Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Feminist Reading of the EC

So, I was in the EC of VtES this year. Thank you, Stockholm, it was great!

And what great greatness it was! The people were great, the venue was located very conveniently and the games were tight, fast and furious. Not super fast, some of those games, but really furious, and full of tough calls and decisions.

Tought calls and decisions are to be expected in tournaments like the EC, of course, and people usually would think that those players who go through the trouble of actually getting there would be skilled enough, or at least confident enough in their skills, that they would be okay with making those tough decisions themselves. Not all seemed to think that way, though.

Okay, here we'll need to be spesific about this: when I said “not all”, I really meant a minority. Not very many; few.

What I'm talking about is how some players had their skills really put to question sometimes in the EC, sometimes with good intents (willingness to help out) and sometimes with little less so (or at least that's how it seemed to me). It's not really a new phenomenon in VtES, and even less so in gaming as a culture. Don't even let me get started with online gaming such as League of Legends, a game that is notorious for its playerbase “just trying to help newbies get around”. What is not what they do. Newbies really do need help sometimes, and need some counseling. The odd thing here is that we're in an EC; it's not really that likely that we'll get many newbs in there.

Who were those whose gaming skills were, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, put into question then?

If anyone of you have been following some blogs or any other form of discussion about gaming and geekery of females in a very male oriented culture, you might not be too surprised to hear me say “female players”. Before this starts to sound as a feminist rant let's take it easy with the pace. I will try to write down my main concern within as little space I can.

Girl vampirists are players. Players confident in their skills or with a drive to prove their worth or get better go to tournaments. Those even more enthusiastic go to EC's. Girl players sometimes get patronised by some people. Why would we do that?

So there, the main topic of this blog post.

Once again, before going into details of what can be witnessed happening, and how that can have negative impact on the game, gaming groups and the gaming culture as a whole, let's be really spesific about a few important things: the VtES player community is one of the most mature, accepting and well-behaved player bases I have met, most of the issues rise from good intents, and problems are few and far between.

Why would be want to discuss this in that case? Well, the issues are there, and the problems are realistic. It's not a really major issue, but as I usually find myself contemplating on the community and players more than the overall balance of clans or disciplines or whatnot, I really think that it should be discussed, or at least pointed out.

Okay, so, what happens when we play with a female player?

First of all, they are a minority. In the EC Stockholm we had a rough estimate of little less than 10% of the players of the female gender. When you think about it, that's really a lot. They are a minority, sure, but a growing minority at that.

How have many of the female players gotten into the game? Remember it's a really male oriented culture. I wasn't too surprised to hear many of the girls in the EC say that they got into the game through their husbands or boyfriends. In case you're wondering, my girlfriend was really interested in those things. I didn't wander around interviewing people, even though it wouldn't have been that bad of an idea though! Too bad I didn't think of writing this post until after the EC.

We usually get the idea that girls haven't been playing that much in the case they've only gotten into gaming through their boyfriends. Casual, then? Certainly. Probably not too much into the game itself? Possibly.

More questions. Why would they come to an EC then? Well, to travel with their guys, have a go at it. Notice how we forgot to add “--a competitive tournament like EC--” already? Why would we let that slip? Is there a reason? We'll come back to that later. Let us go through some instances of what happens mid game first.

Here I introduce four kinds of attitudes I witnessed, some of which I heard some girls talking about during the EC. The attitudes included patronising, (extensive) explaining of rules and the game state to women even when help was not asked for, playing through their phases (for example in combat) for them, and even – in very minor cases – depreciating their knowledge of the game state.

The first one really includes the rest, but should stand as an independent point in any case. It includes those ideas I already mentioned above: the idea of a casual player, really not that much into the game itself, and probably out of her league in the EC. I will give an example of how attitudes two to four show.

