Wizards of the Coast, Nic Kelman, & Hypocrisy

trigger warnings: implied sexual abuse & statutory rape

Forbes recently interviewed the Head of Story and Entertainment at Wizards of the Coast, Nic Kelman. He introduced Planeswalker Oko, a new character in the card game Magic: the Gathering. When not transforming people into woodland creatures, this faerie loves hunting down and exposing hypocrisy.¹

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Oko by Chris Rallis WIZARDS OF THE COAST

Oko sees himself as an agent of truth, and if that truth upsets people so much the better. He might, for instance, point out that the man who helped create him, Nic Kelman, once upon a time wrote the novel Girls: A Paean. What’s in this book? Let’s take a look.

“This girl they sent up really is young. It’s possible she’s not even sixteen. The traces of childhood are gone — the gangliness, the spindly limbs and neck, the overlarge eyes — but just barely. Her hips have hardly swollen enough to give her a waist, her breasts will still develop a little more. But God is she sexy.”²

“Resigned, long past shame, you had asked them for the youngest girl they had. It is legal to prostitute girls over the age of fifteen in Amsterdam.”²

“You are afraid someone might somehow find the pictures. Afraid you will go to jail.”²

But do those quotes represent the book as a whole? Not in one key respect: They lack any explicit depictions of sex, which won’t be printed here for obvious reasons. A review in the Guardian observed, “Nearly all the sex in the novel — and there is a lot of sex in it, often graphically described — is between adult men and pubescent girls.”³ In defending the novel, Nic Kelman said, “Technically, all the girls in the book are legal.” And, “…the book is not really about sex at all; it’s about power.” What then, does power mean within the pages of Girls: A Paean?

“…you will only maintain relationships where you have the upper hand, and you will do this because if you are lucky you will know that power means you don’t have to be afraid. Power means you can do what you want when you want to. Power means you can have what you want when you want it.”²

“No, it’s because they want there to be a balance of power. They want things to be equal. It’s because they don’t understand good sex has nothing to do with equality.”²

The last passage is referring to adult women. From its first pages the novel has much to say about women, that they are ashamed of their bodies,⁴ they are not satisfying their husbands,⁵ and the majority of wives understand and accept their men are cheating on them with younger assistants.⁶

The question may remain if the novel is some sort of dark satire, that it explores darkness to cast a light on it in judgement. The Planeswalker Oko would likely laugh at the idea. If a story sells itself on the idea of sex with girls and portrays it erotically over and over, that is its essence. Still, let’s satisfy our curiosity and see what the novel offers on the subject of morality.

“When you get back in bed you wish you felt worse about this. You wish you felt terrible, in fact. But you don’t. Instead you feel fucking fantastic. Reborn. Your head is clear, you can actually feel the sheets touching your entire body.”²

“You tell him not to worry about it, that there’s nothing to feel bad about. You know he just doesn’t quite understand yet. But he will. And when he does, when he realizes this is something he not only needs but deserves, he’ll stop feeling bad.”²

We could write this off as in bad taste if it stayed within a book’s pages, but similar justifications were often said by Jeffery Epstein.⁷ In a recent article, Megan Garber describes how Epstein’s crimes were enabled by a culture that portrays underage girls as adult women in disguise. They just require a bit of unwrapping to reveal a sexy gift for men.⁷ The following passage gives an example of how stories weave this into the male psyche.

“A mother catches you looking at her daughter. She scowls, she knows what you are thinking because she knows what her husband is thinking when he looks at his daughter’s friends. Yet she scowls more when she sees her daughter returning the gaze.”²

Yes, this is from Girls. The passage normalizes sexual desire in adult men for minors and suggests it’s reciprocated. It creates an environment where it’s acceptable, even commendable to be a sexual predator.

Nic Kelman wrote Girls: A Paean, but does that make him a hypocrite? That’s what Planeswalker Oko would care about. He would find it intriguing that Nic Kelman now works on Magic: the Gathering, a game for kids as young as thirteen. Curious and curiouser, his employer Wizards of the Coast has gone to great lengths over the last decade to market Magic cards toward women, though men still comprised 99% of the last Magic Mythic Championship.⁸ Wizards of the Coast is encouraging a more diverse player base by championing inclusivity.

“We value all people and perspectives inside our walls, among our players, and in our games. Dragons and elves belong in our worlds, and so do you.”⁹ The Code of Conduct for players of those games explicitly states, “Do not promote, plan, glorify or engage in any illegal activity….” And, yes, one of those listed is “solicitation of a minor.”¹⁰

At this point Planeswalker Oko would be rubbing his hands together. The hypocrisy is so heady he could smell its spicy richness, but where exactly is it coming from? Did Nic Kelman tell his employers he believes in the equality of women? Has he distanced himself from his earlier novel in private? He certainly never has in public.

And we’ve been left wondering for too long. In a July 2018 outcry, readers of the Magic Story asked Wizards of the Coast for clarity on this matter. We’ve continued to seek resolution publicly on Twitter¹¹ and privately on feedback forms. I even reached out to Nic Kelman himself for a statement, asking if he still stands by his earliest novel. All our questions have been met with stony silence.

Planeswalker Oko would seize upon that silence, as it calls into question the authenticity of Wizards of the Coast; it casts in doubt their public declarations of inclusiveness; and it reeks of hypocrisy.

Oko could use his fey powers to find answers. He could shapeshift into a thirteen-year-old girl, to see how Nic Kelman would react, but we already know a greater truth: Nic Kelman in his novel was willing to “promote, glorify,” and profit off sex with girls aged sixteen and younger. The better question is if it’s reasonable to ask women — or anyone —to engage with Magic Story he has edited.

