Friday, January 10, 2014

The Magic Diversity Challenge - A New Year's Resolution

My regular readers know me as a father who is raising two young men and that Magic the Gathering has provided me with a meaningful way to connect with my younger son. I can't help but look at the Magic Community from the perspective of a parent and how it will impact on his development. Most of the time, I see what every gamer sees - a wonderfully supportive environment full of learning and social interaction. Other times, I see or hear about a behavior that isn't as supportive. This article isn't about pointing a finger at behavior that we find unacceptable. Rather, it is about two wonderful groups that have taken it upon themselves to help combat unacceptable behavior, spread the good word about the benefits of diversity in gaming, and ultimately, a challenge to every person in our community who has a chance to influence it for the better.

Traditionalists believe that you should start every New Year with a resolution to improve yourself or some aspect of the world you inhabit. Many people with special interests tend to make resolutions that focuses on their area of interest. Today, I'm going to share with you my resolution for 2014 in the area of Magic the Gathering. I'm doing so in the hopes that after you read this, you'll adopt it for yourself. I doubt everyone will who reads this article will do so - but I'm sure many of you will.

If you have the fortitude to step over the line in the sand with me, you'll make a difference to the way we all interact with our community for the better. If think you have what it takes, then read on as I introduce two wonderful people to you: Tifa Robles (@tifarobles) of the Lady Planeswalker Society and Trevor Murdock of Planeswalkers for Diversity.




::::Q&A::::
Question: Would you both take a moment to introduce yourselves and explain how you became involved in Magic?

Tifa: I’ve been playing video games and family board games my entire life. Games have always been a passion and inspiration of mine. In college, I started playing strategy games, starting my addiction with Settlers of Catan and learning games of all types. Eventually, I started working at a board game store where not only did my collection and knowledge grow rapidly, but I was introduced to Magic tournaments. I fell in love with the atmosphere and the excitement of the new release of M11 before I even learned the game itself. It wasn't long before my boss sat me down and taught me the basics in a Winston draft (not my recommended learning tool). My spark was instantly ignited. I started competing heavily within my first month, and it wasn't until then that I realized the sexism integrated in the Magic community. I had loved the friendly people in my shop, but once I was sitting across the table from them as opposed to selling them cards behind the counter, their attitudes took a turn for misogyny. Suddenly, it was considered silly for me to think I could be good at Magic and conversations about my breasts were completely acceptable to have right in front of me. I competed in a GP, and not much later a few PTQs. I never did very well, but I worked hard. I wanted to prove to all those critics and judgmental bigots that women could be competitive and could succeed in the Magic scene. I was also judged by my looks and the clothes I wore A LOT! It was disgusting. After nine months, I was near the end of my college career and needed to find a real job. I was very interested in work at Wizards of the Coast and had a friend recommend me for Customer Service/Game Support. I worked there during my last three months of college and six months later was hired onto the Magic Brand Team. It was a great opportunity that taught me a lot about Magic, the community, and myself. But recently, after two years on the team, I left to help grow LPS more than I could with the constraints of being a Wizards employee. LPS is now a global organization with nearly twenty chapters that have started nationwide, constantly gaining national attention from many media outlets, that only now I can be involved with. [Ed. note: Tifa also blogs regularly, you can find her here].

Trevor: I actually started playing Magic in the ‘90s, the way it was intended: while friends were creating role-playing game characters. After my playgroup went separate for various reasons, I was left with a single deck (featuring pestilence rats and pestilence) and no one to play with. Several years later, when my oldest daughter started being interested in card and board games, I nabbed a Guildpact Izzet Gizmometry theme deck so we could play. Eventually my daughter lost interest but I found a casual playgroup. One of the members suggested I check out the competitive scene to help the group deal with M10 rules changes. After FNMs, drafts, and one pre-release later, I was  hooked. After becoming an FNM regular and then interested in PTQs and GPs, I started Booster Victim as a way to poke fun at the steep learning curve in Magic. What started out as humour led to a serious interest in making Magic more accessible to everyone.

