (yes, really), worldwide competitions and kids dropping out of their degrees to take part professionally, it seems that once Magic takes hold, there’s no letting up.
However – like a lot of fantasy-focused activities – men seem to reign supreme. The involvement of women isn’t necessarily discouraged, but it’s not encouraged either, with many would-be players put off by perceived dude-culture. Thankfully, outlets exist for Magic-curious women that not only encourage them to pick up a deck but also invite them to join a community – think ‘The Craft’ but a bit more welcoming.
Founded by Tifa Robles, this community describe themselves as ‘A Welcoming Place for Women (and Everyone of All Genders!) to Learn to Play Magic: The Gathering’. Founded in Seattle in 2011, the group carries an anti-harassment policy, with their mission, ‘breaking down the barriers of entry into Magic,’ resulting in the accumulation of over 60 chapters across the world.
“From a very young age we are taught what is expected of us based on gender before we get to decide for ourselves,” Robles begins. “I feel like girls are dissuaded from games and other activities because they are strategic, competitive, or uncool. I disagree with these concepts and believe that everyone can get something out of games.”
Travelling across America to take part in tournaments, panels and interviews, Robles says the game – and the group – has changed her life in more ways than one. “Magic has made me the person I am today. I don’t want gender to get in the way of the opportunity to have games change someone’s life.”
As Magic began to impact her life, she quickly noticed other female friends keen to get involved. “Many of them didn’t want to learn in a store because of the environment of the tournament scene. Others didn’t want to learn from their boyfriend or husband. I felt like there needed to be a way to introduce everyone to the game in a more welcoming space, especially for women. I wanted to remove obstacles that faced all types of people interested in learning the game.”
However, the success of Lady Planeswalkers hasn’t come without struggles, as Robles explains the difficulty in being taken seriously. “In the beginning, it was hard to be accepted by the greater Magic community,” she remembers. “I was called sexist even though we always allowed men to learn and play with us. I was also told that the idea was ‘cute’ and would never work. However, now that the group had succeeded in becoming an international community with 60 chapters worldwide, most of those comments have died out.”
Erin Campbell also noticed the guy-centric nature of the Magic community, launching a podcast comprised of four women that discuss the real issues that affecting Magic-playing women. “I have been a podcaster in the Magic community for a few years and surrounded by shows comprised of just three or four guys, drinking a beer, and talking about Magic,” she begins. “You were lucky to find a show that had a female co-host, much less an entire cast of women. I put my feelers out there and found three women that I got along well with, who I thought would mesh well with each other, and who came from different backgrounds.”
Joining her are Hallie, Katie, and Kriz – women who were able to discuss shared experiences and serious topics as well as having a laugh whilst doing so. “I think it’s important for women to feel included in a game like Magic because people who enjoy Magic have typically been picked on or ostracised at some point in their lives, if they’re not still being treated that way,” Campbell continues.
“Unfortunately, for many women, they go to their local game store and find that some men actively don’t want them there or have preconceived notions about them. They go to a major event and see thousands of men and maybe a dozen women.
“It all contributes to a feeling of not feeling wanted, which runs counter to why we play games, and frankly why people make them. Games are something that everyone should be able to enjoy. A woman should be able to buy a pack of Magic cards and see characters on the cards and in the stories associated with them that she can relate to. She should be able to go to her local game store and find a clean, safe place to play a game that she enjoys. It’s really quite simple.”
Having only started in March of this year, the podcast is steadily gaining popularity, with each show encouraging other women to feel welcome, wanted and above-all, included. “We received several e-mails from women who don’t have other women to play Magic with in their area. When they listen to The Girlfriend Bracket, they feel like they are not alone, or like they have someone that they can relate to,” she says.
However with the launch of the podcast came with a whole bunch of expectations that weren’t entirely realistic. “When we first started the show, we received a few e-mails from people who thought that we weren’t taking certain issues seriously enough,” Campbell explains. “We also received messages saying that we were too serious, and needed to have more fun. There have been people who have tried to force us into being examples for all women.
“We have had to repeatedly justify what we call our show, how we behave in our personal lives, on our social media accounts, because people feel that if we make a misstep that we’re ruining it for everyone. What makes our show enjoyable or successful is the fact that we’re not perfect. We don’t tackle these issues in such a way where we claim to have all the answers and our listeners don’t. We’re still finding our way, and we do make mistakes.”
Campbell explains that along with these mistakes, comes an opportunity to grow and improve. “People can relate to that and it makes getting involved in the discussion more accessible.” And thanks to ladies like Erin and Tifa, Magic: The Gathering is slowly but surely becoming more accessible than ever – for everyone.