About the Author
Haley Gentile is a fast-talking dame who enjoys gardening, painting, participating in legislative advocacy, and reading the news when she isn't playing Magic. She is a sociologist who studies social movements, media, and inequality, particularly as it pertains to sexualities and race.

The Status of Women in Magic: Let’s Talk About “Rape”

Trigger Warning

This article is going to be about the use of “rape” and other references to sexualized violence in our community. In lieu of a formalized all-encompassing trigger warning, I believe it is more productive to be transparent about the direction in which I am leading this discussion. If you feel you would be traumatized or re-victimized by reading details of a sexual assault case or general conversation about rape, I recommend you avoid reading this article. If you decide to march forward any way and end up feeling upset, I am sorry for your pain. Please know you are not alone, and you will endure! May I direct you to these resources.

The Impetus…

Just over ten years ago, Zachary Jesse plead guilty to aggravated sexual battery, a felony, due to charges resulting from non-consensual vaginal and anal contact he forced upon another undergraduate student. Why is this relevant? Because this past Sunday, on May 10, Zach Jesse was a top-eight competitor at Grand Prix Atlantic City.

He was featured on screen without comment. In response, Drew Levin distributed news media links alerting other viewers to Jesse’s history and the coverage team’s oversight in including him. Immediately and unsurprisingly, Twitter erupted in a flurry of conversation. While many professional players and Magic: The Gathering talking heads displayed their disgust at the coverage team’s decision to feature Jesse, much of the playerbase involved in the conversation rejected the notion that Wizards had erred.

…and the Broader Problem

The Zach Jesse debacle is not isolated. Many of you may recall when Lucas Florent threatened to rape Director of Global Organized Play Helene Bergeot in 2011. His “lifetime” ban lasted all of six months. Jackie Lee has also been vocal about the rape threats she has faced for daring to be a woman who plays Magic well and visibly.

Each of these three situations are extreme examples of a problem I believe the MTG community faces regularly: alienating potential participants and active players through threats or relying on outmoded, offensive language that associates being defeated in a card game with a grave crime.

While it may be tempting to cast aside my concerns by attributing this disgraceful behavior to the social distance the internet provides, the players who tweet ferociously in defense of Zach Jesse or sling rape threats online patronize local game shops, too. I routinely hear players in my LGS and at tournaments say things like, “Oh, you just got raped!” usually with a gleeful smile on their faces. I am tying together a common trend and exemplary incidents because I believe the former cultivates an environment in which the latter can occur.

You may inquire: what does this have to do with women playing MTG? Women are disproportionately affected by sexualized violence. If you have more than a few women in a room, statistically, it is likely at least one of them has encountered rape or sexual assault. When you are flippant about your utilization of language or—as I saw repeatedly on Twitter this weekend—you defend a convicted rapist’s “right” to play a game, you signal to those present that you are not a safe person from whom to seek solace. You are not empathetic. You are not deliberate with your actions. You have not achieved a level of emotional maturity where you can be conscientious and distinguish between governmental censorship and a care-centered ethos that builds community. Now, if you would like to continue to reproduce these patterns of behavior and erect strawmen decrying a fabricated vision of institutional enforcement that very few MTG players have ever seriously endorsed…that’s fine. But I don’t want to play with you. I do not trust you. And you shouldn’t be surprised when other women [Editor’s note: or men!] don’t want to, either.


Fostering a hostile environment toward rape victims can dissuade women from participating, but it also has implications outside of exploring women’s limited role in Magic. Men experience sexualized violence at stunning rates, too.

Imploring fellow players and MTG community members to self-examine their behavior isn’t borne from of a desire to stamp out difference, eradicate fun, or be a wet blanket—it is about compassion and breeding an environment where the highest number of people can maximize their enjoyment. It is a matter of acknowledging that others have experiences that differ from your own and which may have lasting impacts of varying degrees. It is an issue of mutual respect and appreciation.

MTG is necessarily a social game, which means our interactions within the context of playing constitute the gaming environment. If it were not, you would be solely satisfied with emulators that mimic decision trees. Reducing the harm we enact against others is a complex process rife with competing interests. In this instance, however, I think the mental calculus is a simple weighing of costs and benefits. It costs you very little to be purposeful with your language. For someone suffering with PTSD, your failure to exert what will ultimately be a negligible effort for you, this seemingly small mistake can cost a great deal.


“Free Speech” and “Being Offended” versus Community Cultivation

To those whose fingers itch to unload on me, whose internal cogs whirl like a cartoon character’s feet before they again gain traction and dash forward, as a bastion of “PC culture,” please evaluate what made you so bitter and eager to incite pain.