Q: What event made you realize that you needed to create your group and how old is your group now?

Tifa: It wasn't until female friends of mine showed an interest in learning and playing at my house, away from the men who knew how to play in our lives, that I realized the desire and need for a female-friendly group. The group started in April 2011 and moved into an official capacity in stores in July 2011.

Trevor: I had just started following some Magic folks on Twitter in late 2012 because of Booster Victim, when a trans player, Feline Longmore, won the SCG Seattle Legacy Open, and it was the online onslaught of disgusting (and irrelevant) comments about her gender and her being trans that led me to search for some kind of LGBT support group for Magic players. I just assumed such a thing would exist given how large the Magic community is. When I couldn't find one, I started a Facebook group. I didn't know about LPS at that time and when someone pointed out that it already existed I asked Tifa if I should shut down the group and invite people over to LPS. Instead she actually encouraged us to maintain a separate presence and grow it into more than just a Facebook group; she understood that we would have a wider reach by operating both groups and collaborating.

Q: What about your personal background made you feel you were the right person to start your respective organizations?

Tifa: I have always been deeply passionate and caring about equality - especially when relating to gender issues. Not that I feel it is required, but my background in feminism helps my personal determination push LPS forward. I feel like I understand the deep undertones of sexism and the importance of awareness. Awareness is the first step to progress. Plus, my experience with Magic is varied in a wide range. I was a store employee at tournaments; a participant in tournaments in many levels; an employee at Wizards in two different, very important roles; and I was friends with people in all levels of play from beginner through Pro. I've also always enjoyed event organizing and feel I’m a natural leader. Plus, the sexism and mockery of my group has only pushed me harder because of how relevant and necessary my group is, instead of discouraging me to slow down.

Trevor: Honestly, I don't think I'm the right person to be leading Planeswalkers for Diversity. I think I was one of the right people to co-found it but I hope that in 2014, we garner enough attention to attract new leadership. I do have a lot of experience running (and forming) other non-profit groups though, and I knew I could draw on that and be persistent enough to put in place the building blocks of an organization that will have a big and lasting impact on environments in which Magic is played. For LGBT issues in particular, I am a resource person with the Positive Space Network at the University of Victoria. I co-lead workshops to train other resource persons, so I also have some experience specifically in creating safe spaces to draw from. I think that helped give me a good grounding to express what I am passionate about, which is all about places where Magic is played being inclusive to everyone, not just people of a particular gender, age, race, ability, sexuality, or anything else that has nothing to do with playing a competitive trading card game!

Q: How would a Magic player become involved with supporting your group?

Tifa: It’s as simple at spreading the word in a positive light, joining our group, liking our page, following my Twitter, etc. If you want to make a bigger impact, there is always the option of starting a local chapter, but this takes a huge time commitment that not everyone can commit to. More than anything, we just want to be acknowledged and accepted as a serious group and part of the community.

Trevor: Ditto, though I would also add that we are open to writers at website and to people joining our stream team.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing our Community?

Tifa: Being comfortable with what has been acceptable for years and not wanting to change. Everyone has to change. Even people who are not acting or speaking offensively need to call others out on their behavior. This can be scary and seem hopeless, but it really is the only way. Just think, in 5, 10, 20, 100 years, we will all look back at this and know which side was in the right. I don’t think anyone looks back at the 1800s and says, “We never should have given women the right to vote. What a mistake.” At least those that do aren't taken seriously.

Trevor: There is an insidious and deeply ingrained attitude that goes like this: "I'm not actually a woman hating homophobe myself so I can say rape jokes or 'that's so gay' and it's fine because I don't mean ill will towards anyone by it." And as Tifa says, even those who aren't comfortable with this attitude because they know it makes the environment too intimidating or uncomfortable for some people are often afraid to speak up because they don't want to be seen as a party pooper. The analogy I like to make though is with that of judges. Often judges tell us things we don't want to hear, and rulings that favor your opponent can suck. But, the presence of judges is vital to maintaining the overall fun level of the game vs. Magic event devolving into a gnarled mass of heated rules arguments. In my book, failing to speak up about non-inclusive language is just like spectating a game and failing to speak up about an illegal play.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your respective organization's growth?

