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Excellent column from Mark Rosewater about diversity in design

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20 Aug 2019 23:11 #300974 by DarthJoJo
I found this article through a Reddit thread. I can’t say I disagree with it, but I just can’t get fired up about it either. First, the underlying argument seems to be “diversity of characters in art is good because it increases sales.” Put more women in the art, more women will buy their first decks. Put more not-white characters in, more not-white people will pay for a draft. So on and so forth with gay and trans and multi-racial characters and all the other people they try to give touchstones. It’s to increase the market and bolster sales.

Second, and this was raised in the Reddit thread, a wide variety of people in the art is nice, but what about the design team and the paying jobs that Magic creates? How does that measure up to the standard Rosewater sets for their art? I don’t know, but being a part of the hobby games industry, my hunch is not great.

So, yeah, I mostly just felt like shrugging after reading it.

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21 Aug 2019 05:37 - 21 Aug 2019 05:45 #300977 by Erik Twice
Like DarthJoJo, it does boil down to "it increases sales". Which, sadly, is a constant in Rosewater's view of game design if not Magic as a whole. In fact, Magic's design used to push pretty hard on the "13-17 American white male" demographic and they explained how they catered to that demographic in articles like this one. Remember when Rebecca Guay wasn't manly enough for Magic?

It reminds me of the time they went on a gay pride parade with the slogan "Dragons and Wizards belong in our games and you do too". And it also reminds me of the fact that they sell corporate parafernalia with their logo in rainbow colours so you can tell everyone how gay-friendly your corporation is.

The fact that Wizards itself is heavily inbred and has bad working conditions is also not a fact that escapes me.

--

Still, on an aesthethic level Magic has become more diverse but by the typical Americentric, heavily corporate-friendly standards. That is, characters clearly fall into the "white, black or asian" American categorization, worlds follow American demographic standards (so they avoid worlds where, say, 90% of the characters would be black). Their main character lineup is also an example of Nivea diversity: You have it, but it's suspiciously split evenly instead of having a random assortment of faces. Most monsters are still male and women are still suspiciously absent from cards depicting violence (Not quite, they are now assassins but almost never the actual target)

I also have an axe to grind and that's pointing out that for all their talk about diversity, they haven't found the space to put a single gipsy character in neither the Indian nor Eastern European blocks. And how most of their "diversity" regarding sexuality is the typical supplementary material gay that you would never know about by playing the actual game.

EDIT: Also, one of the latest blocks is the old "Amerindians in contact with Nature against colonizers" trope.

And, to be honest, I'm not going to praise the morality of a company who pushes gambling onto children. I respect Rosewater, but his work will always be tained by that fact.
Last edit: 21 Aug 2019 05:45 by Erik Twice.
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21 Aug 2019 07:45 #300980 by Jackwraith
Except that he wasn't talking about working conditions at Wizards, the makeup of their workforce, the classification under which M:TG falls, how much money the approach generates, or anything else. He was talking about game design and how it was important that players be able to feel that they were included. That's it. That's typically what he writes about, since he's the lead designer.

If you'd like to infer all of the rest of it and think that every article he writes needs to touch on those topics, then I can't help you, but I'd have to say that you're missing the point. In all honesty, I haven't touched a Magic card in well over a decade, so I have no idea what their current sets look like or how their company functions. I just thought that the fairly detailed explanation of their efforts, not only in terms of personal identity but also in game style/approach, was worth reading.
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21 Aug 2019 08:40 #300984 by Erik Twice
The issue I have is that "diversity is important because it makes a game more successful" is morally bankrupt. It puts "Magic's success" as a goal, and diversity as a mere tool to reach that goal. He says so himself in the article, right at the end "diversity is a powerful tool for a game designer". I don't agree and think that's a fairly tasteless way to approach the topic. Specially when, a few years ago, that tool was "catering to white American males".

