Friday, March 18, 2011

Women and Magic, a missing piece of the discussion

Titus Chalk recently took a fresh look at the 15+year old question of why tournament Magic contains so few women (article can be found here,

The article is well written and contains many valid points about the gender gap in tournament Magic, but the article makes no mention of the body of research that does a lot of work to explain the gender gap.

There is a real gender difference in competitiveness (and performance in competitive vs. casual settings). Just as an example (I encourage Googling and/or looking up citations within this article for those with an interest), this recent article discusses the gender difference in competitiveness in the context of desire to enter tournaments:

Here's the abstract of the article:

"We examine whether men and women of the same ability differ in their selection into a competitive environment. Participants in a laboratory experiment solve a real task, first under a noncompetitive piece rate and then a competitive tournament incentive scheme. Although there are no gender differences in performance, men select the tournament twice as much as women when choosing their compensation scheme for the next performance. While 73 percent of the men select the tournament, only 35 percent of the women make this choice. This gender gap in tournament entry is not explained by performance, and factors such as risk and feedback aversion only play a negligible role. Instead, the tournament entry gap is driven by men being more overconfident and by gender differences in preferences for performing in a competition. The result is that women shy away from competition and men embrace it."


This gender difference is what I believe accounts (in large part) for the male/female ratio in tournament Magic. Comparing the field of any tournament to a figure such as "28 percent of people who play video games are female" is misleading. Women's reluctance to enter tournaments doesn't necessarily reflect a deficiency in Magic or an oversight by its creators or by tournament organizers.

Whether or not you enjoy competitive-level tournament Magic comes down to one thing: do you enjoy competing against and beating a complete stranger at a game. Not "do you enjoying playing a stranger." The joy must come from the (often intense) competition, otherwise FNM and the kitchen table provide everything you need, all without the car ride out of town and the $100 Jaces.

Entry into the tournament is not only optional, it's costly. Timed rounds, rules infractions, no take-backs, crowded spaces, entry fees, cutthroat deck construction, expensive cards, travel. Why are boys more interested in putting up with all this? Because they get more out of it. That's why they'll put more in.


Everyone enjoys beating their older brother at something, and many boys and girls enjoy beating their friends, but I think when it comes to being paired against a stranger and playing to win, the dynamic changes. Tournament Magic isn't about casting a cool Dragon or Vampire, or the laughter or joking that occurs as the games play out. It's about winning. Again, it isn't Magic that is this way, just tournament Magic.

Like many others, I think the Magic community can work to be more accepting and friendly toward female players that do choose to enter tournaments. However, we should be cautious (and look at the research) before we blame a harsh, male-dominated environment for having created a harsh, male-dominated environment.


  1. How was this not mentioned in the other article? This is my first thought when anyone asks why there is such a discrepancy.

  2. The article is not talking exclusively about the lack of women in tournament Magic, but Magic in general. The discrepancy exists in casual Magic as well, and that is what Titus is largely addressing.

  3. Also, it is true that a lot of the discrepancy in men:women is based on some kind of inherent separation in interest; however, realize that at tournaments, men do not make up "96%" of the room but "99.9%" -- according to that "study" you quoted, the difference should be closer to something like 70-30 based on this inherent separation. So there is clearly something else keeping women away beyond just their lack of interest in the tournament scene - and let's be real, if Magic tournaments were even 15-20% female, that'd be a vast improvement over what it is right now.

  4. As well written as the original, but as others have noted, the original was about a more general problem than the lack of women in COMPETETIVE magic. And while I agree that scientific studies should be considered when discussion this topic, the specific study you cite leave us wondering what happened to all the women that opt for the competition. Among PT-competitors there is just over zero % women, only taking the study into account it should be about 33%.

  5. We need to be careful with our use of citing the statistics as evidence. 73 percent of men and 35 percent of women choosing competition does not mean there should be a 70-30 split within a competitive magic tournament. Rather, 70 percent of the TOTAL pool of men and 30 percent of the TOTAL pool of women OF EQUAL ABILITY should choose to be competitive. Given the total number of women in magic is far lower than the total number of men of equal ability, it is NO surprise that the number of women competing is so low. In my opinion (and it is just that), the *real* problem comes from the marketing and learning/teaching process (which, if you talk with any teacher in the game, is currently far less then optimal). Also, how many women are there (barns included) who are part of team Channel Fireball? Starcity?

    While Matt raises valid arguments, there is more to the gender gap then the propensity for men to choose competition more often than women.

  6. Above poster is correct, and I realized I was wrong RE:statistic meaning there should be 70-30 split immediately after posting. :/

  7. In the study, an equal number of men and women are given the option of joining the tournament. The tournament is a mild form of competition, its just a competitive payscale for a gender neutral task.

    As the environment becomes more competitive and more costly to join, why wouldn't the trend from the article become increasingly visible?

    I don't make the claim the entire 99% male or whatever it is can be explained by one study, but I don't see a reason why the study can't explain much of the gap.

  8. 70% isn't a definition of the effect or a ceiling on the effect in every context, it's just the rate at which males in one study chose to enter a mild form of competition. Magic tourneys are much more competitive than the setting created by the experimenters. The gap logically would expand as the competition becomes extreme and as the entrants are no longer taken from a 50/50 male female pool but rather an already skewed gamer population (as exists with video games, a more mainstream gaming community).

  9. I'm not sure what article the above posters were reading, but the one linked at the top of this post focuses almost exclusively on the tournament Magic scene when discussing the gender gap. The few places where it mentions casual Magic, it does so to point out that the gender gap is less extreme in the casual setting.

    I do think that the study Matt cites is only a partial explanation. Unlike the tournament of that study, Magic is clearly marketed to young males and involves a battle filled with gruesome violence which females tend to have less affinity/tolerance for.


  10. Nothing to do with this post, but I would love further explanation on what your dialogue w/ Chapin means. I seems that are great reflexions beyond, but I can't get it fully. Thx


  11. Yes this study can explain a lot of the gender gap in tournament magic, but other factors exist to. For instance, as you know, players often will have to travel to the larger events on their own dime. Many of the costs can and will be shared with other players you travel with, namely hotel room costs. Soooo if you're a girl thinking of traveling to the next grand prix, you'll have to find yourself 2-3 guys who don't mind sharing a room with you that AREN'T total sleazy creeps. Yea. Not. Fucking. Happening.

    Ergo women will typically have to pay a larger amount then guys will at higher levels of play. It may only be an extra $100 or so each weekend, but its still another deterrent that only men can really opt out of. This actually is somewhat of an issue in judging too; I pretty much will never judge an event unless I get room sponsorship, since I know it's nigh impossible to find someone I could split a room with.