Space for Accessibility

I went with a friend (B.R. Kyle) to a Magic the Gathering Eldritch Moon prerelease event at another store this weekend. I’ve played there, to the point where we’re quasi-regular casual players, but I’ve never prereleased there, and it was an interesting experience in ways unrelated to the anxiety of playing with new cards with new people.

It made me think, a lot, about the physical space of a store and what this means for my accessibility needs.

I want to preface this by saying it’s a great store. The owner is friendly, it doesn’t reek too much of dude, and we (a genderless person who looks female and a woman, neither of us being the usual demographic for trading card games) are, to my mind, treated fairly respectfully as casual players. It was even a delight, for the first time, to attend a larger prerelease event and see more than one other woman playing! (Even better, one of the girls playing was absolutely phenomenal: I saw her beat a top-table player I drew with, handily, and her confidence in both her cards and the game was lovely to see.) The location of the store (down a flight of narrow steps) is also a problem for the owner that’s not easily solved: the rent of a fully-accessible CBD location is likely well beyond the income of a Magic-centric store owner given the kind of turnover I suspect he has.

(I wonder, all the times I’m lugging my roller trolley up and down stairs, what I’ll do when I hit the day when I cannot lift it in my hands. I can’t carry things in my hands for long distance and I struggle with backpacks, but it’s difficult for me to leave the house without All The Things. I don’t know what I’ll do, to be honest, and that’s a scary thought.)


Space was a problem. There were three rows of tables and only just enough space for people to sit in rows either side, and very little space in the other half of the shopfront. Thirty-two people plus two Tournament Organisers were crammed in a space that isn’t meant to house that many.

Again, I’m not saying this to diminish the owner and TOs in any way. It was handled as well as it could have been. We shoved bags in corners, we went out into the hallway before going back in to sit at the table given to our pairing – there just wasn’t enough space for everybody to get past each other if pairings were given out while people still sat down – and because I’m not capable of doing anything without All The Things, I sat with my satchel at my feet and my gaming box (contents: sleeves; lands; commonly-used card tokens like zombies, angels, spirits and goblins; pen; notepad; handmade dice bag) in my lap. Nobody complained, we all shuffled about, and, while it might not have been ideal, it was manageable. I would have preferred a little more space on the tables so I could put my gear beside my playmat (the length of my Ultra Pro playmat was the length of the allotted per-person space) rather than in my lap, but I still had a good time.

This said, anyone using any kind of mobility aid would have been right royally fucked.

I think there were thirty-two players, and I know I struggled just to get me and my satchel past and around people and their chairs. If I’d been using a cane or crutches I’d have fallen flat on my face. (There’s no way a user of wheelchairs or walkers could have managed.) I was already crawling underneath other people’s chairs and legs, at times, to pick up the cards that sprayed from my hands every time I shuffled.

You enter that store on the implicit understanding that you’re able-bodied enough to do so.

That doesn’t mean you’re able-bodied enough to find the experience a simple one.

I don’t see this talked about much, so I want to look at (trading card) gaming accessories from a disability viewpoint – for me being, of course, that of my hands, wrists, thumbs and fine motor control. I noticed that the regulars had a minimum of accessories, which definitely made gaming in tight quarters simpler when we were constantly packing up and moving. For me, while the token box might be an optional extra, mats, dice and sleeves aren’t. Using a scoring pad means constantly writing things down via the holding of a pen, so I’d much rather score with multiple spindown D20s, even if a scorepad is good practice for Competitive REL. (Besides, dice are useful for counters.) A playmat (think an oversized mouse pad) isn’t optional if I don’t want to spend all day struggling to pick a card, sleeved or naked, up from the table. The mat lowers the friction between table and card, which means I don’t have to work so hard to grasp the card. Simple. Likewise, if I want to shuffle (as I don’t want my opponent to shuffle for me), I need sleeves to cut down on the friction between the sheets of cardboard enough to manage even a graceless mash shuffle. The lessening of friction that means I can shuffle at all, though, means that sleeved cards, especially in non-matte sleeves, spray from my hands.

(Matte sleeves cost more and I never see them discounted, whereas I’ve picked up quite a lot of regular/non-matte sleeves on sale prices.)

Disability here means needing more things, having to carry more things in a space that requires participants to have as few things as possible, finding it harder to carry more things, and needing to purchase more expensive things … just to be able to do things like everybody else, yet still more clumsily than everybody else.

The hardest part for me, though?

Thirty-four people, in a game that involves a lot of conversation (per turn, something like ‘draw, Swamp, tap three, cast Murder targeting the Gryff, declare attackers, swing for three in the air, pass turn’ at minimum, assuming your opponent does nothing on your own turn) make a great deal of noise.