I don't want designers to put a couple black people in their games because they think they'll make more money. I want them to do it because it's the right thing to do.
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21 Aug 2019 08:46 #300985 by DarthJoJo
These aren’t hard inferences to make when he talks about the diversity of cards for the Spikes, Johnnies and Timmies before going into race and sex and all the rest first.

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21 Aug 2019 08:52 #300986 by fightcitymayor
When I read articles trumpeting diversity and framing it like Rosewater frames it:

having an affinity for things that are similar to the environment you were raised in, including prioritizing things that look like you. There's just a physiological thing that happens in the brain when you see yourself represented. It feels comforting.

So, we want the ability for players to make a personal connection to the game. The brain does that when it sees things that look like itself, so it's clear that as a game designer, you want to make sure that every player has the potential to see themselves in your game.

Arguably the whole "I require an environment that looks like me" is the basis of every nationalist uprising occurring in so many Western democracies at this particular date & time. Which is interesting, because when a person who would be labeled as "in the majority" expresses an interest in "prioritizing things that look like me" that person is immediately identified, called out, demonized, & held up as an example of what not to do and how not to be. And yet Rosewater extols & promotes that very same approach with other groups. The idea that it's less about characters who reflect your personal beliefs, and more about "people who look like you" feels like crass tokenism on a level that reeks more of marketing than justice.

I don't mean to sound like a Proud Boy (you know I'm not) but I've always felt the more people tried to "explain" the requirement of diversity, the more it sounds like they're unwittingly doing the nationalists' work for them.

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21 Aug 2019 09:14 #300988 by Sagrilarus
You might consider reserving at least some of your anger for a couple of hundred other game designers who haven't taken a risk by publishing on the subject, who instead just keep on grinding out the same old northern-European stuff that is still the vast majority of the industry's output.

I'll give Rosewater some credit for putting himself out there for all to see, regardless of whether he checks all the boxes or not. He's advancing the conversation. Frankly, given he's writing from the position of a multi-million dollar project chief, speaking to diversity's impact on financial success is where he enters the room. He's speaking to other designers as well as us end-users, perhaps more so. Telling other designers that catering to Joe Whitey is hurting their sales is a solid approach to changing the industry.
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21 Aug 2019 09:41 #300990 by Jackwraith

Erik Twice wrote: I don't want designers to put a couple black people in their games because they think they'll make more money. I want them to do it because it's the right thing to do.


Uh huh. And how do you define that effort? What could Rosewater do that would meet the standards of the "right thing to do"? He's talking about making sure that there are people of varying identity in their game because it makes people feel welcome to play it and you're suggesting that the only motivation he has is money. Almost by definition, if the game is played by more people, Wizards will make more money. So, what exactly would comprise the "right thing to do"? Producing a set full of all Gypsy characters for free? Would Wizards not making a dime on something like that satisfy your ethical requirements? That's a helluva way to run a business.

To Sag's point: This is the lead designer of one of the most popular card games in the world suggesting that the way forward is to acknowledge the variety of people that play his game and other games like it. If their game is more successful (and, yes, makes more money!), then other designers and companies may be willing to follow their lead. That's the point of the whole column. The fact that he's also couching the identity issue alongside player type (Timmy, Spike, etc.) is him trying to demonstrate that inclusivity doesn't have to be about tokenism, but instead is simply about improving their game.

Incidentally, suggesting that someone's effort to improve their game is "morally bankrupt" simply because it makes the game more successful and that success is defined by money is exactly the kind of pretentious horseshit that will make most people tune out from what otherwise may have been a valid point.

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21 Aug 2019 11:21 #300998 by Erik Twice
I have criticism to spare and do so when I have the opportunity so I see no reason to spare Rosewater from it. I don't want to come across as angry, though.

I do admit I'm being very cynical, but I think we should all be skeptical of game companies coming out in favour of diversity when it benefits them and trying to frame it in a way that benefits them. This article is not groundbreaking and Wizards painting one (1) character in supplementary materials as trans four years ago is not exactly a high bar.

