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abUse the Force - Gender Blender

Star Wars abUse the Force divinityofnumber

Yes, this is a bit of a sidestep for a column usually dedicated to exploring the Jedi and Sith affiliations for the Star Wars LCG. But, given the recent release of Edge of Darkness, with so much non-Jedi and non-Sith card content, I decided to put the reviews on hold briefly and post some nontraditional and hopefully conversation-starting content.

Our interviewee preferred to remain nameless, so we will refer to her here as Female Card-Gamer (FCG). She is 30 years old, holds multiple college and graduate degrees, is a working professional, and has been a lifelong video- and card-gamer.


abUse the Force (ATF): Welcome to abUse the Force. To start off, tell me a little bit about your history with card games. Feel free to go back as far as you want to; did you ever play cards as a kid?

FCG: In my family, card games were always a part of gatherings. People in my family played Canasta, Poker, and a lot of other common card games. In my immediate family, when I was a kid, we always played things like Kings in the Corner, Crazy 8’s, and other similar games. Cards were always around.

ATF: When did you get into the nerdier, geekier, type of combat-style card games?

FCG: I wish that I would have known that they existed when I was younger. I had no clue about Magic or any of those games when they were starting back in the day. One day, while dating the man who was my boyfriend at the time, now my husband took out an old shoebox full of Pokemon cards. That was the gateway drug. We had fun, and I sat down and learned what the dynamics were with combat-type card games like that. I immediately loved it, and thought that it was super fun.
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After playing Pokemon from time to time casually, I wondered about other card games that might be more complex and even more fun. Then, one day while at the mall we stopped into a game store and I bought Cho-Manno’s Resolve, a pre-made White Magic: The Gathering deck. We played casually for a while, and I would buy random singles to add to my deck, which eventually grew to between 80 and 90 cards. I added any card that I liked, and thought that nothing would ever beat Calciderm. We learned together at the kitchen table, laughing and playing casually for fun. Eventually, thinking that we were getting pretty good, we went to a local Friday Night Magic event, and I did win two games that first night I played, with my 80+ card white deck. We really didn’t know what we were doing [laughs].

I think that first Friday Night Magic (FNM) was in the summer of 2007. I kept going to FNMs, and kept getting better and better. I developed a great deck over time. The next summer, in July of 2008 I won every FNM of that month at our local game store, which drew a large FNM crowd. I was the only girl in that meta-game to ever do anything like that.

ATF: We talked a little bit about this already, but what types of tournaments have you played in? What types of things have you won?

FCG: My first competitive play and tournaments was playing FNMs. But, my first large-scale tournament was the Magic State Regional Championship in 2008. I think that I was one of maybe two girls in the entire event, and there were hundreds of people there. I didn’t do too well. I won some games and held on for a while, but I had not been up against that level of competition before, and don’t feel like I took it seriously enough. I was playing in a very friendly and casual way, and that event was a rude awakening as to what large event competitive play is like. In the later rounds it gets intense and people are fierce. It was still fun; the hours go by like minutes at big tournaments like that. Over the years I have won playmats, lots of alternate art and special edition cards, etc.

ATF: What eventually led you away from Magic: The Gathering?

FCG: After a while, I came to realize that Magic was a “Rich Kid Wins” game, and I didn’t enjoy knowing that the other people that I met that were really great players, often very talented younger people, had no chance because they were playing with janky cards and couldn’t afford the good playsets. It just made me bitter over time.

A friend-of-a-friend, who, at the time, worked for Fantasy Flight [Games] learned that my husband and I were competitive card players who were getting sick of Magic, and suggested that we try out A Game of Thrones, which we did, and we loved it. We slowly turned a group of our Magic friends over to A Game of Thrones (AGoT) and everyone loved it. When we first started the AGoT LCG, we hadn’t read the books yet; we just saw that these Stark people had these dogs, and that there were different families and houses, with no idea what any of it was about. After playing the card game for a while, I couldn’t resist reading the books to learn more about all of these people on my cards, and so I quickly read through all of the books that were out at the time, and loved them. I think that Fantasy Flight has done a good job making the cards relevant and interesting for people who have read the books, but not giving enough away on the cards to ruin the books for people who have not read them all yet. I have always played Stark. I love the card-dynamics of that house, and it is my go-to deck.

ATF: So, you have played in many FNM events and a state championship for Magic, and I understand that you have also played in many Days of Ice and Fire events?

FCG: Yes, I played in the 2010 Days of Ice and Fire (DoIaF), which George R.R. Martin attended, and also played in DoIaF 2011 and 2013, which were all Game of Thrones regional tournaments. I have also played in the A Game of Thrones world championship.

ATF: And most recently you played in the Star Wars LCG Regional Championship that was held at the Fantasy Flight Event Center in Minnesota, the May The 4th Be With You event, correct?