Tifa: Being understood and accepted. We are often considered “sexist” ourselves before people even know
what we are. We are not an exclusive club for women only. In fact 60-70% of our player-base is male - mostly husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and brothers, but also friends. In addition, we need to be taken seriously. For example, some competitive players refuse to play at LPS because we are welcoming to “beginners” but we really want all skill groups playing together. We have a member who placed second at a PTQ and many others who are very competitive and really good at the game, and we also have women who are just learning almost every week. We don’t want any woman to say, “That group is not for me,” before they try it out at least twice (since attendance can vary drastically).

Trevor: Our biggest challenge is the same in terms of being understood and accepted, but it looks a little different for us. Although our mandate is broad and about inclusiveness in Magic for everyone, we tend to have an LGBT focus because after women this is the biggest target group for discrimination in the Magic community, and LPS already exists with a spotlight on women. Sometimes this comes across as if we think racism and other forms of discrimination are less important than homophobia, bi-phobia, and trans-phobia (not to mention the fact that LGBT itself is shorthand). Many of our volunteers are not members of the LGBT community themselves and sometimes get accused of being politically correct or "white knighting" which is a pretty ridiculous and off base insult to lob at people who just want to make Magic more enjoyable for more people.

Q: How has the Magic community responded to your groups? Has the response surprised you in any way?

Tifa: It has surprised me on both ends of the spectrum. There has been A LOT of positive response, including articles and interest from well-known writers and commentators in the community, a chapter started and supported by members of LoadingReadyRun, and many Magic-celebs that have even attended LPS when they are in Seattle. I’m constantly grateful for this loving support and hope it continues to grow.
Unfortunately, the reverse side has been just as strong. There are a lot of people who consider us sexist (as mentioned before), stupid, ridiculous, and even the most annoying and demeaning of descriptions: adorable. The forum pages I have found have sickened me with anger, but that means we just need to work harder to crush their opinions and prove them wrong.

Trevor: Similarly, I've been surprised at how readily several pros have been willing to donate their time and energy to joining us on stream, giving us short interviews for our “Peek” series, and spreading information about us. On the reverse side, the fact that so many people think it's more important to use language they consider funny than be sure they are not contributing to a toxic playing environment can be discouraging. I'm also disappointed that we only have a handful of local playgroups so far, though I'd rather have a few very successful and impactful groups than a pile of floundering ones. At least we span multiple continents with our small number of groups: currently the biggest local P4D chapter is actually in Australia. Someone needs to dethrone them!

Q: Since starting your groups, who has been your biggest supporter?

Tifa: As silly as it is to say, my husband. He has not only supported all of my desires for the organization, but challenged and motivated me to go further. It was his idea to start a second chapter in the Seattle area (on the Eastside). In addition, he attends every event with me and makes sure I stay fed and hydrated as I host the tournament. He also helps teach at conventions and constantly gains members and support from big names on Twitter. Without him, LPS wouldn’t be what it is today.

Trevor: Aside from co-founder Nelson Salahub, I would have to say Tifa, actually. Without her I think P4D would have just been a Facebook group that I started hoping someone would take over. I probably would have given up on it without her encouragement and her setting an example with LPS of how much can be accomplished with some persistence to providing some leadership.

Q: Diversity is a watchword that appears to be gaining popularity in recent years. Why do you think it has become such an important topic?

Tifa: It’s part of our cultural evolution to critique our society and make it better. As equality becomes more normal and expected in places like the working world, this will spread into other spaces as well, like hobbies and lifestyles.

