#MagicGate and harassment in tabletop wargaming

I’m going take a break from our regularly scheduled programming on painting tiny warmans to delve into the latest controversy in the gaming community about harassment. This is probably going to be a bit of a rant as I have some strong feelings on the subject, so if you’re not in the mood to read hundreds of words dripping with disdain towards the alt-right, you should probably click through to my articles on my Grolar or something. Otherwise, buckle yourself in…

If you spend as much time following gaming media and social networks as much as I do, you’ve surely seen the latest flareup surrounding sexism in gaming, harassment, and alt-right fucknuts. This time, the jackassery comes from the world of Magic: The Gathering, with some recent spillover into the tabletop wargaming universe, primarily Warhammer.

It all started when a prominent MtG cosplayer, Christine Sprankle, announced that she was leaving her hobby because of harassment. Much of that harassment came from popular MtG youtuber Jeremy Hambly, aka Unsleeved Media, and his fans and followers. I can’t say I follow any MtG media that closely, but every indication is that Hambly is quite the toxic personality. Don’t believe me? His profile picture on twitter at the time of this writing is literally an MS Paint drawing of himself merged with a Nazi meme, so he is clearly quite the nice fellow.

pepe

As I said, clearly a nice fellow

Shortly afterwards, Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes MtG, issued a strongly worded statement denouncing said harassment and bullying among the MtG community. They also added Hambly as well as pro player Travis Woo to the ban list on DCI, the official sanctioning body for MtG tournamets. Hambly earned himself a lifetime ban, while Woo got off with a one-year suspension for running a facebook group containing misogynist content.

So, game company denounces harassment and bullying, and responds by taking action against the perpetrators. Good news, right? I’m sure everyone is happy with that.

Unfortunately, this is the internet in 2017, so we all know how this story ends. A bunch of people started coming out of the woodwork to support Hambly, petitioning MtG to reconsider their decision and threatening boycotts. The hashtag #MagicGate started becoming popular on twitter, because nothing says “I don’t support harassment but…” like naming your hashtag after a movement to harass women out of the video game industry.

As an aside, this is not without precedent. A couple years ago, WotC decided to issue a lifetime ban to Zachary Jesse, a pro-player and convicted rapist, because, well, it came to light that he was a convicted rapist. Some sections of the MtG community rallied around him, presumably because they felt that not being able to play a collectible card game in a tournament was disproportionately cruel and unusual punishment or something.

Anyways, this story made its way to the tabletop wargaming community by way of Arch Warhammer, a 40K youtuber who makes videos about 40K lore as well as anti-feminist rants, warning that first they came for the MtG players, and soon they will come for 40K players. Other tabletop wargaming media such as Bell Of Lost Souls and Spikey Bits have also weighed in, generally on the side of WotC. Though, as usual, the “don’t read the comments” rules applies to their articles on the subject.

I’m sure this exchange will continue until everyone is out of breath, and then pop up again down the road next time someone says something controversial like “women are people” or “harassment is bad” or “I like painting up some diverse miniatures rather than my 947th white guy.” WotC seems to be digging their heels in on this one, so I don’t see them backing down, especially in our post-Weinstein world. Which is a good thing; I feel that a line needs to be drawn in the sand in our geekly communities against harassment and bullying, particularly when it is of the sexist, racist, or homophobic variety.

How does this affect the tabletop wargaming community?

It would be foolish for us to think that the same issues that are plaguing the MtG community aren’t present in some form in the tabletop wargaming community as well.

If you judge by internet commentary on any issues regarding representation in the hobby, the 40k fandom is chock full special snowflakes who will be triggered by the idea of female space marines or increasing diversity in the hobby (though GW seems to have, thankfully, gotten the message). I sometimes wonder if it has something to do with the fluff; after all, I’m sure there are some people who are attracted to the fandom because they actually like the idea of a universe where you have genetically modified, racially pure supersoldiers in their little “no girls allowed” club, unquestioningly serving an Aryan Fuhr- Emperor, engaged in constant, never-ending war and purging various xeno races. Of course, what they fail to realize in their lust for authoritarianism is that fascist dystopias suck ass in every way; that’s why it’s called grimdark.

Or, you could just scroll down and look at the comments on the Spikey Bits or BoLS articles mentioned above. Or just about any of Arch Warhammer’s videos.