FCG: Yep; Star Wars is my main game right now. I still play other games, but my main focus is on Star Wars. I am really impressed with the game. The dynamics and mechanics of it are excellent, and it just clicks with my cognitive style and my card-gaming style.

ATF: That event drew the largest crowd of the first Star Wars LCG regional season. You made the cut to Top 8. How was that?

FCG: I didn’t go thinking that I would place even in the Top 16. I had no idea what the competition would be like. I knew that within my group of friends I would usually win, but I didn’t have a grasp of what the wider community was like. Right away in that tournament I found that I was up against very, very good players, people from all over the country. There were many people at that event who were really passionate about the game, so it felt good to place.

ATF: The match that marked the cut to Top 4 was rough for you I hear, having been paired against a long-time friend?

FCG: Yes, that was difficult. I was undefeated until that matchup, except for one true tie against the person who went on to take 2nd place. The thing that I walked away feeling good about in the end was the fact that, earlier in the day, I gave the guy who went on to win the entire event his only loss of the day.


ATF: Now let’s talk more specifically about gender, and about gender as it relates specifically to the Star Wars LCG. What type of reactions do you get from people in the wider world when you tell them about this hobby?

FCG: Most people just don’t understand it, most women especially have no clue what I am talking about when I try to describe these types of card games. When I tell people that I am a competitive card player, or that I am going to a card tournament, they always think that I mean Poker. Most girls don’t understand it, guys get it if you explain it, but most people don’t really understand what these games are. It seems like there are a lot of ex-Magic players in the world; they know what I’m talking about, but are often unfamiliar with LCGs.

ATF: Tell me about your experiences playing in tournaments against essentially only male competitors. I do see girls/women at events, but usually they are on their phones or sitting with crossed arms waiting for the man in their life to hurry up and be done. I very rarely see a female actively playing, maybe a few at really large events. What is that like?

FCG: I think that it works to my advantage, at first. When I sit down, the first thought that people have is that they’re going to get an easy win. They initially think free win. I think that it differs exactly at what point they start to take me seriously. Sometimes even by my shuffling they can tell that I am playing like a guy already, though. When I say, “like a guy”, I mean in a stereotypically masculine fashion, the ultra-quick pile-shuffling, the quick-cutting, the meticulous way that I have the game materials arranged, sometimes my playmat, my custom game materials, things like that.

In Star Wars, when people flip over objectives, they start to describe for me very slowly what they do, when I already know by sight the exact wording on them. I just nod my head and smile.

ATF: How do you think that your games play out differently than male-male games?

FCG: I’m not sure. I think that it is just that initiation piece that is different. They usually start out I think assuming an easy win, reading me slowly what all of their cards do, and things like that. Then, a few plays into the game I can see them straighten up their shoulders and back; that is the moment when they realize where they are, that they are in that same competitive zone that they would be playing against a veteran male player.

ATF: Does gender go out the window at that point?

FCG: Yes. At that point they are no longer viewing me as female, especially at the top tables. My history of competitive play has made me very strict about my game etiquette and insistence on there being no “take-backs”, because I don’t feel that that’s fair to either competitor. In competitive play, if a game piece or a card leaves your hand, you played it, and if something is spoken, it has to happen, plain and simple. Competitive players play like that anyway, and appreciate that demeanor, but most players don’t expect that from a girl. I don’t care if I lose, as long as I lose fairly. I have seen myself make huge play mistakes that cost me games, but I would never try to take them back or be shady about it, because I don’t want to win that way. For example, if someone forgets to take a focus token off of Luke at the beginning of my turn, that’s too bad; reactions are optional and I won’t allow them to go back and do that.

ATF: Have you ever experienced blatant misogyny, people making negative comments such as, “I can’t believe that I lost to a girl”, etc.?

FCG: No, not at all. I’ve experienced much the opposite, especially among the Fantasy Flight crowd. I think that most people wish that more girls/women played, and find it refreshing to play against a female. Of course, I don’t know what they say after the games are over, but my personal experience has been a positive one.

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ATF: As far as Star Wars LCG goes, and I know that AGoT is different with this, what do you think of the male-gendered wording on all of the cards and game materials, rule book, etc.?

FCG: I was really shocked by this. Especially since it seems like it was such a conscious choice. Things could have easily been made gender-neutral. I was especially surprised because I have met some of the makers of these games; the Fantasy Flight guys are such nice people, and it was surprising and shocking that they would make conscious choice to have the game’s wording explicitly exclude female gamers. It sends the message that women are not supposed to be playing this game; the message is being clearly sent that this is a man’s game.

I understand where they are coming from, and know that most people who play will be male, especially most competitive players, but why choose to exclude females when it would be so easy to use different wording? Given that I love this game so much, it is pretty disheartening.

ATF: Often cards refer to a specific game mechanic and mention a card’s controller or owner. But the Star Wars LCG, when referring to the player generally, uses the male gender exclusively. For a good example just take a look at Confronting the Terror.