Trevor: Specific to the gaming community in particular, we tend to be people who were outcast in some way growing up ourselves and we tend to be people who understand the value of constructive criticism. So it's just bound to happen that someone is going to point out the severe ironic hypocrisy of being hateful towards others because of some external thing about them that has nothing to do with gaming.

Q: If you could fix one problem, address one shortfall, or focus on one aspect of our Community - and do so through the actions of your group - what would it be? Is there something that is a close second?

Tifa: I just don’t want my Magic skills, or anyone else’s for that matter, judged based on my genitals, face, or any other unrelated feature. I want my Magic skills to speak for themselves.

Trevor: Ditto! We just focus more on the "unrelated" part, especially LGBT-ness.

Q: Have either of you run into any unexpected opposition to your group?

Tifa: I expected opposition, but some of the extreme opposition has been shocking. Mostly the crazy far-fetched conclusions about my intentions or my group’s views.

Trevor: Honestly, I'm less surprised by opposition than underwhelmed by support. I don't want to diminish all of the support we have gotten, and we have a handful of incredible volunteers who have made massive contributions to the organization so far. But from the broader Magic community, putting myself in the position of being a Tournament Organizer, or running a Magic-related website, etc. and coming across this group, I sort of think we should be overwhelmed by folks asking to help us out. Obviously I'm biased in being passionate about this an important cause or I wouldn't have started it, but I'm hoping people just didn't know about us and will start coming out of the woodwork to support our mission in 2014.

Q: What do you have planned for 2014?

Tifa: Bigger, better exposure.

Trevor: Actual real life presence in events, more diversity-and-Magic themed content on our website, and regular streaming. Tangible goal for 2014 is by the end of the year, I'd like it to be commonplace to see Planeswalkers for Diversity (and Lady Planeswalkers Society) t-shirts at Grand Prix and on Pro Tour coverage, and for major events to have members of their welcoming booths trained in creating safe spaces for women, people of color, LGBT-folk, and people with disabilities.

We are off to a good start with an invitation from the organizers of GP Sacramento coming up shortly. Now we just need some volunteers!

Q: Every leader has a vision. Where do you see your group in 5 years?

Tifa: I hope my group is known to every engaged Magic player.

Trevor: Well the ultimate goal is to fold because there is no longer any need to point out the benefits of being kind to strangers that you play a competitive game with, but realistically 5 years is too soon for that so I'll stick with expansion of the goals for 2014 but with global coverage not just Australia and North America.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet
Tifa and Trevor, in addition to offering a great interview about diversity, are asking for everyone's help. Everyone who reads this article can contribute - at the end of it I'll even show how players can get in on the action. The main challenge is being made to all Professional Players, writers and bloggers, content managers, website owners, Tournament Organizers, store owners, Judges, and Podcasts. If you provide content or support the community in any way, we're throwing the gauntlet down at your feet. This challenge is also being directed to Wizards of the Coast, to recognize 2014 as the year they make a difference in diversity through their worldwide influence. It doesn't matter if you reach one person or ten thousand through your actions, the idea is simple.

Make a pledge to make supporting diversity in gaming this year through your words and deeds.

The Pledge
As a supporter of Magic the Gathering, you recognize the impact of your contributions. Every day, you see the effect you have on the greater Magic Community. Now it's time for you to take the pledge:

