The original image for this article was going to be a Salazzle, but all the fanart for that thing is obscene.
Since I won’t be able to write up a Social Saturday tomorrow, I figured I would address a very hot topic in the competitive Pokémon TCG community right now, which is how welcoming this community is to its female players. I’m going to tackle two sides of this: first, the history behind why so many more males play Pokémon TCG competitively than females; and second, what can be done to help the situation.
This is not a woman’s perspective – I was born a guy, and I’ve never identified as anything other than a guy. However, since I’m an old-school member of the competitive community, I believe that my perspective can shed light on this issue.
As fair warning, I will be making some generalizations in this post. These generalizations aren’t made lightly because they are essential both to provide background history and to guide us through issues that long pre-date Pokémon. Either way, I believe most people will be satisfied with the reasons behind these generalizations, and the way I’ve formulated them.
Gender and the Community
Principally, Pokémon TCG has been a uniquely difficult place for girls and women to thrive in because of three reasons: the early online community encouraging a male-only hierarchy, meritocracy, and social awkwardness.
1. The Early Online Community
Although kids of both sexes were encouraged to play Pokémon in the 90s, those who continued to play into the 2000s and wanted to be competitive in an era when Pokémon was dying had to become familiar with the technology of the day. This technology included the internet, a freeware program used to play Pokémon TCG online called Apprentice, and IRC – or internet relay chats.
I eventually found myself as a part of this network of players, and was in turn exposed to all sorts of cool people from around the world. But as cool as the situation was, it’s this intersection between competitiveness and technology that I believe is the original sin of the gender divide:
a. Competitiveness: While generalizing whether one sex is inherently more competitive than the other comes with a firestorm of passion, it is 100% safe to generalize that on average, men/boys are more often socialized into being competitive than women/girls.
b. Technology: On average, men/boys are more often encouraged to pursue and explore technology than are women/girls.
So if you wanted to be part of the in-group, you needed to be competitive, and you needed to explore some pretty obscure technology – two things that has done a poor job at encouraging women to do.
"Orlando, the only reason you're the player character and I'm not is because of age-old institutionalized sexism…and because I never downloaded mIRC."
If you’ve never heard this word before, all it means is that people with abilities rule the group. And because the near-death of the Pokémon TCG in the early-2000s resulted in a gutting of many of its casual players, there wasn’t that much distance between the game’s elite players and its scrubs. As a result, you had a situation where a small in-game of elite players had a disproportionate impact on the direction of the community.
There can only be one…group of players.
Private message boards like Neo and LaFonte were run by top players, and for the most part only invited top players. And because these groups were private, it depended heavily on either already being part of the group, or being one of the lucky few invited into it. In other words, female players simply had no opportunity to break into these groups because they missed out on this enclosed group many years before the fact.
Thankfully this isn’t nearly as big of a problem anymore. Through HeyTrainer, YouTube channels, and Facebook groups, the “in” group was itself turned inside-out. Nowadays the community is so large, one small group of good players doesn’t really make a difference when it comes to who finds opportunities to play better and find out about new decks.
Nowadays, more women are the highanders…Except the ones that are dead.
3. Social Awkwardness
"My name's Monty Carlos Danger. I like asking chicks out on dates in the middle of games, N-baiting, and then creepin' for their numbers after the match. I also have mad-sick DOJ statistics."
While the above two issues explain the history behind women players not having as many chances to grow competitively as their male counterparts, I think the biggest hurdle for women players right now is simple: As wonderful as the community is, we Pokémon players generally aren’t that socially-adjusted.
Social awkwardness applies to women in Pokémon just as much to men, but the effects are disproportionately worse on women who want to keep playing. The primary way is through casual but erosive degradation: being surprised that a female player can win; asking girls out on dates in the middle of a game; making thoughtlessly obscene remarks to degrade a woman online; and so on. Our current problem therefore is that certain players act bizarre or even sub-human around women.
Sometimes this behavior can be characterized as sexist, and sometimes it's not. Most of the time though, it can be understood as not thinking about women players the right way. Let’s change that!
Sexism is an issue in Pokémon TCG, even if it’s an issue that’s not really Pokémon’s fault. There are forces that have been at play for a while, and the only way they can be dealt with is through action.
I by no means am saying you should start calling yourself a male feminist or a social justice warrior. I’m also not telling you to check your privilege. But I am saying that there are a lot of simple things guy players can do that would not only make this game a Heck of a lot more inviting for female players, but improve the quality of their own tournament performance in the process.
1. Remember that Pokémon TCG is not a hunting ground for dates, and is in fact one of the worst places to find a significant other! If you make it work and find the love of your life during a rousing Wailord mirror match, then congratulations, but I’m sure you are the exception and not the norm. Just enjoy the hobby for its own sake – and for God’s sake, please don’t use an ulterior motive to justify playing! It’s a distraction that serves no one well, and makes you look like a creep.
2. When you are sitting across a player of the opposite sex, they are first and foremost a friendly, capable rival before anything else. What follows is that no matter what their gender or gender identity may be, that person is capable of beating you, a fact you always need to be in the back of your head. Thus, even if you are the grossest, nastiest misogynist in the world, you are inherently MOTIVATED to treat your female opponents with respect! If your goal is to win, then your goal is to play the board dispassionately, and not let something as silly as your opponent’s sex/gender affect the way you play…or the way you lose. Going on tilt because you lost to “a girl” is not only absurd, but really bad for your mentality for the rest of a tournament.
3. If you are a guy and a female player wants to talk decks/strategy with you, treat her like a friend* and colleague. If you’re a female but feel a little anxious about the idea of discussing decks but don’t want to risk getting creeped on, then maybe take the plunge and send a message to someone you trust to be behave like a reasonable adult. Build the network, increase the number of ideas available, and ultimately improve everyone’s tournament performances!
*Platonic friend, because we’re again assuming that competitive Pokémon TCG is a horrible place to find love.
Barring some unforeseen gender reassignment surgery, I will never know what it is like to be a Pokémon-playing woman. All the same, I hope both men and women alike benefitted from today’s entry! Between heavy conversations like cheating and sexism, it’s important to remember that we have a really special community of players. Having been a part of this community for as long as I have, I know we can overcome the issues we have to become better players and people.