Anonymity, Jerks, and Other Topics of Community Import

Something I notice time and time again is that Magic communities, much like high school, have a special social structure and many different cliques. A community divided is in much worse shape than one that’s unified. This, unfortunately, will never change. This alone is unhealthy, but it’s worsened further by plain ole’ simple bad manners. A new generation of players comes to replace the old guard, and with them come naivety, immaturity, and crass adolescents.

Something I notice time and time again is that Magic communities, much like high school, have a special social structure and many different cliques. A community divided is in much worse shape than one that’s unified. This, unfortunately, will never change. This alone is unhealthy, but it’s worsened further by plain ole’ simple bad manners. A new generation of players comes to replace the old guard, and with them come naivety, immaturity, and crass adolescents.

Luckily you, my reader, along with your friends hold the power to lessen the effect of these cliques and assholes of the new (and current) generation on the Magic community.

The “n00b” Effect

Thanks to the Internet, over the years we’ve been given a wide variety of MMORPGS (Massive multiplayer online role playing games – That’s a mouthful), real-time strategy games and the old standby, first person shooters. Through these games a seemingly endless assortment of slang and lingo was born. Terms such as owned and its counterpart “pwned”, r0xx0rz, and n00b, along with “leet” were created because some random 12-year-olds thought it was amusing. [They came out of the hacking/cracking community years before MMORPGS, but whatever. – Knut, giving Carl the mike] Nevertheless, these words have wiggled their way into nearly everybody’s lexicon, polluting the English language and affecting the behavior of many of those that use them.

For example, I have recently picked up Starcraft after having not played it for like, fourteen years, and witness the use of these all the time. The shield the Internet provides allows people to get away with saying pretty much anything without having to deal with any repercussions, provided they never meet up with the person on the other end of the line in real life. I see things people say in games that just wouldn’t fly in real life without someone getting their teeth knocked out.

The problem lies in how the Internet has affected the youth of the world. These fledgling gamers have grown up attached to the anonymity the Internet provides them. They now have had far too little “real” social experience before being pushed out into the world beyond their monitors. Content of the non-Internet media also plays a large part in how these kids develop. These Net-savvy kids go out to the playgrounds, schools, and extra-curricular activities falling into two categories: The jerk-off asshole and the victim.

I could go on and on with this, but the long and short is more kids enter into Magic every day than have ever before, bringing along with them these unhealthy behaviors and habits. In the beginning the greenhorn player plays a bit with his or her friends, learning the basics and hopefully eventually picking things up on the web along the way. Many will learn of tournaments and the prizes and grandeur that come with them.

Here’s where I draw on personal experience and get to have story time, yay!

I began playing in late 1997 where I picked up a Portal starter deck and a few boosters a few years after learning of the game in a magazine. I putzed around a bit with the cards at home and eventually hooked up with some buddies of mine at school that played and all was right with the world. Time passed and very shortly after my school librarian announced a small Sealed Deck tournament with the first prize being something in the neighborhood of a hundred bucks… at Scrye value (*Shudder*, oh so many trades gone down the tubes because of that blasted magazine). I jumped at the chance to see how I stacked up in “real” play. I did pretty well considering how new I was and after a few more months I became real hot sh**, emerging as one of the best players in the school. After taking down the next tournament hosted by the librarian, I began to seek out new challenges… along with the Greven il-Vec that I needed to finish up my Black deck.

Man, that dude was freaking huge. He had ph34r too! (Oops, missed a piece of lingo in the beginning)

As you might have expected, I got completely smashed in the local events. To make matters worse, myself along with the rest of the new players were picked on a lot by the veterans over the dumbest stuff . Despite what people say, many players end up quitting the game or playing exclusively casual so as to escape the harassment. For some reason I stuck with it. After being around for around a year I still caught a lot of flack for making play errors, poor deck construction; the kind of stuff you expect out of a “n00b”.

This is probably the exception, but I have very vivid memories of being out-and-out yelled at by some dude in his twenties, threatened with physical violence and worse. These behaviors stem from a variety of psychological problems, but I’m sure that at some point these people gamed online and picked up these habits after being the “n00b”. I guess it was their chance to shine or something.