Sagrilarus wrote: Telling other designers that catering to Joe Whitey is hurting their sales is a solid approach to changing the industry.

But don't you see how nasty and cynical that is? Telling designers to portray minorities because it makes them money only hammers the point that you don't care about them! If you cared about black, or gay or whatever people in the first place, you wouldn't need a financial incentive to do it!

This is exactly like when Pride comes to Madrid and every single TV channel talks about the economic benefits and the boost to tourism but not about, well, actual gay people.
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21 Aug 2019 11:21 #300999 by Erik Twice

Jackwraith wrote: What could Rosewater do that would meet the standards of the "right thing to do"?

For me, all he had to do was to treat "diversity" as a responsability he has as a game designer and not "tool" to make his game more successful.

The way he compares real-world identities with marketing terms is also very creepy.

So, what exactly would comprise the "right thing to do"? Producing a set full of all Gypsy characters for free?

They should represent gipsies when appropiate, even if it doesn't make them any money or gipsies aren't their target audience. That's it.
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21 Aug 2019 11:42 #301001 by Shellhead
Magic is still owned by Hasbro, last time I checked. Hasbro is a large, publicly-traded corporation. so Rosewater probably felt the need to position his diversity stance in a way that would be more acceptable to greedy investors. Doing something because it is right doesn't impress investors. Doing something because it attracts more customers and generates more sales is something that does impress investors.
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21 Aug 2019 13:27 #301002 by Jackwraith

Erik Twice wrote: For me, all he had to do was to treat "diversity" as a responsability he has as a game designer and not "tool" to make his game more successful.


Except that that's exactly what he's doing by trying to stress that they want all kinds of people to be comfortable playing their game, which includes having people of different identities as prominent characters. The fact that it includes more people and, thus, potentially makes his game more successful MIGHT be incidental, especially given how populated the games, Magic, and fantasy trope audiences are with (often) young, (often) White, (usually) males who think that any kind of approach to this topic is pandering or an example of so-called "social justice warriors" influencing what before was their almost-exclusive fief of interest. In fact, you're doing a great job of mimicking their responses by attaching your own particular bias to what he's saying.

I'm not oblivious to the ulterior motives of massive corporations. I'm a Marxist, so my cynical side is at the ready in every situation I encounter. But in the same way that the "liberal media" are actually massive corporations owned by people who don't approach the neighborhood of what a liberal or progressive outlook actually is, it is possible to express views that aren't necessarily dictated solely by money within those hierarchies. That's especially possible when you've been around as long as Rosewater has and have as much of a public face in the industry as he does.

Again, the fact is that he wrote something not only to detail how Wizards has approached this process but how other designers and companies might do so, as well. That's a net positive and I don't really care if his motivation was more dollars. If being inclusive becomes a profitable thing in this industry, so much the better.
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21 Aug 2019 13:33 #301003 by Sagrilarus

Shellhead wrote: Magic is still owned by Hasbro, last time I checked. Hasbro is a large, publicly-traded corporation. so Rosewater probably felt the need to position his diversity stance in a way that would be more acceptable to greedy investors. Doing something because it is right doesn't impress investors. Doing something because it attracts more customers and generates more sales is something that does impress investors.


That's much the heart of it. When you debate a topic you use arguments that will ring with your intended audience. You can call that cynical, or you can call it strategic. In this particular case it's a good approach, because the "it hurts business to be inclusive" response is a get-out-of-jail-free card that's been thrown on the table for a couple of generations. He's kicked that leg out from under them, the next argument can proceed.

It's about intended audience, and most of us don't need to be convinced about our already-held beliefs on the topic.
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21 Aug 2019 13:35 #301004 by Sagrilarus
By the way, "gypsy" is considered very derogatory now. Not appropriate in polite company.
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