One difference between MtG and many miniatures games is that since WotC, the producers of MtG, also control DCI, a centralized player database, they have more power to take action against these sort of bullies. With a few keystrokes, they are able to go into their database, look up a player’s DCI number, and issue bans or suspensions for cheating, theft, harassment, or whatever.

On the other hand, not all miniatures companies have less power to do this. FFG keeps track of a banned players list for their organized play, but for both 40K and Warmachine, the vast majority of tournaments, even at the highest levels, are community run affairs. There isn’t really a sanctioning body like the DCI for these games. And with companies like Privateer Press moving away from a formal system for their volunteers, that’s one fewer lever from which they can control what goes on among people who play their game.

As this latest issue unfolds, it is clear that tabletop wargaming companies have a couple problems on their hands. First, I think they generally want to keep harassment and bullying out of their games, both because it’s good business not to alienate potential customers and because it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, for a lot of them, they don’t have as much control over organized play as WotC does, so they’re going to have to work with the community on this one.

The second issue is that a certain proportion of their current fanbase is going to be less than sympathetic towards any steps in the right direction, be it confronting harassment or simply improving representation in their products. I don’t see an easy way past this issue, beyond setting the tone and laying down the law like WotC has and weathering the storm.

Why is this important?

I know by now some of you are saying “hey, crimsyn, I’m sick of hearing about politics; finish that article on how you paint your TMM bronze or something.” In some sense, I get it. I’d rather not have to write about these jerkwads either. But I think this is an issue that we, in gaming communities, are going to have to address head on, for three main reasons.

1. Gaming should be for everyone**

I can’t believe I have to say this in 2017, but people shouldn’t be harassed and bullied out of the things they love because of their gender. There is no reason why women shouldn’t enjoy wargaming. However, if you look around at any big wargaming tournament or convention, you will see that they are a tiny minority, if they are present at all.

While we could argue that perhaps some of the issue stems from women being socialized away from playing with wardollies by society, having a gender ratio in the game that is 98-2 on a good day indicates that there are a lot of potential players that are missing. That is bad for the game, bad for the community, and bad for the bottom line of miniature companies.

We need to make efforts in our hobby to reach out to groups that are underrepresented, because those could be missing community members who might enjoy the game. And part of that is going to be improving community standards and dealing with the bullies in our midst.

2. Toxic masculinity is not fun

Compared to a lot of personalities on the Warmachine internet, I like to think I’m a fairly soft-spoken guy. However, the “bro” culture around wargaming, with some of the aggressiveness, trash talk, and bawdy references, can be a little much sometimes. This isn’t to say that all men are toxic, but more that we need to throw away some of the macho man masks that we wear, because wearing those masks all the time is bad for everyone, including ourselves.

3. There are real-world implications

I get it, a lot of us game to get away from all the issues in the real world, whether they be our personal foibles with bills, work, etc., or all the bad things that are happening around the world. Unfortunately, gaming and nerd culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Because 2017 is shit, apparently Nazis are a thing again, even if they prefer the term “alt-right.” I live not too far from Parliament Hill, and I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of extremist far-right groups and neo-Nazis openly protesting mere blocks from where I live.

Between GamerGate, Sad Puppies, and (ugh) Nazi Furries, it seems as though geek culture has been identified as a recruiting ground for vicious, hateful ideologies, particularly those targeting women. I’m sure someone who knows more about sociology than me has gone into great detail about why young, socially awkward males are such easy marks for people looking to spread these vile ideologies, but this is something that we need to be vigilant of. Especially now that all manner of despicables have been emboldened by the presence of people who share their values in the White House.

At the end of the day, I really don’t want to see the communities I participate in become breeding grounds for racist, sexist ideologies — dangerous ideologies which cause real harm to people, and which have led to really bad places in the past.

Conclusion

In the wake of #MeToo and the latest MtG controversy, I think it’s time for a lot of self-reflection. There are a lot of questions that this issue has raised that game companies, community leaders, and gamers are going to have to grapple with. There are going to be some rough patches ahead and maybe some housecleaning will be necessary, but I think by confronting bullies like Jeremy Hambly, our communities will be stronger at the end.

 

**Except Nazis. Because Nazis are assholes who ruin everything.

 

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