  1. Extensive explaining of the rules and game state.
    I really see this quite a bit, and certainly not only with girl gamers. It's a natural way of trying to help new players do the right things and keep within the fow of the game. Ever heard anyone say “and now after the untap phase you can play a master card from your hand. If you have Pentex in hand, you might want to play it there. Or forwards as well, in case you have combat in hand and can defend it. He will do (a) or (b), or possibly (c) on their turn unless you do that, but even then--”

Let's cut it there. These things might and should be discussed once or twice, and it's a crucial and obvious part of table talk even (and especially) within more veteran players. After the second or third speech of the same kind to the same player it does get a bit old though. And most often these tips and hints are given without anyone really asking for them, which really does say out loud that “you don't know what you're doing, please let me tell you what to do.”

  1. Playing through other players' phases.
    A combat is really a prime example of this, where there are plenty of phases with sub phases that need to be responded to even if you're not really doing anything. It's a really good idea to ask the player you're confronting if they want to play pres or manouvers, but sometimes a third player from cross table involves and asks those same questions. “You're not really playing any manouvers in that deck, so you'll just want to skip this. Now since you have off-clan potence you need to say if you're playing grapples. You don't? Okay, what's your strike then?”
    “Acutally, I'm the acting--”
    “Oh, okay, so he says first. But you get to say then!”

    I saw this attitude for a couple of times in the EC, and I as really surprised to see players govern others like this. Of course, once again, it's really good to go through these things with new players, and help them out with the ropes, but even they do learn best when not really hand-held for more than a few games. And, if the things are happening in your cross table, it's not really your business if they're taking some time or not to go through the correct phases.
  2. Depreciating someone's knowledge of the game state.
    This is actually a story I heard from a friend, which actually happened in an EC game.This girl tried to make a deal with someone about a crucial point in the game where they really would need to diablerise/cross-oust/something similarily drastic to avoid all dying to a single player. Frankly, these kinds of deals are hard to make, and more often than not are not made at all, but the interesting part here is that the man (as I heard it) really turned the gal down, and refused to discuss anything.

    Well, take three turns and the game had flown exactly how the girl and anticipated. “I told you so” wouldn't be enough, but once the game had turned into a position where her only chance of winning would be cross-ousting this other guy, she made a deal with her predator to go into 3-way with some peaceful turns in between, and at that point the insolent guy turned into pleading for his life. It took a couple of minutes of discussion to assure the dying man that there was nothing he could offer her, and his friend telling him to “just shut up and die” from outside the game, before he let go, and witnessed her predator actually keep the deal, and the game went on.

    I can't really remember if the game turned in her favor from there on or not, but the situation was really interesting. Obviously this was really a one-of-kind situation, and ignorant, arrogant people are everywhere. We shouldn't doom any group because of a single player. But it is an example we should study.

These are attitudes I have witnessed. So, why do we find ourselves acting through those attitudes then? Mostly because we want to help. If we, as I explained earlier, really see a female player as a casual player, we want to help them get by the tight, tough and powerful tournament decks. Sometimes we think that the casual player will drag down the game if s/he doesn't know the rules that well, and the discourse of communication hasn't settled in yet. In those cases we will want ot speed up the game by going through each step with the newb to avoid those awkward silent moments of “okay, what do I say during this step?”.

While there is nothing wrong with this in particular, it does pose some problems when we take into account that we are actualy playing an EC, European Championships, where, by default, all of the gamers are, if not veteran players, familiar with the game and its discourse. If we would accept this as a face value, why would we need to 'help' other players with their playing?

If we remove the topic from the context, we can find more issues. As with most feminist readings of topics we need to evaluate what could in worst case scenario happen to the patronised female player.