If your only line of logic is, “They’re denying my freedom of speech,” you are willfully misunderstanding the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. To those detractors who would reply with a slippery slope argument of, “If I can’t say ‘rape,’ what next?” I ask that you appraise why you are so analytically lazy. If you would like to relish and praise your inability to identify gradation between institutionally imposed bans and self-inspection, you have only fulfilled the claims of those who accuse trading card players of being stunted.

“Oh, does this mean next we can’t say ‘kill’?”

Typically, murder victims are unable to hear jokes surrounding their abuse, because they are, well, dead. Unfortunately, they are not able to participate in the massive multiplayer game we call life or the MTG community any longer. Furthermore, rates of murder are notably lower than sexualized violence:

National or state crime in 2012
State Population Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate Forcible rape rate
United States-Total 313914040 4.7 26.9


It is rather unlikely you would encounter an attempted murder victim in your LGS, while the same cannot be said of victims of sexualized violence. Lastly, people do not generally attribute murder to the behavior or past actions of murder victims, while rape survivors are routinely blamed for their victimization. There is no cultural ambiguity about the nature of murder, but confusion over the “boundaries” of consent is still regularly levied as a legal defense.

Rape victims are not figments of “misandrists’” imaginations. We exist. You play with us at LGSs, online, and around your kitchen tables. You trade with, buy from, and sell to us. We are members of the MTG community and we deserve to reap the rewards that a solidified subcultural environment can provide—camaraderie, fun, support, and growth—just the same as those who have not had to endure sexualized violence.

Drew Levin posed some questions on Twitter on which I would like all naysayers and doubters to reflect:








Possible Solutions

Of course, it is misguided to identify a problem without proposing a solution.


What language should replace the offending language people are currently employing?

Some replacements I have heard recommended are “owned” and “rekt.” I would encourage you to be even more creative! May I point you toward a Shakespearean insult generator?

Now, I have heard claims that “rekt” or other variations are at risk of becoming substitutes that maintain the original meaning of the offensive language in question. You know your own intentions. If your trash talk is a loosely-veiled allegory for sexualized violence consider revising your statement before you speak. If your trash talk relies upon cultural scripts surrounding gendered patterns of dominance, reevaluate! Ask yourself why you would wish to inflict that sort of trauma on someone with whom you are playing a game. Hell, remove the final qualifier of that sentence. Why would you wish to inflict pain on anyone?

What should you do when you hear someone else use this language?

Speak up! Be polite but firm. In most instances I have personally experienced it suffices to say something along the lines of, “Hey, could you please not use that word?” Rarely have I encountered negative responses to that request, at least in person.

As for online play, I have no suggestions that have proven efficacious. Once in an online MTG interface, I asked nicely and at least four of the draft members proceeded to independently message me grotesque and detailed rape threats. Social desirability bias of in-person interactions obviously renders some techniques less effective online. As to what will rectify this beyond programmer-inserted chat filters, your guess is as good as mine. We have to be accountable to each other. The buck needs to stop somewhere.

I look forward to reading your responses to my thoughts, to the Zach Jesse scandal, and to the issue of the use of “rape” in our community.

The Status of Women in Magic: An Optimistic Prognosis

Fellow Magic: The Gathering players, we need to talk.

To continue to nurture the healthy growth of our community and to maintain a sense of accountability to those who actively participate (and to those who would like to!), we need to be self-reflexive and introspective about the status of women. Aside from attending GP Orlando this past fall, I am rarely ever in a room with more than two other women players.


This article (and those I intend to publish in its wake) is an attempt to sustain a mutually beneficial dialogue that has recently become more salient. I have ruminated on this issue for nearly as long as I have been playing Magic, but Gaby Spartz’s April 7 article “6 Things You Can Do to Get More Women in Magic” on Channel Fireball motivated me to finally organize and articulate my many thoughts on this topic.

While future writings will provide examples of the experiences I believe we should strive to minimize as well as explore specific areas for improvement, the goal of this article is to set a positive tone by praising existing efforts.

Who I Am

Before I commence outlining some areas where I see the Magic community succeeding at integrating women, I would like to briefly introduce myself. I purchased my first introductory deck during New Phyrexia and by Innistrad was drafting weekly. I have faded in and out of Standard, as no deck has captured my attention and excited me as much as [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] Esper Control during Innistrad/Return To Ravnica Standard, but the emergence of a viable Sidisi-Whip build may lure me back.


