Two Jesses’ Flavor Reviews: The Male Gaze in Magic

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  1. Interesting article, but this line:

    ‘In addition to looking like an adolescent metalhead’s crude drawing of his fantasy girlfriend,’

    Smacked of a certain smug classism, and seemed at odds with the tone of the rest of the writing.

  2. Where do I start…

    The “male gaze” rhetoric pretty much assumes that “sexy stuff” is a bad thing (which it’s quite frankly not) and that only men would ever find said stuff interesting (which is quite frankly false). Who would find a toned woman’s exposed midriff appealing? Straight men, gay women, generally anyone of any gender who is gynesexual. “Male gaze” ignores that there are a freaking huge number of people out there who *like women* and *aren’t men.* Like me, for instance. I know a lot of not-males who would consider risque or sexually appealing artwork/image/text to be a *point of interest* in a piece of work, whether that be a game, comic, whatever. Are these characters dressed to titillate? For sure. Is that *actually a bad thing* however? I disagree. This is a *fantasy,* an idealized creation of someone’s imagination. Nothing is real. People can have whatever kind of fantasy they like, I don’t care, but trying to force some sort of real world value onto a made-up fantasy is just stupid. If drawing and liking pictures of naked women that are designed to be sexy makes me a sexist misogynist, well then I guess I’m guilty as charged, and proud of it too. Human sexuality is something to be celebrated.

    And personally, I really don’t see how that can drive someone out of their hobby. Does a large-breasted vampire *need* to be featured on the card art? No, not really. But she *is* and I’m perfectly fine with that, cause vampires are pretty damn sexy. I do think that taking offense to a pair of nice boobs is a *personal* issue that you need to think over and deal with. If it makes you uncomfortable then think about why, and how you can deal with that, and defeat it, cause it will do nothing but restrict you. As a long-term sufferer of social anxiety and general fear of people, I know what I’m talking about. Thinking this way does nothing for you, it’s not good.

    The Triumph of Ferocity analysis is just pretty far-fetched, honestly. They’re trying to kill each other. Liliana is *shooting a fireball into his face.* Replace the characters with two men, two women, or even reverse the roles and there is nothing wrong. To claim that the card displays and promotes sexual abuse purely because a man is pinning a woman against a rock while trying to kill her is pretty ridiculous in my mind.

    And before you ask, yes, I do like the new additions to the card lineup. I’m not against equality of representation, I’m against demonizing the poor bondage fairies :( There are a great varieties of strong representation for characters. Physically, mentally, magically powerful, and so on. Even sexually powerful (look at Bayonetta) is an option. Everybody likes different things, wants to see different things, wants to play as different things, and that will be reflected in the game. Demeaning others because they enjoy things that you don’t won’t help anything.

    And in specific reference to the first paragraph, I’d prefer it if you didn’t try to dictate how I should feel about vampire boobs. Cause I *am* excited by the prospect, and I doubt that’s the reaction you believe to be “correct.”

    - A Gay Anime Girl

  3. Hey! Just wanted to say thanks for this article! This is an aspect of the game that definitely needs to be an ongoing discussion rather than being briefly discussed when a problem card arises. I brought my wife and mother-in-law into magic and have benefited from their insight on what I had glossed over as par for the coarse. I think there’s a difference between sexual and sexualized, and zombie-cleavage and fish mammaries are definitely in the latter and are unneeded in Magic.

    Thanks again for the article! Great stuff!

  4. Hi all, thanks for the comments so far. @Gay Anime Girl, I wanted to specifically reply to some of your points- ‘male gaze’ is an imperfect term for what we’re talking about here, and specifically it’s more important that the depiction is de-humanizing and turns the subjects into objects. Something can be sexy and sexualized without being problematic. Maybe ‘patriarchal gaze’ would be a better descriptor. I feel like it’s important that we’re supporting the kind of depictions we want in our games and hobbies, because all put together they do end up leading to an overall impact on the way society views and treats women.

    re: Triumph of Ferocity- I have no problem with a male and female character depicted in a battle, but there are a number of ways the art on this card could’ve been done more tastefully. For example, does his leg need to be pressed up between her thighs? Does it have to be rainy and wet to sexualize the character as she’s being beaten up? Does he have to be attacking her by grasping her by the throat and punching her in the face, in a distinctly non-magical way that is very evocative of domestic violence? It would be better if he were using some kind of magic, or even swinging his trademark axe at her. This image was triggering for a number of people, and although I don’t think this was the intention of the artist of art director, someone could’ve stepped and said ‘we should rethink some aspect of this’.