FCG: I guess that means that those cards don’t apply to me until there is an errata [laughs]? Like I said, the male-oriented language saturates the entire game. Anger, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the rule book, all of it.

True, words like man or mankind used to refer to both genders and were generic terms, but with the evolution of the English language and also the push for gender-neutral language, that isn't the case anymore, and it isn't what is going on with the game text.

ATF: It seems to perpetuate the view that these games are only for men.

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FCG: The most bizarre part is that it is so rampant and consistent across the game materials that it must have been a conscious choice to make things gender-specific. It sends the message to women that they aren’t supposed to be playing. One of the very first people that I ever saw playing this game and touching these cards was a woman – I don’t know her name; she is the really pretty and nice lady that works for Fantasy Flight that often did the demos and tutorials for this game.

ATF: I haven’t played every game that FFG has put out, but I do know that AGoT doesn’t suffer from this problem. I can’t say for a certainty that there is no gender-specific wording on any AGoT card ever printed. But, a quick scan of those cards shows that it isn’t a big issue.

FCG: Yes, the AGoT cards have a very different feel with respect to gender. I hope that the gendered language is something that is changed when the Star Wars LCG materials progress through future printing editions.


ATF: As we wrap up, what advice do you have for other women and girls who either play or are thinking of playing competitive card games?

FCG: Don’t expect or encourage special treatment based on gender. Take it as a compliment when a male opponent is angry or bitter when they lose to you, or when they don’t tell you what all of their cards do; they are treating you like a true competitor of a game and not based on your sex.

ATF: Last question. What are some of your all-time favorite cards, by game? These don’t have to be cards that you think are the best power-wise; they can be just cards that you enjoy the style of, or have fun with.

FCG: With Star Wars, I would have to say Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Trust Your Feelings (especially with Han or Luke already on the board), Vader’s TIE Advanced, and Darth Vader, obviously. With Vader’s TIE Advanced, I like the mystery of how it could be augmented with whatever comes off of the top of the deck, and that Talon Roll works with it. It causes your opponent to be less certain of their decisions about defending. It is a better card than people give it credit for, I think. Depending on the build, you never know if you’ll be adding the icons from Devastator, the Emperor, or maybe adding no icons at all. It’s just a fun card. My favorite affiliation is Jedi. They may not always be the fastest, the most powerful, or the most competitive decks, but I like the play-style that they bring and the deck dynamics.

With AGoT, I have always liked the Lords of Winter Catelyn Stark (the jumping Catelyn), Meera Reed, and Northern Calvary Flank. House Stark has a lot of amazing cards. Meera is probably my all-time favorite. When she enters the game, things can get complicated and the board can change dramatically.

ATF: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. It is always interesting to examine gender-related issues with these types of card games, and to get a female perspective on things.

FCG: My pleasure, thanks for choosing me for the interview.

Please post your thoughts about gender and card-gaming in the comments. For the men, what type of relationship do the women in your life have with your card games? Do they share the passion? Do they reluctantly help you playtest? Do you have female gamers in your local meta? For women, tell us about your experiences as a card-gamer!
  • Toqtamish, HappyDD, Midian and 8 others like this


SW LCG seemed to be a turning point for my wife and now she is a SW fan and she plays an LCG, which is great for me, being a B&M store and gaming club owner. She never had issues with the wording related to her gender, but that is probably because Bulgarian is a gendered language, and words as "player" or "owner" (or for that matter - all professions like judge, lawyer, doctor, etc.) are all male, so "he" fits better.

I've had issues understanding texts using "she" instead of "he" in English books or other games and just now I understood it was matter of language neutrality. I'm sorry to say that they never sounded as neutral as "he".

4) Use "they." "They" is truly gender neutral (which is an important distinction compared to all encompassing terms). The problem is that, in English, using "they" in the context of direct directions can come accross as rude and is generally not taught to be acceptable. Card text is generally direct directions. In less direct circumstances, such as "They may do X," it is more typical to use "you," such as, "You may do X."

I hold an English degree and choose to use they and their to be encompassing. When I used "they" this way during a meeting with a British team member he asked my about afterwards. When I explained why I used the plural pronoun in a singular situation, he looked at me like I was crazy.

Using a male set of pronouns does indeed have its roots in patriarchal societal structures; this is the reason that we have not traditionally used the female forms as the all encompassing versions. But, language evolves, conventions die, and that type of language is obviously becoming archaic rather quickly. Furthermore, it isn't about finding the "valid" choice, it is about finding the more inclusive, progressive, and considerate choice, which was not done in the case of the Star Wars LCG. Someone decided to use exclusively male wording for this game, which I think the interviewee found surprising, given her background in Pokemon, MTG, and AGoT, which have all made efforts to avoid that.

@DivinityOfNumber I appreciate that you've reinforced my stereotype of the intellectual capacity of FFG's LCG gamer audience.