Social Justice Wizard: On Gaming & Accountability from Stephen Ownby

Hobbies are important. We need escape from the stress of what can seem from tweets and headlines to be a spiraling out of control society.

This is to say nothing of the pressures of work, school, friends, and family. Some people watch or play sports. Some read and many of us mainline TV shows from various streaming services. Me? I sit and yell about dragons and elves. I love tabletop card games and my main obsession is Magic: The Gathering. Most weekends I can be found slinging spells in hobby shops and in kitchens over drinks.

If my mentioning the 25-year-old trading card game summons images of entitled man-babies casting cards between misogynistic slurs that’s… not entirely unfair.

Magic, like much of nerd culture, is having to come to terms with its “boys' club” reputation.

While less high-profile than the recent kerfuffle over Star Wars daring to have strong female characters, and then the toxic mess that was “Gamergate,” Magic has had its fair share of scandals.

To their credit, Wizards of the Coast (the game’s publisher) has stepped up their social justice game. The YouTube content creator who was responsible for driving a cosplayer from the game was banned from organized play for life. Wizards have added LGBT and neurodiverse characters in several recent sets. While obviously still evolving and imperfect, it is nice to see this effort on a corporate level.

It’s too easy for me, a white cis straight man, to sit back and ignore the ongoing toxicity in the Magic community at a local level. “Society is progressing,” I might say, “it is only a matter of time before these issues are erased.” After all, I deserve to enjoy my hobby, right?

But the diverse gamers with whom I share tabletops deserve to enjoy it as well, and to enjoy it now.

Contrary to stereotypes, I play with kids and adults of multiple genders, races, orientations, and gender identities. The kids on the spectrum I play with deserve to play without hearing casual ableist slurs. The LGBTQ players deserve to play without hearing that an overpowered card is “gay.” The women that I play with, who are already asked too often which players’ girlfriends they are, as if that is the only reason they have taken an interest in the game, don’t deserve to have to sit next to cards sleeved with pictures of half-naked anime girls.

This where I have to be better.

I have to remind myself that, even it’s uncomfortable, I have to tell the kid at the next table that his racist joke isn’t cool. No matter how bad my work week has been, I have to call out casual utterances of “f*ggot” and “r*tard” when I hear them.

The game does not just belong to me, and as an enfranchised player, I have a voice to make the community better for everybody involved.

I have to do this even if it means having awkward conversations with store owners and tournament organizers. I cannot be perfect, but I have to be better. Now, especially now, hobbies are important for everybody.

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Stephen Ownby is a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. He graduated from Longwood University in 2010 with a BA in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. He writes, hopefully with increasing frequency, poetry and nonfiction about politics and culture. Stephen lives in Henrico County with his wife Carey and their two spoiled cats.

 

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