The following is an open letter published by Adonis Mirror: I believe it's of interest to our community. It covers how a Magic: The Gathering card was translated from the English "Delay" to the French "Retard" and how the retailer StarCityGames.com worked to profit from players who find able-ism funny.
I am a Magic fan, as well as a fan of Star City and one of its principal managers. Nevertheless, this profiteering highlights the elevation of masculinity above community in the Magic scene--and gaming as a whole for that matter. That masculinity can also be seen in the words "pimp" and "rape" that are so frequently used by players.
The original text (which is perhaps better formatted and comes with images) can be found at
An open letter to Ben Bleiweiss and StarCityGames
In most circumstances, I’d begin a letter like this one with a Dear Mr. Bleiweiss.
We’re not friends, you don’t know me, and I’m about to level some fairly heavy stuff in your direction.
On the other hand, you’ve been kind enough to respond to my more basic questions on the forums at StarCityGames, sometimes taking me aside privately: you, above all people, realize that something as fundamentally trivial as a collectable card game is literally a house of cards. They’re worth nothing if no one wants to play and your business model depends upon fostering community. You do that better than anyone. It’s a testament to your own diligence that I feel comfortable starting this letter with a “Dear Ben.”
I can say with full confidence that I believe that you’re the single most positive force in the game of Magic. From your work in the “Building on a Budget” series to the columns you write on community building, you’re the one voice that reliably says: “Magic is for everybody.” Or, at least it has the potential to be if we don’t let ourselves get in the way.
That’s why I found it so disappointing that you signed off on trying to exploit the French versions of the Future Sight card, “Delay.” Yes, the card was translated into French as “Retard.” Merely selling them to English speaking audiences is one thing, but putting a premium on them is quite another: StarCityGames unveiled them at $15, a far cry from the $2 you ask for the English edition.
By adding that $13 tax on a piece of cardboard, you’re not just an invisible-hand guided by what demand for the product might bear. Instead, you’re complicit in the joke and any harm it might cause. That $13 tax says that you know certain members of the Magic community think the translation is amusing and that they’ll gladly pay $60 for a play-set of four in order to sneer “retard” at their opponents. (Note: no italics to represent the foreign nature of the word in this case.) You’re aiding and abetting that.
Of course, a fair number of those opponents will indeed find that quite amusing—although most of them somewhat less so if they wind up losing to the well-moneyed jokers, one might imagine. They’re playing against Islands, too, after all. No matter which side of the table they’re sitting on, they’re equally in need of your community building articles. Perhaps the one where you cite how a Women’s Studies class altered so many of your perspectives:
…it was the single most important class I ever took at any school, and it changed my entire life. It opened my eyes to a lot of my problems, including taking many aspects of my life for granted, pointing out all the wrong ways in which I was treating other people (both male and female), and opened up an empathy in me that I had suppressed years ago.
Empathy is the reason why people stop finding “retard” funny. It’s why we remove words like that from our vocabularies—all sorts of terms that demean entire classes of people, insults that incur splash damage far beyond the people we even know.
The Magic community needs to grow out. I’d say “grow up,” but there’s nothing inherently childlike about arrogance and hatred. Indeed, those are things that are pumped into us as we age. Giving a damn is somehow “Political Correctness.” I’m not writing this to censor anyone, especially you Ben, but think about the example that StarCityGames is setting.
It’s more than just French “Delays.”
It’s Raphael Levy with his “Pimp my Draft” column that you fund. Yes, it’s a take off a popular television show, he didn’t invent it. And yes, the word “pimp” has been afforded secondary meanings, making it harmless enough that even the supposedly conservative world of country music finds a Trick my Truck title to be “family friendly” in a way the Dixie Chicks are not.
Some statistics report that the average age of entry into prostitution is 14 years of age. That’s in the United States. The numbers are even more dismal elsewhere. For people like us who have the disposable income to even think about engaging in something like Magic to make light of that is—well, despicable doesn’t begin to cover it. Not by a long shot.
Kyle Sanchez is another writer funded by StarCityGames. As the resident sometimes-shock-jock that you employ, the title of his weekly “Down and Dirty” column makes light of his last name and a “sex act” where a man smears feces across a woman’s lip. Sanchez recently gave one of his tournament reports the byline of “Montreal Massacre: 29 Hours of Pain.”
Marc Lépine walked into the École Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6, 1989 and murdered 14 women after accusing them of being feminists who stole his rightful place in society.
Kyle Sanchez, on the other hand, had a hard time transporting hair care products in his luggage.
Clearly the homage was justified.
This sort of selfishness pervades the StarCityGames forums as well. I’m not saying that it’s any worse than other male-centric forums, only that with your help we can hope to do better.