Wizards of the Coast must now know what dwells within Girls: A Paean, but they may not have when they hired Nic Kelman. They may not have done their due diligence. He may have repeated, “It’s not about underage sex, or even sex at all.”³ He may have left the novel off his application entirely. But whatever works he included would have been made possible by the early success of his international-bestseller Girls.

You may yet wonder how we can object to this novel when Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is considered a masterpiece. One obvious difference is the explicit sex. Lest we forget, Girls is full of it. And yet the implied sex in Lolita also scandalized during its time. I would say if Nabokov’s book is a risqué painting, Kelman’s is bad porn, but that’s subjective. For something more black and white let’s read this longer passage from Girls that speaks directly to the author of Lolita.

“Ah, Nabokov, you sly old dog. Even though you call Humbert a pedophile, you chose a girl just after puberty, not just before. Why would that be do you think? Could it be that you knew even your staunchest supporters would desert you if she had been younger? Could it be that you knew because she was postpubescent there would be plenty of people that would understand but that if she were prepubescent you wouldn’t have found a single sympathizer? That if she were prepubescent you might as well have written a book asking its reader to pity a genocide? Could it be that all, yes all, the men you knew too, when the doors were closed, when the room was empty but for them, would look at each other and smirk and say, ‘Humbert was one lucky bastard, wasn’t he?’ Could it be that for all your respectable, scholarly exterior, you had more than one male friend who knew you well enough to say with a grin, ‘I can’t believe you got away with that!’ Could it be that you knew damn well there are plenty of people who, underneath it all, believe the saying ‘Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed.’ Because at the end of the day, what else do we have? After the rebellions, and the struggles, and the political endeavors, after watching our backs day in and day out, guarding them not just from others but from everything, what else do we really have? A dog like the Cavaliers? A month like August? A toilet-bowl cleaner like the tragic son of Telamon? What else do we really have? What else can really make us feel alive, even if it is only for an hour or two? Is there anything else, out of all we have, that we can actually say is worth living for?”²

Kelman sees Nabokov’s novel as justifying his own and considers both works legitimate because they bring to light an innate desire in men for girls aged thirteen to seventeen. Sex with the underaged is lionized and described throughout Kelman’s novel as a glorious expression of power. The survivors of Jeffery Epstein may have chosen different words.

The desires of girls and their long-term wellbeing are not the subject of these novels. This is typical of fictional relationships with minors in Hollywood and leads to a culture permissive to predators.⁷ Damage has been done to real girls, distinct from characters in a man’s book. The problem may not be we’re too critical of Kelman but too forgiving toward Nabokov. If the author of Lolita was hired by Wizards of the Coast as the Head of Story and Entertainment, I would have also objected.

What’s it like to have Kelman fill that role? Well, he had a hand in creating Planeswalker Oko, a character who doesn’t believe in consent. Oko strips Garruk of his volition in chapter one of the Wildered Quest,¹² hands out drugged food, and transforms others against their will. On Magic: Arena when you push him away he says, “You’re too close minded.”¹³ Taken together it’s all a bit much.

When asked by Forbes about Oko’s favorite part of being a Planeswalker, Nic Kelman replied: “Never having to deal with the consequences of your actions if you don’t want to!”¹

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Oko by Chris Rallis WIZARDS OF THE COAST

Citations:

1: Orsini, Lauren. “Exclusive: Meet Oko, The ‘Magic: The Gathering’ Multiverse’s Newest Planeswalker.” Forbes. Aug 28, 2019. Accessed: Aug 30, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurenorsini/2019/08/28/exclusive-meet-oko-the-magic-the-gathering-multiverses-newest-planeswalker/#6bb537f21b1a

2: Kelman, Nic. Girls: A Paean. Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Kindle edition.

3: O’Hagan, Sean. “Men behaving very badly.” The Guardian. June 26, 2004. Accessed: Aug 30, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/jun/27/fiction.features1

4: Kelman, Nic. Girls: A Paean. Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Kindle edition. Location 291.

5: Kelman, Nic. Girls: A Paean. Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Kindle edition. Location 594.

6: Kelman, Nic. Girls: A Paean. Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Kindle edition. Location 811.

7: Garber, Megan. “The Myth of the ‘Underage’ Woman.” The Atlantic. Aug 15, 2019. Accessed: Aug 30, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/08/jeffrey-epstein-and-the-myth-of-the-underage-woman/596140/

8: Invited Players for Mythic Championship IV. June 21, 2019. Accessed: Sept 30, 2019. https://magic.wizards.com/en/events/premierplay/mythicseries/2019MC4/invitations

9: Get to Know Us: Our Values. Accessed: Aug 30, 2019. company.wizards.com/content/company

10: Wizards of the Coast’s Code of Conduct. June 1, 2014. Accessed: Aug 30, 2019. company.wizards.com/legal/code-conduct

11: AEMarling. “Retweet if you would like Magic Story editor Nic Kelman to clarify his position regarding his past novel Girls and current employment at @wizards_magic, a company that champions gender equality. #Vorthos.” Aug 19, 2019. 7:39 AM. Tweet.

12: Elliott, Kate. Throne of Eldraine: The Wildered Quest. Wizards of the Coast Publishing. Sept 4, 2019. EBook. https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/throne-of-eldraine-the-wildered-quest

13: Food is Broken. YouTube video. Sep 25, 2019. Accessed: Sept 30, 2019. https://youtu.be/JolylrEJ36s?t=3192

Written by

Past writer of card names and flavor text for Wizards of the Coast and current member of SFWA. Magic: the Gathering player for over twenty years.

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