Limited formats and Commander are my true passions. In terms of Mark Rosewater’s psychographic profiles, I align most closely with Johnny Jenny (more on this below!) but like any competitive player, I have Spike streaks! Sultai is my favorite color combination, though I tend to enjoy any two-color pairing contained within that triad. Outside of the Magic community, I am a Sociology PhD student who studies social movements and mass media. Now, onto my primary purpose!

How Magic is Different

I firmly believe Magic the Gathering is a unique gaming environment in that sexism and misogyny are not endemic to the game itself. Unlike videogames, which sometimes are structured in such a way that exclusion is built into the design, Wizards of the Coast employees have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to fostering a welcoming community. High-profile designers and directors like Doug Beyer and our beloved Mark Rosewater routinely discuss the issue of women in Magic. Most recently, throughout the week of April 13, MaRo featured a different woman employee, each representing distinct departments, on his Tumblr Blogatog. In March of this year, MaRo expressed that he regrets labeling the player archetypes he pioneered with male-gendered names and proposed alternatives (Tammy for Timmy, Jenny for Johnny, Mel for Melvin, while Vorthos and Spike remain gender-neutral).

The culture of inclusion extends beyond a few public figureheads, too. Some of you may recall the controversy surrounding the [card] Triumph of Ferocity [/card] art, which portrayed Garruk looming over Liliana and forcibly pressing forward between her thighs. Though Wizards initially fumbled, they swiftly acknowledged their error, apologized, and pledged to prevent similar mistakes in the future (and, as of yet, have maintained that vow!). When the card was reintroduced in Duels 2015, new art was even commissioned.



While employee composition and responses to mistakes are solid indicators of WOTC’s dedication to constructing a gaming environment where women can comfortably participate, what is most notable, in my opinion, are the cards throughout the history of Magic featuring depictions of widely-varied women in diverse roles with rich characterization. Across all segments of the color pie, women are regularly featured as warriors, priestesses, bureaucrats, sorcerers, healers, necromancers, spies, leaders, followers, and more. Recently, Wizards has even introduced a trans woman ([card]Alesha, Who Smiles at Death[/card]) and an agendered character ([card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card] )! As I stated above, the presence of all of these factors leads me to believe the issue is not inherent to the game itself.

Community Figureheads

Professional players and commentators have contributed to keeping the conversation about women in Magic alive, too. Patrick Sullivan, Luis Scott-Vargas, Drew Levin, and Marshall Sutcliffe all cultivate productive and interactive conversations on Twitter, in their articles, and on their streams. I am also fond of Sam Black’s Facebook group “Story Time with Sam Black!” It is filled with passages where he genuinely reflects on gender. Even though many of the writings are not directly relevant to the Magic community, it is encouraging to see a professional player with high visibility exhibit sensitivity to the inequity commonly faced by women and the negative consequences of restrictive gender norms and roles for all people.


Even amongst those of us who constitute the average player base, there are those who have established enclaves for women players. The Lady Planeswalkers Society (started by Tifa Robles), the MTG Diversity Twitter account, and the FEMtg and Lady MTG Tumblrs are all spaces intentionally created to facilitate women becoming more involved as well as commiserate and process negative experiences. The internet’s ability to connect people across time and geographic space reveals a consensus: current players acknowledge women’s relative absence and want to rectify it.

So What’s the Problem?

The dearth of women who play Magic competitively does not seem to align with WOTC’s informal and direct efforts to broaden the appeal of the game, the attitudes of tastemakers in our community at large, or the overall tone of the conversation online. So why does the issue persist?


Anecdotally, I have the perception that there are many women who restrict themselves to kitchen-table casual play. I do not believe the gulf is attributable to women’s interest in Magic or in table-top gaming more generally. I am inclined to refocus my attention on the micro-cultures of local game stores and the average player base. Accordingly, in future editions of this column, the avenues for improvement I will explore (including but not necessarily limited to: general “othering” of women in Magic, the way we discuss female professional players, exclusionary language, and sexual harassment) will be overwhelmingly oriented toward the environment in which many of us are playing Magic: smaller-scale tournaments like the FNM you may attend weekly. The standards we collectively set in our respective LGSs inform how people behave when they attend Pro Tour Qualifiers and Grands Prix.

Being deliberate and conscientious goes a long way in terms of alleviating potential concerns. The examples I have described above make that much evident. As my title suggests, I am hopeful about the future of the status of women in the Magic community. I look forward to reading your responses and I am confident our discussions can be respectful and constructive.