Beyond Rule Zero: The Anatomy of a Good Event
With Magic 30 and Magic Summit on the horizon and the latest batch of CommandFests in the rear view, I thought now would be a great time to talk about the anatomy of a good event and how we can work to make our Magic: the Gathering events more inclusive and enjoyable. Because if there is one thing that I've come to realize about Magic events is that the formula often plays out to be - "do you like playing Magic for three days straight?" And I honestly think we can do a lot better than that.
How do we make events more inclusive?
It wouldn't be a Beyond Rule Zero article if we didn't tackle this question first. Some of this will be a rehash of my "Creating Safer Spaces" article but looked at with a broader scope.
Most events already do this but I think the easiest starting point would be to have the code of conduct be posted throughout the hall. As I've said before and will continue to say, having a visible code of conduct posted throughout a venue keeps everyone on the same page. Relying on social contracts is bad. One of the reasons you don't need to do this with Competitive Rules Enforcement Level (REL) events is because players already know they have to abide by the Infraction Procedure Guide (IPG) to be playing in a MagicFest or a Regional Championship Qualifier. The IPG already covers player behavior in its Unsporting Conduct: Major and Unsporting Conduct: Minor sections.
But when it comes to an event like a CommandFest or playing in the Command Zone of Magic 30 or Magic Summit - there isn't as strenuous of a benchmark for behavior enforcement. While there are folks out there who will disagree with me; having a clearly posted code of conduct that is visible throughout the venue does course correct behavior and does make people feel safer.
Following that, if the venue does not have gender neutral restrooms conveniently located either in the hall being used for the event or in the immediate vicinity of the event hall - convert a men's room into one. Trans and non-binary people exist. Making sure there are safe spaces for people to use the restroom at an event is important. If events like PAX, New York ComicCon, and GenCon can figure out how to execute this then it shouldn't be an issue for a Magic event to do so.
TakeThis is a mental health charity in gaming that works to remove the stigma around mental health issues. Their name and logo comes from The Legend of Zelda - "it's dangerous to go alone, take this." I bring up TakeThis because at PAX and a few other cons they host a room called the AFK Lounge. It's a room where you can take a break from the overstimulation that can be going to a convention. You're expected to put your phone on silent. There is guided breathing, coloring books, and just a general sense of calm in the room. For those of us who have ever dealt with overstimulation at an event - we know that once we hit that breaking point we are more than likely to leave the venue. And once we do that the likelihood of us returning to the venue is next to none.
Which can be a tremendous feels bad moment. Not only do we get to spend less time with our friends - we also feel like we wasted some amount of money for not being able to get a full day's worth of enjoyment. There is also the stigma of not being able to stick it out for the sake of our friends or the shame around having to ditch them. The benefit of a space like the AFK Lounge is being able to disengage from an event without having to leave an event entirely. And most folks understand what "going AFK" means and understand the need to step away for a second.
I say all this because Magic events, like conventions, can be extremely overwhelming. Unlike conventions, a lot of Magic events are often in one hall, sometimes two. That means a lot of people packed in relatively small space with not a ton of room to maneuver. Having an org like TakeThis running their AFK Lounge or creating a similar space would be a great benefit to those of us prone to overstimulation in crowds.
Learning from Anime Conventions
One of the odd things about Magic events in the modern era is that their sole focus is based around the playing of Magic. From MagicFests to CommandFests to Magic 30 - the main attraction is playing Magic in various ways. But if there is one thing that the Covid era has taught us is that one of the things we love most about Magic is the gathering itself. While, yes, playing Magic is great - there is more to a successful event than just jamming games.
A great example would be anime conventions. People who go to anime conventions all enjoy anime differently. Whether they like it dub or sub. Whether they're a fan of classics like Slam Dunk or love the newest season of My Hero Academia. And yes, you can go to an anime convention of any size and just watch anime all day. But there is so much more that you can go and do at an anime con.
You can go and participate in trivia games or see some of the weirdest panels on the planet. One of my favorite trivia games my local con used to do was naming an anime for a five second clip of the show's intro. This was always wild and devolved into shouting matches as people used various strategies to get noticed first. Panels are rarely about the state of shonen anime. You'd find panels about purple haired protagonists and the people who like them. You'd have artist alleys and various vendors. Booths where you can meet your favorite content creators and voice actors alike. Scheduled meet and greets. You'd be able to meet people who are into that one weird show you like - whether organized by the con or someone on Twitter.
More Than Just Magic
My point is - anime cons are a lot more than just going and watching anime for three days. Imagine going to a Magic event and there is a gallery of rare Magic art and promotional items? Or you go to a pimp'd deck meet up that is essentially the Magic equivalent of going to a car show. How about being able to go to a hangout with people who really love the old novels from the 90s and early 2000s. Better yet, what about your favorite content creators doing a dramatic reading of the recent story articles as a panel? Or maybe just getting to walk up to a booth and chat with your favorite cosplayer. And then in the evening there is a panel where Vorthoses have theorycrafted dishes from some of your favorite Magic planes.
Magic is so much more than just the act of playing the card game. Just like any fandom, there are a myriad of ways that people enjoy the game outside of the direct interaction of playing it. And I think it would be great if our events began to do a better job of reflecting that.