I’m usually not the one for social commentary, at least not on this blog, but I’m going to do this anyway.
The community outreach of Wizards is excellent. Head Designer Mark Rosewater (or Maro) recently noted that he has answered 46000 questions on his Tumblr. Other members of the team have Tumblrs. Gavin Verhey answers development questions, Matt Tabak answers rules questions and, today’s hero, Doug Beyer answers questions on the creative.
(Creative does the worlds and characters, design makes the set interesting, development makes the set playable.)
Most of the time Beyer only answers pretty deep, but boring Vorthos questions, other times he just has fun with it.
… and every now and then, there’s something more important.
Now, I’m not sure if MtG is exactly mainstream, but they do have something like 15 million players. That is more people than most big TV shows get, or the audience of most movies in theatrical release. So, even if MtG is still outside of the mainstream (and with a movie coming up, it probably won’t be for long), it still has a huge audience.
They’ve worked on bringing all sorts of characters before. Sure, their characters are mostly fairly young (or appear so, in the case of Liliana) and really beautiful, but they try to make them diverse, and not only in a way that they’ll have character in there that they’ll point to when asked for a black woman. They’ll try to have diversity in the ranks. There’s roughly as many women in the ranks of the different armies in Theros as there are men. The khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged are evenly divided in sexes, and there seems to be a development in interspecies relations on Tarkir as in the past all the khans were human, in the present one of them is naga and one is an orc. They even have a character that’s been wheelchaired (who’s a goblin).
… and now they have a transgendered character. Its not something they really emphasized in their marketing, or even the card itself. Its just something that came up in one of the weekly short stories on their website. I’ve heard from different sources that behind the scenes they were really looking into the reaction to this character and were looking for feedback from prominent transgendered members of the community (and there are several), as well all the rest.
So, you might be asking yourself, how does changing ones sex work in a fantasy setting. I don’t really know, actually, as I haven’t read the story, but the way I understand it, the Mardu clan has a long standing tradition that you need to prove yourself in battle to gain a warname. Before that, you are basically nothing. Then there was this young kid, who took this liberally and decided that she’d rather be a woman. The fact that she isn’t “soft” is emphasized with her becoming the khan of the clan at 19. I don’t know whether she’s physically a woman, but that’s not the point.
Is this important? Probably in the grand scheme of things this isn’t going to be that big of a deal, but the acceptance of these things is highly relient on us having to face them. I don’t know what proportion of the audience is young enough to be reached this way, but we’re probably talking millions. I don’t know how many know or care that Alesha is transgendered, either.
I do like how Wizards handled this. Its not the only part of her character or the central thing in her story. She isn’t weak, nor is she a joke. Actually quite the opposite on both accounts. She’s even someone you might look up to (although due to her violent nature, you probably shouldn’t, and as Neil deGrasse Tyson says, you shouldn’t idolize people, although I guess I just did). This is the way you normalize things like this.