As a man who just went through the college application process, I’ve become acutely aware of a dilemma most Magic players have to deal with at one point or another: The lack of widespread recognition of Magic as an intellectual game.
I mention college applications because there’s that wonderful section on most of them that asks about extra-curricular activities. Like so many who StarCityGames, I spend an immense amount of time on Magic, and it would obviously deserve to go on a list of what activities are important to me. The problem is that when some anonymous admissions officer reads”Magic: the Gathering,” he doesn’t see someone agonizing over the sixtieth card slot in their deck trying to turn probability in his favor, nor does he imagine a 350-man Pro Tour where the winner takes home a giant check and usually has the name”Budde.”
What the admissions guy sees – if he sees anything at all – is the stereotypical gamer: Reclusive and not inclined to be a positive force in his community, and most likely with poor personal hygiene and no experience talking to girls. We’ve all heard the Dungeons and Dragons inferences from the uninitiated.
I hate this stereotype. I want it gone. When people hear”I play Magic,” I want them to think of it like they would think of”I’m on the math team” or”I play chess” – or, if you’re older,”I auditioned to be on Jeopardy!” Respectable, intellectually challenging, perhaps nerdy… But not a sign of hopeless removal from reality.
Making the case for why it’s intellectual is a separate topic, and most StarCityGames readers already have a pretty good grasp of what makes Magic such a deep strategy game. What I’m concerned with is fixing that admissions officer’s perspective for the guy applying next year who wants to put Magic on his resume. To this end, I’ve thought up a number of different things that can be done on a local scale to try to alter the overall perception of the game.
- When you play at school and peers see you, don’t act like you’re doing something shameful. Anyone who asks a question should be met with information about the Pro Tour. Whereas any attempt to explain the rules in under a minute will fail to impress the onlooker, hearing that hundreds of adults get together several times per year to compete for large sums of money will usually hammer home that this isn’t just a game for ostracized twelve-year-olds.
- If teachers see you, the Pro Tour is still the thing to focus on. If they’re sticking around for more than a couple of moments, mention that it’s been around for ten years and was designed by a math professor. Feel free to mention whatever the latest estimate is of the world player base, the number of countries it’s sold in, and languages printed (unless I’m mistaken, the answers are, respectively, seven million, fifty-two, and nine).
- If it’s a math teacher, talk about how decks are designed to tilt probability in their favor. Briefly mention how important land ratios are, talk about a”balance of how much of an effect a card has versus how likely you are to get to use it” (otherwise known as the mana curve), and if possible show them a card that draws more cards and tell them it’s good because it gives you more chances to draw the card you want to draw. Math teachers can find some of this to be very cool, especially if you can actually explain how the probabilities work (a great mathematical resource can be found at www.kibble.net/magic).
- Do not mention collecting, at least early on. This will immediately cause the uninitiated to connect Magic to Pokemon, and most will assume that the game is decided by which player has invested more money. If you’re backed into this position, refer to Pokemon as”Magic for seven-year-olds” or something else almost dismissive. Pokemon is a joke to a serious person, and you can play into that. As far as the money argument, casually mention that a $20 Stompy deck can destroy a $1500 Keeper deck; it’s not like they’re going to argue the Type 1 metagame with you.
- All of us have faced the”What do you do for fun?” dilemma of whether or not to mention Magic. I’m not going to suggest that you make it a major topic of conversation on your first date, but in most cases I think Magic is a fairly safe thing to talk about. Don’t talk about how obsessed you are until after the first conversation, though, and as usual stick to the Pro Tour to stamp your activity with legitimacy.
- Avoid jargon. You and I both know that two veteran Magic players talking to each other is as confusing as a conversation in Russian to the uninitiated. Don’t do this to people. Even after you’re good friends with them it’s hopelessly rude… But before that it’s even worse and only serves to worsen the stigma. Restrain yourself.
- Frequently the gender imbalance of a game where almost every player is male gets noticed. Admit that it’s not even close to equal – but then bring up Beth Moursund, longtime Level 5 Judge. Women aren’t exactly invisible to Magic’s history. Feel free to refer to Wizards’ marketing research indicating that somewhere around 10% of players are female (according to Ask Wizards, at least).
- Here’s an important one: If the stereotype that needs to be broken is that of an unwashed recluse, then don’t be one. You’ll find that good hygiene and social skills help with many things, and boosting Magic’s reputation is simply a pleasant side effect. I’m not suggesting that you conform to the world around you (I know that idea would earn me many flames) – just reiterating the important fundamental life lessons that not smelling and talking to other people are positive things.
With enough people carrying out this campaign, hopefully a positive awareness of Magic can gain the game the legitimacy it richly deserves.