I did a lot of researching for this post. What I was looking for were opinions on Magic: The Gathering’s representation of women. Because there are so many cards, I was hoping to find a perspective from someone who has been playing the game for awhile and who knows almost all of them. I only started playing when Dragon’s Maze came out, and though I now play Modern format almost exclusively, many of the older cards are unknown to me. Especially if they are obscure or unplayable or only exist for pure flavor.
What I found on the ever-wise inter webs were posts from people saying that Wizards of the Coast is ahead of its time representing typically under-represented demographics (women, race, body type, sexual orientation, etc.). I also found posts saying that Wizards is pretty stupid and they don’t know how to represent women properly and it’s terrible how they depict women in their art.
Which is pretty much how I’ve felt about the game since I started playing it. There are definitely some things in the game that are offensive to women. There are also things to be proud of. Not many of them, but it’s obvious to me that there are some people who work for Wizards who are trying to make the game better. I tried to put Magic as a whole through the Scale of Inclusivity, but I found that it resists scaling. There are just so many cards to consider, and so many aspects of the game that could be seen as either positive or negative. For instance, does one celebrate that there are 16 Planeswalkers who are female? Even if there are 31 who are male? Even if the ones who are females are depicted as objects or with unrealistic bikini armor or only white or only skinny?
Also, if I weren’t so invested in the game, it would be easy to say that it simply fails altogether. But that would not be a post about celebrating women in media and would not convey why I think it’s a valuable and enjoyable game.
What I’ve landed on for this post is to simply write about the few things Wizards of the Coast has done right. It seems like they are always trying to think outside the box and come up with fresh ideas, which means that they have to hit the mark sometime, even by accident. Here are three cases in which they have:
1. Elspeth & Ash Zealot
I love the art for Elspeth. In all her forms, she is depicted as a spear-wielding woman with a determined look on her face, and is also sometimes slaying a hydra or dragon. Though she does have a few unrealistic things about her armor (form-fitting metal to show off her rather perky breasts), if there were more characters like her on Magic cards, it would be a good step in the right direction of changing the sexist culture that surrounds Magic.
Ash Zealot is another good example where almost everything is awesome, except she for some reason has not only a metal breastplate, but a push-up metal breastplate. Well, I won’t claim to know what a woman who kills zombies with fire pokers likes to wear. I’m just glad there is a woman who kills zombies with fire pokers. And that her card is actually playable. (Side Note: checkout the Bikini Armor Battle Damage Tumblr to poke some more fun at ridiculous armor!)
2. Range of Emotion
I have been impressed with the range of emotion shown on female faces on Magic cards. They are not all “come hither” looks, or “I’m doing a thing in the background” looks. There is rage. There is determination. There is sadness. I actually wish that the faces of the male characters were as varied as the females are. Of course, those facial expressions are often lost because the eye’s attention is drawn to some other part of the character’s body. But I appreciate that the artists are taking the time to add a variety of facial expressions that aren’t all about seduction. Chandra’s expressions especially. She has lots of feels and they’re definitely warm, but not fuzzy.
3. Not-quite Homogenous Army
Armies or single soldiers are not all men. I think this lends a wonderful bit of complexity to the flavor of the game. Spirit Bonds is one. Actually, Spirit Bonds is awesome for more than one reason: no boob plate, no awkward pose, and only the appropriate amount of skin shown. Plus, a woman of color! In full body armor! The only thing about her armor that bugs me is the same thing that bugs me about guy armor in World of Warcraft: Banana Shoulders. Why do they have shoulders shaped like bananas?! They are not attractive, sexy, objectifying, or practical. And why does this bug me just as much as bikini armor?!
Ok, I’m done. Back to the positive celebration thing.
Obviously, Magic is not a very woman-friendly game in terms of how we are depicted. But you can find things about it to like. And once you get into the game, the art becomes less of an issue as the complicated and interesting mechanics take over. I hope that as new cards come out in the future, the message of equality has reached the ears of wizards and gamers alike to the point where there is both a demand and a supply of proper representation. For example, last month it was announced that the card “Alesha, Who Smiles at Death”, is a trans woman. I have hope that things will continue to change for the better. Let’s look forward to that.
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