  1. The problems to the female image of self are obvious.
    The issues are obvious in the sense that if a person is patronized, and his or her ability to function – in this case play the game – is questioned, their growth within the context will be diminished. In other words, if you accept that girls need more attention when they play the game, you at the same time might be saying 'you can't survive on your own'. Anyone suggested something like that for a long time will eventually become dependant on others' help. Even though this might sound really drastic, it could be viewed from another angle: what if the player was left to make his or her own mistakes, and help was offered only when asked for? What I'm aiming at here is independency.
  1. The problems to the game as a hobby are the threat of female players eventually being left in the margin, and not being able to develop to tournament starndards.
    This has a lot to do with issue number one above. Let's pick up where we left. If players are not left to learn by themselves, with aid given when they think they need to get better and survive (as in, when asked for), they will not learn to think for themselves or learn the game for themselves, and eventually will not be able to judge the state of the game, their decks and others' decks on their own. Independency is key to tournament play and succesful play in general, and it is a crucial part to bluffing and deal making – parts of the game that are beyond doubt crucial for success. If girls get more attention in terms of help than they really ask for or even need, there is a chance female players will eventually not reach the level where they enjoy tournament playing, which could lead into a decline in variety of tournament play.
Really polarized and far-fetched dangers, agreed, and these issues do not take into account the female player's active role in pointing out the faults of the male player in discourse. Chances are, however, that neither the male nor the female player really aknowledge what might be happening at a given time, aside from a chance of general irritation. Then again, most of the time just pointing out that “I know how to play the game,” should suffice.

There is another problem with the extensive aid issue as well, and it has to do with the tournament game and time limits. We remember those attitudes 2-4 I discussed earlier on? Let's have a look at how the game itself will be affected by the presence of those attitudes.

The problems to the game at hand are as follows: The game will drag on by the lengthened table talk (2. Advices not asked for), the players might be tricked to reveal knowledge of their decks/hands (3. Playing the game for someone), the game state might swing in balance if the female player's argument is not considered valid (4. Depriciating). Finally, some players will be really annoyed by the attitudes.

Not really stuff that anyone wants to see in their good tournament game. Timeouts are annoying as it is. The crosstable buddy doesn't really want to be a tool for a slip of information which might lead into someone being ousted by accident.
A: “You might want to play your bounce now! Oh, unless you haven't got any. Or, don't answer that...”
C: “Gee, thanks.”
B: “Oooh, if that's the case... Conditioning!”
D & E: //facepalm

So there. A lengthy, lengthy post about something that really isn't even that much of an issue within the VtES community, as it might be in many other games. But, here's the thing; you don't really want to lull yourself into thinking everything's really fine when there's no real, agonising problems, when there is always room for improvement!

VtES players are a really, really helpful and nice lot all around the world, by what I saw in the EC. They really want to help everyone out and enjoy the game to its fullest. What I'm saying is everyone might need to think about the best ways of helping while they're at it. Helping newbies out is really crucial, but next time you're playing with the local girls (and especially if they're not local!) go through what you're thinking about her play and choices in silence and think about if it's really useful to say aloud.

All in all, the girls I talked to about playing in the EC said that 99% of the time the games were great and everyone real friendly, and there were no problems whatsoever. It's just that 1% I found, and some others found, a bit dodgy.

In conclusion, helping's great, and it should be done. Just don't waste anyone else's time during game with it, and it's not really helpful to help someone who doesn't need help.

So, did the post end up as a feminist rant? Probably, and likely the real feminists out there will not really like the words I used or anything. Let's use the final words to say that the girls I played against in the EC were in many ways way better players than I am.

Bleed well everyone! I'll try to write something about how I did later on, and hopefully keep it a wee bit shorter.

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting article. My thoughts about your point:
    - I agree that female players are treated in another way than male players. And I agree that this isn't the fault/problem of the females. There are players who like to help newbies. Girls are often seen as beginners. I know a female player who takes advantage of this fact and won not a few games because of that fact.
    - I don't agree that the helping behaviour hinders the female players' advancement in knowledge though. In most cases the girls will possess enough self confidence to find their own styles of play. We all did and we all had to learn in our early stages of playing.
    - We shouldn't forget that VtES is all about manipulating others. Often enough you try to bring newbies/others to play in your favour without them realising it. Why we should stop it just because there is a female player? Let's exploit them and they will learn, especially when you talk to them about the game afterwards.
    - Coaching can be very annoying in a game, I'm with you. I think it is the responsibility of the other players if not the female player itself to tell the coach to stop it (in a polite way of course) when it consumes up too much time.

    So again I think your perceived points of behaviour is related to players considered 'weak' or unexperienced. Fact is that girls are considered unexperienced more often. That isn't their fault.