    -Jesse K

  5. Hey, two Jesses, love your humor and most of your jokes, altough I have to admit they are not always as well chosen as you demand of Wizards for their card art ;-)

    This first comment aside, I really like your view on magic cards. And this article surely hits at an embarrassing point of the game from a nowadays perspective. This game started over twenty years ago, so it’s natural some public views may have changed, as well as players may have changed. I’ll admit I laughed my share when wizards corrected the Nissa Revane’s artwork on a later releaesed promo card to a correctly closed body; and one part of me then just thought how politely correct one need be these days. But the other part of me then and now thinks how ambivalent this correction was in regard of all the other oversexised cards printed.
    So, in short I also like the new take on the art by Wizards. I think fantasy art should aim more in direction of a possible reality, like the TV shows us in A Game of Thrones or also in Lord of the Rings. It might have been kind of funny twenty years ago to see a fighting female sex bomb in battle with just her breasts and shins protected by mail, (whereas men mostly are whole body protected). But nowadays we all know where from such stereotypes origin («patriarchal» is a good term for it), so we better let them aside in favor of a possibly bigger audience for this great game.

    @Gay Anime Girl: I can see your perspective. And it might even ocure there are some nerdy female magic players that like all the muscles of magic art’s male heroes, I don’t know. But it’s just a fact, that this game as many others narrows its possible audience down to a group of people who like its background stories and/or art. In other words, it totally doesn’t attract all other people who don’t like the game’s flavor or worse, are offended by it. I can’t proof it by statistics but I feel like one part about not attracting more women to the game is its «nerdy cliché» take on fantasy worlds. My experience tells me there are just a lot less women than men who like this «nerdy cliché» take. So my answer to you is: sure if anybody has a problem with any aspect of the game, better leave it; but as its really one of my favorite games it’s just a shame I can’t get more of my female friends to it, or when I’m trying, have always to state out «oh yeah those arts have some pubertal aspects, but just ignore them, after all it’s a great game, isn’t it?» And to your main point: Of course some «sexiness» is also ok in a nowadays game art, as in the «Game of Thrones»-example you could still go way over the top with reality-closer pictures. And for a game for age 13+ «Game of Thrones» is certainly a bad example for the overall sexiness. I think it’s certainly ok to show well built people, beautiful bodies and so on in fantasy art, but why that so often in such unuseful fashion? The trick would be to show «fantasy» Beauty in a «realistic» environment, and in «realistic» fashion.

    Two Jesses have just added another important aspect to the recently anew startet discussion about women driven off the game. Thanks.

  6. Mtgo is better than computer games in regard to the boobpocalypse. It’s not perfect but I feel you are coming down too hard the other way, and what is the actual ratio of normal depictions of women to pinup depictions in magic art, is it actually that skewed? All the women I’ve known where not put off by the nudity just by the violence / competitiveness .

  7. [Don't use racial slurs, even for (perceived) comedic effect.--PlanetWalls]

  8. At this moment in time, most players prefer sexy art-work; that’s why Wizards makes the art the way they do.
    The solution would be a reduction in demand for objectifying art-work- that is, convincing doubters in the player base that the objectification of women on Magic cards does more harm than it does good- and we should all pitch in and pay a price, in the form of reduced enjoyment on some of our parts, for the sake of the offended demographic. So what you need is persuasion, information, and truth.
    I don’t think this article is going to persuade anyone- it’s insulting to the people who don’t agree with you, and it makes fun of some good, sexy pictures, but that’s about it. I’m still unconvinced of the harm done to women- they’re portrayed in a (perhaps unrealistic) way that inspires desire, but not hatred; some people prefer that, and I think the rest are indifferent; you improve the lot of some people at no-one’s expense, and it would be the same if women made up 90%.

  9. I was surprised not to see Vampirism in the “Naked for no reason” section. “Vampire threatens a group of defenseless humans” is a fine start to the depiction of such a card, but for some reason someone decided the best setting for this scene would be “all female nudist colony in a cave”. What.

  10. Well this was a neat read. I disagree on some points, but overall, yeah, magic’s reputation isn’t entirely undeserved.

    The biggest disagreement I have is that I think sylvan paradise is a very pretty card, and the nudity exists as a way to show a oneness with nature, and to give an Eden-like quality to the scene.

  11. Funny, the old Demonic Tutor art got flack for depicting a pentagram, followed by Wizards being gunshy about printing any demons for a very long time.

    Then they said “screw it!”, printed Grinning Demon and many more awesome demons, and now we’re complaining about a little peek at cleavage on the new Demonic Tutor.

    To me, if they wanted Liliana to screw a demon that’s the true offense. Not depicting a subtle hint + flavor text about it. But even then, there is a mountain of demon/vampire erotica written primarily for women, so this might not be a purely “male gaze” issue.

  12. One aspect of the objectification concept is that oppressors in our culture are either intentionally or unintentionally removing the humanity from a minority group in order to deny them equality, and therefore conserve the power imbalance.

    As to the effect this has on 13 year old girls, magic’s not as pervasive as watching a shampoo commercial on the tv, but it still needs some sunshine.

    As to this article, there is no one who is writing this. Bravo. Brav-freaking-o.

  13. Appreciate the well thought article. I think there is a place for love, nudity, and even sexuality in a card game, just not all on the same card. Sylvan Paradise is an example that I think you were overly harsh on. It’s a classical nude in a lush environment, the nudity is the classical sense that it evokes a person that is free from the bonds of civilization.