Years passed and things never really changed. Some players took breaks, but over time many players picked up the game and for one reason or another ended up quitting even after pumping a good deal of money into the game. A lot of them were halfway decent at the game too, not to mention great guys to hang out with. The same core group of vets were always around and I saw some new players pick up their habits, trying to fit in and not get bashed themselves.

I can’t think of any good reason for such horrible behavior to exist, yet it festers in the community; spreading and growing in intensity with no signs of stopping. It sucks a lot. Tournament attendance in the Binghamton area, much like other areas of the American Magic community, has dropped to all-time lows. One of the locals has had to resort to calling players days in advance, trying to convince them to show up and assuring them there will be enough people there to get a draft started, play a small Vintage or Standard tournament, etc. Years ago we’d regularly have a minimum of sixteen players at any given event, regardless of format. Over the past few years I’ve seen attendance drop steadily, one or two players at a time over the course of months with less new players joining then those leaving.

This sucks. The only time I really get to play is when I go to a large Vintage event (rarely) or a PTQ (even more so). I’ve had to resort to such activities as video gaming, homework, etc, to fill in the void left by these tournaments dissipating. Even FNM events have struggled to get the requisite eight people to warrant being sanctioned and to be able to give out the Friday Night Magic promos. To illustrate just how bad this has really been, there were weeks where there weren’t enough people to fill the events where foil Brainstorms and Accumulated Knowledges were being given out, both of which sell for more than the entry for the Standard FNM events cost. The players with the problematic behaviors have since left the game (ironically they complained about the lower tournament attendance) for other pursuits, but the damage has already been done.

Huh? Who’re you? Anyway guys…

Teams, cliques, and online forums have a real problem with the community: No one listens! This goes beyond the n00bs and their Suicide Black deck. What I’ve noticed is that as a rule, people always believe they are right. This is fine, confidence is very healthy and helps you in all areas of life. A problem arises when one’s ego gets in the way of logic and takes control of the most dangerous part of anyone: The mouth, and I’m not talking about Joe Kamburakis (Where did that guy go anyway? As I remember he was a pretty good example of a brotha hatin’ on the n00bs).

What I’ve noticed – and I’m going to pick on the Vintage community for a bit – is that what we have is an unprecedented number of educated players, and thanks to TheManaDrain.com, those educated players have a forum for their voices to be heard.

As we all know, the Internet functions a bit differently than the real world. Calling someone a moron and saying you’ve had relations with their mother in the real world can result in a kick to the kidney. Online we see “flame wars” erupt.

I’ve gotten really irked when people complain about such and such “name” players not talking to them/hanging out with them. Is it because those players are anti-social assholes? Not entirely. Generally the complainers never actually talk to the “name” players. Oh, you think it ends there, but oh no sir, it does not.

Why don’t “randoms” talk to the more well-known players? It mainly has to due with a somewhat elitist attitude towards players outside of their circle of friends. Some people complain that no one listens to them or takes their suggestions seriously. This is true, especially in the Vintage community, which doesn’t have the tens of thousands of followers that Standard, Extended and Limited have. Due to there being fewer players, and therefore fewer “good” players, there aren’t enough people to adequately discuss each and every subject with everyone out there. Inevitably, someone will complain and start a chain reaction.

How do we fix this mess?

Follow the Golden Freaking Rule!

“Treat others as you would like to be treated… or some such nonsense.”

– The Golden Rule

Or something to that effect. It’s a very, very simple concept, yet it completely escapes the grasp of an unnerving number of people. This stems from the fact that people who have been treated like crap eventually tend to treat others like crap. This becomes a domino effect and it really needs to stop. The overall Magic scene isn’t suffering too badly, but the competitive arena is taking a severe hit.

