The image obviously speaks for itself, but let me point out a few of the more salient details. Let’s start with the enormous size disparity, emphasizing her powerlessness. The look of rage on his face. His hand around her throat. His other arm pulled back to punch/stab her in the face. But don’t overlook that small expanse of leg and garter on display, which draws attention to his knee between her legs. I’m going to assume (and hope) that most of you have never considered the specific mechanics of rape, but if you play it out in your head for a few moments, it probably starts out with that knee.
What’s my point? This image is on a card in a game that people play for enjoyment and escapism. Imagine that you’re a woman who shows up at, say, a prerelease, or a friend’s house to have some fun and play a few games of Magic. Imagine that you’ve been the victim of sexual assault or physical violence in the past. You see that image. An image that depicts with brutal accuracy what may have been the most traumatizing and horrific experience of your life. Hell, I’ve never been assaulted, I’m not even a woman, and that image gives me a very unpleasant feeling.
If you think this situation is hypothetical, consider this: roughly three women are murdered by their husband or boyfriend every day in the U.S. The number of reported domestic assaults and rapes in the U.S. is nearly five million per year. In 2006, there were more than 200,000 sexual assaults and rapes in the U.S. So a former victim who plays Magic encountering that image is not a possibility, it’s a certainty.
Compounding this is the effect such imagery might have on males. Look, I’ve spent my fair share of time at Friday Night Magic. The crowd is mostly men in their late teens and early 20s. These are the guys who thought it was funny to buy the French printing of Delay because Delay in French is “Retard.” I’ve witnessed firsthand the sludgy, half-formed ideas they have about women and how to relate to them. I’m not going to belabor this point, but let’s just say I don’t think this card will make a positive contribution in that regard.
In defense of this image, it is within the context of a story in which Liliana eventually gets the upper hand and defeats Garruk, I think. That’s utterly meaningless, because none of that happens here. The number of Magic players who actually follow the stories is vanishingly small, not to mention new players who have no idea who these two people are (as Jesse Mason correctly observes). All you have to go by is this one image and the story that it tells. Or, if you really want to talk about context, how about the context that appears on the card itself?
Oh, I get it. What the card is really saying is, “If you’re the largest and the strongest, you are better and you will win.” Or you could just go with the flavor text, which is a nice thumbnail guide for murder/suicide.
I’m not saying that art should not depict unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even vile things. Not even close. But as part of a game, an image that represents their company, one they’ve even used to promote Avacyn Restored, it’s pretty inexcusable. I’m not blaming the artist (James Ryman, whose work I love), and I’m pretty sure the art description didn’t say, “Paint Garruk about to rape/murder Liliana.” But this went through a lot of hands before it ever made it onto a card, and one of those hands should have had the same uncomfortable feeling I had and fought for something different. There are many different ways the conflict being played out on this card could have been depicted.
Part of the problem? There aren’t many women working at high levels on Magic (or D&D, for that matter). Yes, there are women in major positions at WotC, but they aren’t involved in design and development on a day-to-day basis. There were no women working on the design or development teams for Avacyn Restored (Jenna Helland was the only woman on the design teams for Innistrad and Dark Ascension). If you try to tell me there just aren’t any women qualified to do those jobs, all I have to say is, “Bullshit.”
I’m not one to complain for the sake of complaining. What response would I like to see from Wizards? Well, obviously it’s way too late to prevent that card from going to print. They could, of course, make sure they use different art if the card is ever reprinted, but an emergency art change in subsequent print runs of Avacyn Restored would be a terrible idea (it would just make the Wifebeater version of the card seem more forbidden and collectible).
What they could do is contribute some money to a few of the many organizations that work to end violence against women. Here are some suggestions: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Men Can Stop Rape. Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence. Or, even closer to home for them, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. Better yet, Wizards could include anti-violence information in boxes or packs of Avacyn Restored, or allow local anti-violence groups to distribute materials at tournaments. I was also recently contacted by Hopeline, a project that collects old cell phones and redistributes them to domestic violence assistance organizations, providing a vital lifeline to victims who might otherwise be cut off from needed resources when they try to escape their situation. Hopeline has collected over 10 million phones and donated over $18 million.
I don’t soap box very often on Robot Viking. In fact, this might be the first time in over three years of running the site. I’m not the sort of ultra-PC person who gets offended at every off-color joke or perceived inequality. So I hope this carries a little more weight, that this image finally crossed whatever line there is in my head between OK and Not-OK.