A simple keyword search of the forum (at the time of this letter) revealed 430 uses of the word “rape” and an additional 227 instances of “raped.” While very few of the authors were speaking specifically of a forcible sex act, each and every use was sexualized: real men penetrate and are superior for it; to be penetrated is to be victimized and to be victimized is to be a not a man but a woman or something worse.
Quotes like “I can go through this forum and every other and rape a hundred stupid posts for terrible ideas” or “Sure, [a Threshold deck] will rape a net deck version [of Flash] from a random Player” abound.
The forums also contain 1500 uses of the word “pimp,” which has come to mean foil-coated or otherwise extravagant cards in the Magic community’s lexicon.
One “Boxy Brown (Just a Box Bitch)” of Santa Cruz commented favorably on your sale of French “Delays”:
“Yes. French Delays are awesome. It’s the perfect combination of good utility card + inherent pimpness for being foreign + hilarious joke.”
I believe you read that post as later in the very same thread you spoke of your plans to expand your foreign inventory.
“Pimp-ness” is about masculinity in more ways than one.
Until last Winter, if you asked me what the last rare card I pulled from a Magic pack was, I’d have told you “Phyrexian Dreadnaught.” That was in 1996. When I was invited by several family members to play in a Legacy tournament at Game Empire in San Diego, StarCityGames was my source not only for cards but for getting a handle on Magic again. Hell, the last time I played, the “stack” had not even been invented yet!
Thanks to you, I handily won my very first match that day. My second of the tournament didn’t go so well. During our initial game, my opponent played a “Phyrexian Arena.” Only it was a Japanese version, a foil at that, “pimp” in every conceivable way. I had no idea what it did and I listened to his explanation and said “ok.” I was a fish out of water and I certainly didn’t want to make waves. He was The Man and I was in his territory: the last thing I wanted to do was to look like I was in an even weaker position by appealing to others for help.
Yes, that’s my mistake—due to my own schooling in the art of masculinity that I have yet to overcome completely—but it’s an error that “pimp players” deliberately work to exploit whenever they can. Even the idea of a decadently expensive deck (foil and foreign versions being irrelevant to the mechanics of the game) is designed to say that the one wielding it is an “insider,” more a part of the game, and the community, than someone with lesser cards. As a society, we’re all taught that lesser people should know their place and that they certainly shouldn’t snitch.
When it became clear that his chances were going down the tubes and I had him on the ropes, he chose to “not pay the upkeep of one life” and sacrificed the card, as if it were an infinitely superior version of “Phyrexian Etchings.” He won the following two games. I later went to the store owners, who were effectively judges, and asked them what the card actually did, wanting to be clear in the future. They had a talk with my opponent (though his victory stood) and I was happy enough that I now knew what the card did. I was there to learn, not play hall monitor.
Not to bore you with more personal history, but the following week I participated in a Standard tournament, at a neighboring store called Artifex. My first opponent was playing a variant of what I now know is “Solar Flare.” (I was then ignorant of such things, being new on the Type 2 scene: hell, I was playing tribal soldiers!) A teenager of indeterminate age, he was also employing Japanese foils. Let me tell you, having to take someone’s word for what blue cards do is a scary prospect! Trying to explain what “Compulsive Research” does off the top of your head is trickier than it sounds, even when you’re being completely honest about it.
He might have been honest about it, but he sure wasn’t happy about it: he was gleeful, thrilled that he found someone so inferior as to not recognize every legal card by its artwork. And someone who was playing garbage like “Orcish Artillery” at that—someone he could treat as inferior, not just to his “Akroma” and “Angels of Despair,” but to himself as well. Then he lost twice to a “Blood Moon” that I pulled from a pack before he could even read.
Even if he had run roughshod over me, however, as he certainly might have, and probably ought to have, I think that “pimp” cards are unhealthy for the Magic scene. The callous sexism echoed in the term “pimp” itself speaks to other inequalities. For every person “pimpness” draws into the game, it pushes another person out: masculinity is a zero sum enterprise, after all.
Imagine, please, someone else going to their first Type 2 or Standard tournament. He or she taps two “mountains” and a “plains,” announces “Orcish Artillery,” only to be greeted by some guy sneering “reee-tard.”
That’s a rather unfortunate introduction to the Magic community. But it’s one that can certainly happen now, thanks in part to StarCityGames. What would you say to that player in your next “Real Deal” column, Ben?
I don’t know how much money you’ve made off of the French “Delays.” I’m guessing maybe about $400, maybe as much as a $1000; perhaps much less as you’ve dropped the price to $12.50. I’m not sure that you need to make money in that way. Maybe scraping the bottom of the barrel isn’t worth it.
I can tell you that I won’t be pre-ordering the full set of theme decks for the upcoming Lorwyn expansion from you, as I did for both Planar Chaos and Future Sight. Nor will you be my choice for single cards in the immediate future.
My business isn’t a huge loss, but I hope that my respect will be, and that you’ll consider my words here.
Knowing the kind of person you are, I believe that you will.