Building a Better Community, Part One: Players

My name is Jennifer Allaway. I’m a member of the FF TCG community in the South Bay Area of California, and I’ve been playing the game for about six months now. When I first started playing, I kept the game at an arm’s length. I only played when my partner wanted to go to tournaments and events. It was only after having a conversation with Bryan Lue(known affectionately as ‘Blue’ in the local scene) that I allowed myself to be curious about the deeper workings of the game.


I began attending Blue’s weekly classes on how to improve at the game, and one of the first things he assigned was to create a fearless magical inventory. Next class, I brought in a list of about 25 ways that I could improve at the game. However, I was afraid to say a few of them out loud.


You see, this isn’t my first time being in a card game community. I was born after my older brother already started playing Magic in the early 90s, so I grew up with cards in my hands. But time and time again, I’ve entered a gaming community and dealt with harassment for being a woman. Everything from people joking about me being the only woman in the room, messing with my cards during drafts, to a man legit stalking my sister out of anger that she wasn’t interested in him, and harassing me for not helping him get closer to her.


Why is this relevant to my class with Blue? I realized, through writing this list, that my past sexist experiences were internalized to the point of affecting my playstyle in the game itself. Here are a few examples from my inventory:


1) I am not confident in my game knowledge or abilities, but because of bad game community experiences, I pressure myself to look confident and ‘play’ confident(ie, overaggressive and unnecessarily sacrificing resources to gain a small advantage), even when I am not.


2) When players correct my misplays mid-game, I can tilt, because I’m used to men doing this to me in bad faith.


3) Because I know I will be one of maybe three women in a room full of men, I put extra pressure on myself to be excellent that doesn’t need to be there. I feel like I have to be one of the best players in the room, or I don’t belong there.


Blue believed me, and gave me space to share those fears. I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I am proud to say that since I gave the FFTCG community a chance, everyone has largely been kind and welcoming. This is by far the least toxic card game community I have been a part of. But looking around the room, knowing I was still only one of three women(at best) among the dozens assembled for a Break Zone or Zodiac Braves event, I just can’t feel satisfied.

It’s not a coincidence that the vast majority of competitive players in the scene are men. While nobody in the community is actively trying to scare women and minorities from the game, I think it’s time the community practiced a larger form of the Fearless Magical Inventory on how we socialize and organize events. Are we really doing everything we can to make the play community as large and diverse as possible? Are we really putting in the work to make sure people who have been burned before by toxic play spaces feel safe and welcome here? Much like players of all levels can always improve their skill and knowledge of the game, we can always get better at community leadership. So I’ve decided that I’m going to be a part of the push to make this community as big, diverse, and open as it possibly can.

In this series of posts, I aim to give advice on things all of us can do to make this community as big and beautiful as possible. Everything from Event organizing, mentorship, outreach, down to the small things every day players can do. I’m so excited to be sharing this knowledge in the community and working towards a common goal. Part One: Players


In this post, we’re going to talk about what players can do to make their space more welcoming and more diverse. We have a passionate, beautiful camaraderie between players in our community, and it fills my heart to witness. But there’s still lots of work to do to make the space welcome for all players. Here’s a few things that the average everyday player can do to help achieve that:


1) Be inclusive! The game is open for EVERYONE to play!


I’ve heard a lot of guys talk about trying to get their wife/girlfriend/spouse/etc into the game, and that’s great! But if they decide it’s not for them, why stop there? We all (hopefully) have coworkers, friends, roommates and more who are from different backgrounds than our own. Try encouraging more people different from you to play the game! And if they get hooked, bring them into the community! Including under-represented people means actively looking for others who are different from you in your social circles and offering them a chance to learn. It’s okay if they end up saying no. But at least give them the chance. Extend the invitation. Because truthfully? A lot of people assume they don’t belong in a gaming space.


While living abroad, one of my german roommates played games obsessively. I was there with her when she bought a PS4 just to play Watch Dogs as soon as it came out. But anytime I called her a ‘gamer’, she kept denying it and acted as though that title didn’t belong to her. It breaks my heart when I see women who clearly have a passion for games, but have spent their entire lives feeling as though gaming spaces simply don’t belong to them. They deserve to feel the ownership everyone else does.


So reach out. Ask a friend to try the game. Respect them if they say no, but if they enjoy it, be there to encourage them. Let them know on day one that they have a place in our community. 2) Leave the sexy anime sleeves/playmats out of events!


At my second or third event, I was practicing against a player whose card sleeves portrayed a comically proportioned anime girl with barely any clothes on. When someone made an off-hand comment on the sleeves, he told me:


“I play these [the sleeves] to distract my opponents.”