Thirty-four people in a small, boxy space make waves of noise. It was like being in the sound equivalent of a wave pool. At times, I was just sitting there, with cards in my hand and an opponent in front of me, and all I could think and feel was the cacophony of gamer conversations rolling back and forth, ebbing and rising and hammering down only to fade and build all over again, and there was no predicting exactly when the chaos would peak and crash onto the shore. Having the game to focus on was a help, in a sense, because what to cast and combat phases and whether or not one’s opponent is sitting on a handful of counterspells because he’s got six lands open ye gods gave me something to think about that wasn’t the soundtrack. It made it easier to be in the environment when I wanted to clap my hands over my ears and run until I found somewhere I wasn’t floating back and forth on the cresting waves of sound.

The game makes it easier to endure the chaos, yes.

The chaos does not help the game.

As I said last time, it means I can’t make sense of what my opponent is saying. I had a couple of opponents who’d play a non-permanent (spell goes to graveyard, not battlefield) spell, so they’d cast the spell, read the card to me, do the effect (or effects, some of which may be delayed) and toss the card in the graveyard … but I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and because they were all new cards (which means I didn’t and don’t know exactly what every single one does), I couldn’t process the information I did hear in the very-short time I had between my opponent speaking and the card going into graveyard. I’ve either got to pretend I know – and sometimes in the moment I don’t even realise I don’t know – or I’ve got to disrupt game play and reveal myself as an idiot who didn’t understand knowing that the second read-out likely won’t help. Yes, the cards are new to everyone, but someone who can quickly process the specific rules meanings and interactions from a read-out card has a massive advantage over somebody like me, who then makes absurd mistakes because I’m operating on much less information.

(I don’t know if it’s true that the people around me seem to understand the spoken word better than the written, but I’ve generally found that I learn better from reading an instruction rather than listening to it, while enduring the majority of verbal instructions given to me, and I’ve often been in the position of helping others learn by the simple process of reading their own instruction book, exactly as printed, out to them. Something in the transition from text to speech makes the information easier for them to comprehend. I also know that when my opponents read out a new card to me, even if I understand it in the moment, I’ll have forgotten it thirty seconds later. If I read it myself, and feel I have enough time to do it properly, the chance that I remember it is a great deal higher.)

Furthermore, because I was so overloaded by input and information at this point, I was struggling to make sense of my own cards and basic rules interactions. Things I know, and know well, flew right out of my head because I was trying to think about the new interactions and make sense of cards my opponents read and I didn’t hear, didn’t understand or didn’t remember.

For a game where spoken comprehension is in fact optional – card text means anyone who can read and comprehend English can in theory get enough information to play as long as you’re given time to look at all the cards, and gesture-heavy players like me have something of an informal sign language when it comes to indicating phases and targeting (certain flick of the hand for passing turn, for example) – it sure gets in the way of my playing it well.

This, in all fairness, is something I’ve struggled with since beginning to play Magic, and it shows most, of course, in the new-card situation of a prerelease event, where I’m trying to hear and learn new cards all at once.

It’s only now that I’ve played in a larger tournament in a smaller space that I’ve realised just how detrimental both the sound and the inability to read my opponents’ cards actually is on my ability to play the game. Not on my ability to sit there or draw cards, but on my ability to read decision trees and make the best actions and reactions with the information I have so I don’t make a series of increasingly-stupid mistakes, get anxious about my stupid mistakes and sit there trying to bottle in a heavy-duty freak out while continuing to play with a stranger!

None of the things I’ve mentioned here are have an easy solution, and I’ll say again that the lack of physical space was managed as well as it could have been. At the end of the day, I’ve just got to bring my gear and not apologise for that. I do mean, from now on, to explain to an opponent first up that my auditory processing is increasingly non-existent the noisier a space becomes, and, because of that, I need them to show me every card they play and give me ample time to read it, please, because reading new card text to me just doesn’t work. (If I wore a ‘Hi, I’m autistic’ badge or something, maybe my opponent would be more aware of remembering what is for me an access-to-the-game requirement?) The noise, though, isn’t going to go away (nor should people not talk for my sake: Magic is a social activity) and the space won’t magically grow bigger. I have to cope as best I can with the distractions of sound. (Going for a quick walk after the first round, for example, helped a lot. Scheduled time between rounds to get out for fifteen minutes would be a good thing.) The situation is made more complicated by the fact that I actually enjoyed the experience, most of the time. I might try other stores, but I wasn’t unhappy there, for all that I struggled throughout!

It does make me think: I’m verbal enough, save when stressed/confused/overwhelmed/triggered, to not need sign language in most instances for my own expression.

If people signed to me for my own comprehension, though, that would be a blessing and a half, and it might be something I should consider looking into.

It is a step for me, though, to look at how I played, understand where my difficulties come from and decide that I can and should ask people to accommodate me, even if it makes me different.

The fact is that I am different.

Pretending I’m not doesn’t help me play Magic as best I can.