It is 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, and I am watching two men screaming at each other over a card game. This is a local game store, and the individuals in question are neither professionals, nor are they involved in a high stakes tournament. They are playing in a league that costs $5 a week to get into, and is open to all play levels, and has multiple rules that restrict how powerful decks can be to make the game enjoyable for everyone. It is, in short, almost as casual as a league can get, and these man children are arguing as if their livelihoods, marriages, and their firstborn children’s safety are all on the line. This is not the first time I have seen this kind of interaction play out. It wil not be the last. It is in this moment, while I wrap up my own game and say goodbye to the other players—who have thankfully been able to act like adults—that I realize this is why I never see any other girl players at my local game stores Magic the Gathering events, and ultimately what will drive me out of the space as well.
I had seen memes and jokes about it before, and I had always considered it to be an over exaggeration of how some players might act, but that day was my first time seeing a man-child tantrum in person. Not only was it extremely uncomfortable to see two people get so worked up over something so low stakes—this was a casual league playgroup, with entry being $5 a week and including a free pack of cards, and the highest payout at the end of the month being something like $15 in store credit—but it was a show of such poor sportsmanship that it led me to wonder what sort of people they were outside of the four walls of the game store.
The concept of women feeling uncomfortable in gaming spaces certainly isn’t new, but as arrogant as it might sound, I didn’t really believe it until I dealt with it myself. When I first started playing with coworkers, everyone was incredibly friendly, no one ever stomped anyone else out, and it was fun to see how different people made different “flavor” decks, and brought their own flair to the games. Once an ounce of competition is added to the mix, however, it seems like the game goes from an enjoyable pastime to a life or death situation.
Unfortunately, because of the lack of other women in these gaming spaces, its difficult to gauge the exact reasoning for why they seem to avoid them; I can only speak for myself when I say that man tantrums are the largest reason I have avoided game nights at stores.
This is not meant to be a whining, “poor me” type of post; this is a call out born from exhaustion at having to watch men take part in a behavior that, if I did the same thing, would only serve to cement the idea that women are overly emotional, not good sports, and should ultimately be shunned from gaming spaces. Its exhaustion from being looked at like I don’t know what I’m doing and having guys I play alongside try to play my deck for me, giving unsolicited and simplistic advice on how to play a deck that I made, and therefore know inside out. To some, it might seem like a good strategy to try and make it seem like you don’t know what you are doing so other players take pity and don’t attack you, but to me its more undermining, especially when that same behavior isn’t shown to actually newbies.
On a more serious note, it really does get emotionally/mentally exhausting to deal with guys who get so upset about the game. When the expectation is to pass a few hours testing out a deck you just made, maybe talking about the new sets coming out, or talking about any new cards the group has gotten, its jarring and uncomfortable to have someone a seat over getting so combative and antagonistic that they are making threats of “meet me outside” and yelling obscenities, tossing their belongings around, and having an overly aggressive demeanor. That’s never an ideal situation to begin with, but as a woman, being put into a situation like that puts me into a fight or flight mode; when I’m trying to enjoy a game, I never want to be worried that the dude across from me is going to flip out if I win.
The heart of it, I believe, is that there is a cycle inherent in women not playing MTG; they get interested, go to game stores to play, get turned off by the guys’ behavior, and then quit playing—or even worse, advise other women against picking the hobby up. Then, men complain that the only women they see playing Magic are Instagram influencers, that they therefore must be fake fans, etc etc, and this cycle of misunderstanding and poor sportsmanship continues.
If anyone gains any insight from this article, it is to please remember you are playing a card game that is rated for children, not babies; you have no right to act like you have a piss filled diaper when you lose.