If you haven't been following the drama on Twitter or Reddit for the past few days, there has been a huge blowup about harassment in the Magic community. Christine Sprankle, a prominent cosplayer, decided to quit the Magic community largely thanks to repeated harassment from MTGHeadquarters, a Magic Youtube personality, and his followers. I'm not going to directly tackle that situation, but it is the reason I decided to write this.
I spent a lot of time this week debating whether this was an issue I should write about or if I should just leave it alone. I don't enjoy writing about social issues, despite having done so several times in the past, because I hate dealing with the backlash that always accompanies it. I also wasn't sure whether this is something I am qualified to write about or if I had anything important to say. All in all, it was a lot easier to just ignore this situation and say nothing. I would avoid criticism, avoid the risk of saying the wrong things, and avoid the aggressive personal insults that often come with the territory.
I decided that I've been really fortunate to be given a platform in this community and that I have a responsibility to use my platform to do my best to try to make our community a better place. I also believe that remaining silent in situations like this is still taking a stance. Imagine if no one in the Magic community said anything about a prominent cosplayer quitting Magic over harassment. It creates the impression that nobody cares, that it isn't relevant, or that it is even fine or acceptable conduct.
Seeing something wrong and willingly choosing to be silent about it is in some ways a tacit acceptance of that wrongdoing. I know that I've been silent in these kinds of situations in the past, thinking “I'm not involved in this” or “this doesn't affect me so I'll leave it alone” but if everyone does the same thing as me then no positive change ever happens and people continue to perpetuate the same problematic behavior.
I don't think it is possible, plausible, or necessary to care about every issue that happens. There are so many problems in the world that it is simply impossible to focus on all of them. We have to pick and choose our battles. Well, this is a battle that hits really close to home for me. For one, the Magic community is an enormous part of my life and anything that makes this community worse for people matters to me. Secondly, there was a point in my past where I was the kind of person who did things to make the community unwelcome to women or people who weren't like me. I've made and continue to make conscious efforts to change my behavior, and I want to share why I had a change of heart.
I started playing Magic over 10 years ago. I've been around this game and community for a long time. I used to use words like rape as a descriptor for how badly I lost a game and I made insensitive racial or gender-based jokes. I thought PC culture was horrible and ruining society. I got annoyed with how easily people got offended by seemingly innocuous or innocent statements or jokes. I was demeaning to women in many ways. I assumed they were free wins, judged them based on their appearance, and questioned their motivations for being a part of the Magic community, all things I did not do in the same way to other men. I'm sure the list does not end there.
My intention with those kinds of actions was never to hurt anyone. In fact, I tried to be nice to people I directly interacted with and I considered myself a good person. What I failed to realize is that my intentions of being a good person weren't enough to actually make me one. My words and actions proved otherwise.
I lacked empathy. I didn't actually care about other people at all, even though I genuinely thought I did. When someone would tell me that something I did hurt them, my reaction was to think “you're wrong to feel that way. I didn't intend it like that” rather than to actually think about their perspective and consider why it might be hurtful to them. Either I didn't respect them enough to think that their opinion was worth considering or I felt like my ability to act however I wanted was more important than how my words or actions affected other people. Both demonstrate a lack of empathy.
Intentions matter, of course, but words and actions still carry import and impact separate from intention. I never intended to make people uncomfortable, offend them, or hurt them, but my intention to “do no harm” didn't mean that I was incapable of doing harm anyway. And once someone would bring up that I was harming someone, I no longer had “good intentions” as a fallback rationale if I chose to ignore or dismiss their complaints rather than apologize and try to avoid doing it in the future.
Eventually, I changed my mind. It was a long process that took years and involved being consistently exposed to opposing viewpoints as well as having experiences that shaped my own personal growth along the way. It was never just one thing someone said or one event that changed the mind of someone as stubborn as me, but over time I could feel my perspective start to shift.
Ultimately, I went from thinking that it was other people's fault if they chose to get offended by my language or actions to thinking that what I say and do is entirely my own personal responsibility. It's a herculean task to avoid ever offending anyone, but I can still own up to my actions, apologize if someone was hurt by them, and avoid repeating it in the future. Even if I don't think what I did was wrong, I can still avoid doing it around the people that don't like it. For example, I enjoy cursing and don't think it is wrong to do so, but my parents don't appreciate it. I actively avoid saying those words around my parents because I care about them. Sometimes it is as simple as that.
There are thousands of words and near infinite combinations of phrases. Finding other ways to say something is not difficult. Being respectful with my language around others costs me almost nothing, and can make other people's lives better. If I care about being a good person, this is a no-brainer.
The key catalyst to this change in myself was finally being able to come face-to-face with the realization that I can't both be a good person and also say or do things that I know hurt other people, even if I don't think they are justified in being hurt. The last part was what was hard for me to overcome and I feel like that is true for many Magic players. Magic players are smart, intellectual people. It can be tough to come to grips with the idea that, in most cases, it simply does not matter who is right or wrong, all that matters is being kind. If you are right, but hurt other people and make the world a worse place for others in the process, does it actually matter? I think not, personally. People are what matter, not whether the use of some word “should” be acceptable or not.
I think a large portion of people who make the community an unwelcoming environment or contribute to harassment are people like myself. People who don't intend to hurt people or drive people away from Magic, but don't know how their actions affect other people or don't care enough to change them. This isn't unredeemable, but I don't think it is possible to be both a good person and simultaneously not care about your effect on others, regardless if some percentage of your actions are justifiable. Just because something is justifiable doesn't make it right. Even if it is something within your rights, it doesn't make doing it correct. Too often we get caught up by the idea of whether our actions are justified that we don't stop to think about what matters more – being right or being kind?
- Brian Braun-Duin