    My main issue is tasteless fanservice, particularly the hideous art that goes on commons seemingly as a matter of hitting a quota. I despise fierce orcs, beastwomen, witches, and zombies that display boobs for no reason in an artless way. Clothes which exist to tear away in the artistic moment are softcore porn uniforms.

    Still, there are times when it is called for in canon, in the case of merfolk, faeries, centaurs too much clothing would be as unsettling. Vampires have a long history of wearing revealing clothes, there’s a way to portray this without it being a 14 year old’s wet dream.

    Magic says it want to diversify its base, which seems a noble goal. Considering diversity in artists will be a big part of it, the art of Rebecca Guay has always brought its own flavor to Magic. Let’s seek more artists with individual styles and fewer fanboys who came up short in their dreams as comic book artists.

  14. This is an interesting article. While I think in general, it is a bit too harsh (but then again, maybe it has to be to be taken seriously?), it’s a good point to make. However, I would like to point out that one of the main points of the article is that Wizards is responsible for the art, where as that is not totally accurate. Wizards commissions most of it’s artwork from independent artists, who make a lot of the choices on how the art is done. Wizards does make a style guide for it’s settings, and gives a brief art description for it’s commissions, but there is rarely any real detail in that. Wizards could crack down a little harder on accepting risque art, but since the art is already paid for by the time they would be able to do so, it would greatly increase the art budget. For a game that (for most of it’s history) has struggled to grow beyond a niche market, that would be a pretty big blow to their bottom line, as well as greatly complicating the process (which is under time constraints) of releasing sets.

    Long story short, the criticism should be angled more toward the artists (or the culture that influenced them) than Wizards itself.

  15. +1 about the lack of beautiful male angels. Given how many of them are rare, we must assume that beautiful, semi-clothed females are beyond most reach, with no hope to obtain beautiful semi-clothed angelic males.

    -1 about the negative dig against some artists fantasy girlfriend. You drank the Kool-aid you just rallied against with such a sexist dig.

    Overall, good way to draw attention to the sexual objectification in MtG. What’s next, though? You brought attention to it, so your next steps are, what, exactly- just complaining? Has WotC issued any statements you can quote? What did they say about this article? Can we have a linked quote to anything the business has said?

    Starting with Earthbind was a good example. You had some categories that were reaches, like the anthropomorphic creatures with larger breasts. Seeing the original art for Keeper of the Mind was enlightening. By the time I wound up at Troupe #8, I lost count of the accusations you levied against WotC, or at men, in general, it seems. Triumph of Ferocity should have lead this discussion, soon after Earthbind’s picture to show history from 4th Edition+ (and earlier, but 4th Edition is where a lot more people jumped on board).

    Insightful, but no calls to action or intended plans going forward. What now?

  16. I think a lot of your comments are very funny, and you guys are very entertaining, even though I can tell we do not have the same views on fantasy art or the culture-at-large.

    Earthbind was totally within the realm of ordinary fantasy art in 1993. I think the card highlights a generational divide between older fantasy fans and younger ones.

    But I don’t disagree that Earthbind is out of step with contemporary fantasy art. Chosen of Markov, OTOH, is not about capture, it’s about surrender and power. That art is expressing a type of sexuality that clearly you guys don’t like, but that a lot of men and women DO like, that is central to the portrayal of vampires in media for decades, and it’s doing it completely tastefully. Vampire movies have had this “sexual power” dimension to them from Bela Lugosi through today. Hell, if you look at her expression on the flip side of the card, you could interpret the “story” of the card as her having manipulated the vampire that turned her so that she could gain power. You can’t really write off the card as being about “objectification” and pretend she has NO agency here, unless you are really that deep down the rabbit hole about “power structures” and all that Sociology 101 stuff. I don’t begrudge you your own opinion, but TONS of young women (my own wife included) watch those vampire shows on TV, they love those shows, and that kind of sexuality is rampant in those shows and their legions of female fans from teenagers to 40-somethings don’t seem to have any problem with it.

    I’m not saying this is the artistic direction I want for the game, but it’s not my opinion that counts, nor yours. FWIW, my preference for the art direction would be to diversify the acceptable styles — my two favorites all time are Rebecca Guay and Quinton Hoover, and I’d rank Terese Nielsen the best of the remaining old guard, and the game has totally pushed anybody with a truly distinctive style to the fringes in favor of bland uniformity in the name of marketing and world-building. The fact that all these recent cards just look like mediocre comic book art, instead of actual unique pieces of art you would want to buy, is the real crime.

  17. I was a original player from a Alpha release oh those many years ago. I’ve recently returned as a limited player and have noticed a very positive change…buuut the current sign-in screen (as of Aug. 1, 2015) for Magic the Gathering Online is an upshot of Liliana with a freaking see-through top (including nipples) and several grasping, body-less arms…le sigh.