This type of behavior is degrading to everyone in the community. There is a rich tapestry of genders and sexualities in the modern world, all of which deserve to feel welcome in our community. But players using sexualized card sleeves and playmats to intentionally make their opponent uncomfortable should be offensive to everyone involved. Games should be won based on card knowledge and skill, not by making players wish they weren’t playing against you. I want to be clear that you are allowed to appreciate anime art, and you’re allowed to put it on your playmats and card sleeves. And if it’s not overly sexual, great! Continue using them with pride! But if you currently own a playmat or set of sleeves that might be questionable, I’m not telling you to burn them and never use them again. Personal play and what you do with friends casually is your time. But leaving these items out of events means more people feel welcome.


For example, I’d love to see more kids playing this game. But adult-themed playmats and sleeves give a pretty strong “no kids allowed” message. You don’t want to have to answer awkward questions about your playmat from an eight year old. I understand this might be the biggest ask on this list for some of you, but this simple act can make so many people feel welcome.


3) Don’t Punch Down.


While the community is largely great at welcoming new players, some of the language used can casually turn people away. I’ve frequently heard decks referred to as “retarded” when someone means to say that it doesn’t take much thought to play, or is really good. I’ve regularly heard people joke about being “triggered” on FFTCG facebook groups and other forums.


As someone with a lot of complicated health diagnoses, and someone who’s experienced some pretty serious harassment, these events were painful for me. I imagine it would be painful to others with these experiences as well. And as a professional writer, I know intimately that words are powerful. Whether someone feels welcome in our community, or wants to leave, can rest largely on the words we use with one another.


So, we need to have a talk about how we talk in our community. Obviously, nobody saying these things are doing so to intend harm. However, just because no harm is intended doesn’t mean nobody is harmed. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way before, and it sucks looking back on my life knowing that someone else could feel welcome in my social circles if I just cared a little more about the words I was using. But it also motivates me to do better, because now I know what it takes to make a community diverse and inclusive.


So when I say “don’t punch down”, I mean specifically, don’t use comments, jokes, or words that depend on someone’s identity to make their point. “Retarded” punches down on the mental health community and disabled community, for example. “Triggered” punches down on victims of harassment, people with anxiety triggers, and sufferers of PTSD.


If you have used these words in the past, I am NOT saying that you are a bad person. I am NOT saying that you even believe the punchline of your joke to be true. A lot of us have actively internalized language that is harmful to others simply because we were brought up around it. Because we were never told to question it, and it was just a part of our environment. So untraining words that cut off other people takes work. It’s hard. There will be slip ups. That’s okay. But ultimately, the work is worth it. I feel so lucky to have as many friends as I do from all walks of life. Simply by using language that makes them feel welcome, my life feels far richer than I ever imagined. It’s a trade I would make every day of the week, because the people I’ve loved along the way have touched my life for the better. So, call out people at the table if they make a sexist/racist/etc joke. Yes, even if there are no women or people of color around. Make it clear that this community belongs to everyone, and that means using language that makes everyone feel included. If you’re too nervous, or uncomfortable doing it yourself, alert a member of the game store, or someone in the playgroup you trust. You don’t have to do this alone.


If you use these words, start exploring alternatives to work them out of your language. Instead of saying “This deck is retarded” or “This card is cancer”, you could use:

-ridiculous

-gross

-overpowered/OP

-strong/stronk


None of those words make a personhood a punchline, and still get the point across. End of the day, how we talk to one another as a community is a means of communicating respect. Nobody should feel disrespected about something they cannot control.


Closing Thoughts


Everyone I’ve met in the community has been kind, compassionate, and helpful. I’m really grateful to be here, but I still experience moments of discomfort from the points discussed above. I have resolved within myself that I am not going anywhere, but nobody should have to do that. You shouldn’t have to resolve to put up with things that make you feel uncomfortable, especially when only certain groups have to make that sacrifice. So, if you don’t feel like you’ve had to make that kind of resolution to yourself, I’m going to ask you to make one now.


I’m asking you, whoever you are, to resolve that you will do what you can to make this space welcome for everyone. That if someone asks you not to use ____ word, or not play with ____ sleeves, it’s because they want to feel safe and respected in the community. I ask you to evaluate your language and behavior ahead of time so that nobody has to ask you those things. Most importantly, I ask you to listen to the underrepresented people in our game community, and learn from their example.


This community is already great. But let’s work together and make it greater. I look forward to your frequent and compassionate participation.

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