So, how do we stop it? The next step is to learn how to deal with people. If someone is annoying you, don’t say you’ve committed various acts of a physically-intimate nature with their mother. Instead, ask them to stop. It actually works a lot of the time. If they continue to act like a jackass, ignore them. So long as they don’t do anything physically to you (Punch you, bite you, etc) it’s just verbal annoyance which can be tuned out… or dealt with through the swift justice meted out by a DCI judge, store owner, or just some random big guy that is physically intimidating. Just don’t beat them up – it’s bad form.

Dealing with “n00bs” can be especially annoying and frustrating: particularly if you are one of the better players in your area. Help them out, at least once in a while. If you don’t really feel like dealing with them, explaining that you’re busy/not in the mood is generally better than slinging insults or ignoring them.

Communication is the key. Being a “nice guy” is a very good thing. Paul Jordan wrote an excellent piece on winning PTQs (which coincidentally was the inspiration for this article) which touched on being nice to people. There are many rewards for good behavior that will help you in many aspects of your game. Being a good player puts you on to a pedestal. People will be intimidated, but they will also want to beat you to prove they’ve got “the stuff”.

Now, if you’re a d*ck to everyone, not only will the lower caliber players want to prove they’ve got “the stuff”, but they will have a new purpose in their match: To crush the evil scum that is you. They’ll tighten their play, concentrate more and miss less. All of those wins you get by your opponent forgetting to use a Frostwielder or miscalculating when performing what looks like a lethal alpha-strike will eventually die away.

Your opponents will become better. Over time players tend to improve, make less mistakes, etc, but by making your opponents want to become better even more than they normally would you’ll be hurting your performance in the long run. Eventually they will become better, but why not extend that time as long as possible to continue winning those savage FNM foils?

In-game etiquette can be kind of sticky if you’re moving from a laid back environment to a tournament environment, and vice versa. The “take back” is considered to be a big part of sportsmanship by many. Being a good sport is very important, but allowing your opponent to go back and re-play a part of the game can, and often will, mean the difference between winning and losing. I like to win. You like to win. Unfortunately, your opponents also like to win. Until that changes, if your opponent messes up, do not allow a take back. It’s even worse to ask for one as it will give your opponent the idea that you will allow them to have a “take back”. Try to keep your casual play style away from the tournament table – but be polite about it.

You don’t know everything!

I can’t stand the know-it-all gamer types. You know, the ones that speak with that haughty-holier-than-thou tone. They are the be-all, end-all of *insert random geek subject*, and you just can not argue with them. They are always right.

Don’t be that person.

Not only is it extremely annoying to converse with such a person, it’s very difficult to work with such an inflexible type of person. It’s people like these that start ridiculous flame wars on the Internet and that ultimately lead to the downfall of otherwise awesome websites (Anyone remember Beyond Dominia?). It’s a lot of fun to prove people wrong, and these people absolutely refuse to be owned, and I find that unacceptable.

Erm, I mean that’s just bad of them…

These know-it-all types also tend to be rules lawyers, and bad ones at that. That leads to a tournament environment that is unhealthy and not a lot of fun to be in. I get very happy when I see a judge chew a player out for rules lawyering. The know-it-alls also get very displeased when they lose. We all do from time to time, but they complain about it at every turn, and I know I hate listening to random people’s tales of misfortune. If anything it makes me happy that something bad happened to such a whiney individual.

That last paragraph applies to a whole lot of players, doesn’t it? How does that make you feel? It makes me sad that we all have these problems. Yes, even I, the infallible Carl Winter am at times guilty of complaining about how my opponents lucksacked their way into the win.* It’s all of these little things that ruin Magic for people. Most of them we all have a great deal of control over. We just need to learn to rein in our egos and realize that other people have feelings, too. A good sense of empathy is one of the best traits a person can possess. So long as you pay attention to it, you will be a more enjoyable person to be around, not to mention it will improve your game by making you better able to bluff and identify the bluffs of your opponent.

* Unlike the rest of you my opponents really do get ridiculously lucky and they’re all scumbags and just need to quit because they’re so terrible. I only lose to mana screw and acts of Jet Li.**

** I’m kidding.***

*** No I’m not.

Carl Winter

Member of Team Mean Deck

An Awesome, Empathic, and at times Bitchy, Dude.