I promise that in 2014, I will make every effort to support diversity. Through my actions, I will effect change and work to end bigotry so that all players will feel welcome. To that end, I will do the following-
  • As a writer or blogger, I will dedicate at least one article to promoting diversity.
  • As a Professional Player, I will seek a way to promote diversity at events I attend.
  • As a content manager, I will work with my writers and media specialists to make certain they promote diversity. I will also take up the pledge personally through my own blog or Twitter feed.
  • As a website owner, I will promote diversity through the content I provide. I will take care to highlight articles that promote Diversity and make those items easy to locate on my site.
  • As a Tournament Organizer, I will offer a free table to any group promoting diversity in gaming and/or I will sponsor at least one side-event to help promote Magic as a safe and interactive game anyone can enjoy. If I offer gaming coverage, I will do a PSA to run at each event promoting diversity.
  • As a Store Owner, I will establish and post a policy that all gamers may feel welcome and that bigotry and hate speech will not be tolerated. I will also investigate becoming a Safe Place.
  • As a Judge, I will be an ambassador for diversity, helping everyone to see the advantage of an open and friendly gaming environment.
  • As a Podcasterer, I will dedicate one episode this year to taking on the diversity challenge and I will promote diversity through my podcasts as the opportunity presents itself.
  • As WotC, we will pledge to promote diversity through our articles, website, and event coverage.
  • As a player, I will take the Gamers Against Bigotry pledge. I won't let my fellow players get away with hate speech and I will notify a Judge when necessary at sanctioned events - even if I am not the person receiving the insult.
Seems easy, right? Here is the best part. There are already two groups that support diversity in the Magic Community. You can contact either of them directly to get their perspective on any number of issues affecting the gaming community. Doing your own interview with Tifa or Trevor will fulfill your pledge. Spend an article talking about their respective groups will do the same. I'm not suggesting that everyone who takes the pledge should limit themselves to these suggestions. I'm only offering them as one way to fulfill your obligation to promote diversity. Be creative!

When you write your article, promote your podcast, or find another way to fulfill your pledge this year, then let Tifa and Trevor know about it. Both Planeswalkers for Diversity (@MTGDiversity) and the Lady Planewalker Society (@MTGLadySociety) have Twitter feeds, and they will be happy to retweet your success to their followers. In this, everyone wins.

Don't Forget Those Judges
We would be remiss if we did not mention an important part of the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide as a part of this article. While we hope and work towards changing the mindset of players, the IPG provides for a method of handling situations that do occur. Unsporting Conduct - Minor or Unsporting Conduct - Major are penalties that can be issued to players that engage in vulgar or hate speech. The IPG is a very well defined document and we all encourage players to be familiar with it and the possible ramifications of violating it. When in doubt - call a Judge.

2014 - The Year We Make a Difference
At the start of every New Year, it is customary to take make a resolution for some type of self-improvement or to perform an act of goodwill. Here is mine:

I promise to give this article to every content site for Magic the Gathering to be used to help promote diversity. I further promise as a blogger, to write at least one additional article promoting diversity and to continue to assist Planewalkers for Diversity and the Lady Planeswalker Society in their mission.

You see that first sentence? If you are responsible for managing a site, you have my permission (as well as Trevor's and Tifa's) to take this article right now and post it in its entirety, so long as you credit the source and keep it intact. If there is a need to edit it, please contact me first via email. You also may take the article to simply distribute it to your own writers to get them to write about diversity this year. This article, interview, and pledge are all one big challenge to the Community.

Are you willing to take the challenge?

2 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this article. Tifa and Trevor have been a huge inspiration for me when it comes to equality, fairness and diversity both in and out of the Magic arena. I'm not proud to say that I was one of those players who, although not directly involved, never stood up and set people right when they made rude/inappropriate jokes or were being crude. I was always of the mindset that if it didn't involve me, I shouldn't get involved if it wasn't getting aggressive or physical. But I now understand that thinking with that mentality is exactly what is wrong with a lot of people, not just in Magic but also in everyday life. People turn a blind eye to so much hate, ridicule, violence and persecution everyday it has just become a common practice. No one wants get involved for fear of reprisal and hurt so we all learn to accept things as they are just a little bit more each day. Creating these groups and standing up for what is fair and just no matter the odds or the problems thrown your way is right. I back them 100% and sooner or later people will have to accept that being varied and diverse is what the human race is all about. Well done! :)

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  2. Jay, thank you! I will say, it's been wonderful working with Tifa and Trevor. They're both very personable and bright individuals. They are passionate about their respective groups and it shows.

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