Love Of The Game

Starr Kaplan told me,”It may be useful for Magic players themselves to know… What they can do to change society’s perception of the average Magic player.”
I have a better idea! Perhaps it would be more useful for members of so-called”society” to know what they could do to change the perception that the average Magic player has of them.

I thought I was going to be able to take a break from writing for a bit, but every so often a half-baked article floats by and I’ve got to throw it back into the oven. Some mother****kers are always trying to ice skate uphill – and once again, we’re trying to”change” Magic and make it accessible for more people. We’ve got to head back to the scene of the crime and get a handle on things before the DCI criminalizes body odor.

I don’t know Starr Kaplan, but she’s one of the very few women who plays Magic, and she wrote an article about the place Magic players have in society.

Some excerpts from the piece:

“It is still difficult to discuss Magic around mainstream colleagues, supervisors, and certain friends…I think the real obstacle for most of us is the behavior and appearance of the players themselves.”

The real obstacle for most people is the fact that Magic, a collectible card game with fantasy elements, caters to a niche market and the satellite markets that are nearby. Video game RPG enthusiasts might like Magic; so too might pen and paper roleplayers, poker enthusiasts, and stamp collectors. The fact that you cannot easily talk to your”mainstream colleagues” about Magic should come as no surprise whatsoever. This is a problem encountered by practitioners of other hobbies – caber tossing, wife-swapping, taxidermy… Name a niche hobby, it’s very likely that you won’t be able to talk to your boss or straight-laced colleagues about it.

It’s just human nature. John Smith, who enjoys the Bee Gees, chilled cognac, and quiet walks at night, doesn’t want to spend his lunch break hearing about how you always run eight land in your OOL draft decks. Conversely, Kai probably tunes out John when the latter starts spinning another yarn about how he saw a rare”speckled wood thrush” during his birdwatching expedition on the weekend.

The behavior and appearance of the players is a convenient excuse, but personally I think your colleagues, supervisors, and friends just aren’t interested. There’s no need to look for any specific reasoning behind this malaise for Magic – it just is. I personally have no interest in knitting, and I don’t think it has much to do with the”behavior and appearance of the practitioners.” I have nothing against old ladies unless they’re driving in front of me.

“However, it may be useful for Magic players themselves to know… What they can do to change society’s perception of the average Magic player.”

I have a better idea! Perhaps it would be more useful for members of so-called”society” to know what they could do to change the perception that the average Magic player has of them.

A few suggestions for these paragons of the human equation:

1. Stop allowing a few overweight guys to offend your delicate sensibilities – I doubt they feel the same way about you.

2. Try keeping an open mind – it’s your job to fit in with us, not the other way around. In fact, we’re pretty happy with the way things are right now – you can take Magic or leave it, we don’t care.

3. The next time you have any helpful suggestions about how to help the”poor” Magic players, who are apparently (in your view) the walking dead, a hodge-podge of blacksheep malcontents and fatties waiting to die from renal failure, keep them to yourself. You might be better served trying to figure out why all of this vexes you so much when most of us don’t give it a second thought, preferring to spend out energy, you know, having fun while we interact with other humans.

“Some players adeptly juggle their competitive fancy and their social responsibilities, but quite a few have problems in this area.”

I’ll tell you what – I’d love to see some numbers on that. If you have social responsibilities outside of Magic, you become a casual player, a kitchen tabletop tactician, a one-night-a-week battler. People who play more Magic do more of their socializing in Magic circles… And there’s nothing wrong with this. For example, competition and social interaction go hand and hand for me because most of my friends are also Magic players; no problems here. I play Magic with plenty of time left over to catch flicks, exercise, eat, sleep, drink, and engage in debauchery.

Something about the above excerpt leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as it suggests that Magic players should ration themselves in such a way as to have sufficient time to go about the business of being popular. Are you saying that I should make more time for”social responsibilities”? Cause, you know,”social responsibilities” are so much fun for players of niche market collectible card games!

There’s the ol’ “Go to a bar, waste $20 trying to get some”… Aalways a favorite. If you succeed, make sure to get checked for whatever’s going around. And let’s not forget the “Spend time at home with family you have nothing in common with”… That’s long been a staple of mine. Oh! And of course I can’t list these without including that tried and true classic, “Go out with people from high school, get reminded of how much you dislike them.”

Part of the beauty of Magic is that I can play it to get away from the insufferable rigors of”social responsibility.” I enjoy a steak and a beer at Stokes Inland as much as the next guy, sure. When my friends have a party, I usually go. What else do you want from me? Magic, good. Inanities, bad.

“Magic as a hobby does not permit the physical activity necessary to use these excessive calories, and so directly contributes to obesity.”

This could be said of innumerable other hobbies – ROM hackers, Beanie Baby collectors, and MST-writers all range from Stationary to Comatose when it comes to daily movement. Some barge-waisted teens have already tried to sue McDonalds for directly contributing to obesity, and they failed. If frickin’ McDonald’s, the most pervasive peddler ever of artery-clogging cuisine in the history of the free world, can’t get fingered for the crime of inflicting the poundage, there’s no way you can blame Magic. Christ, a single Big Mac has 31 grams of fat, and these guys were found innocent of all charges!

If Wizards of the Coast ever starts thinking in these terms – namely, “How can we improve the attractiveness of our player base in order to make the game more acceptable for shallow jackasses?” – I’m quitting Magic, getting two hundred facial piercings, and going on tour with”Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!”

“For the overweight Magic player, the sight of role model Kai Budde on several Sideboard covers and on Voidmage Prodigy serves as proof that anyone can be a Magic star.”

Sigh. If I was Kai, and I read that, I’d be a little upset. Of course, he has many reasons to simply ignore remarks like this – about 200,000 reasons, lifetime. And counting.

Remove the word”overweight” and you have a fairly good sentence… But it’s still not true. You need talent to be a Magic star. You know what’s easy? Going 1-3 at FNM and chuckling at the”fat” people. Pretty much anyone can do that – all you need is a free evening and a set of skewed values.

Oh, what’s that? You’re not laughing at them – you’re feeling sorry for them? That’s almost worse. Go to the corner and think about what you’ve done. You think vendors and tourney organizers are going to make sure there’s fat-free yogurt on site? Leaving aside for the moment the issue of patronizing your players (Why not have heart-bypass surgery pamphlets on-site while you’re at it?), there’s no way it’ll happen. Any food that happens to be at a tournament site is going to be overpriced by 300% anyhow ($5 for a slice of pizza at a Grand Prix) and I’m sure that everyone from Thinny McThinnerson to Lardo McGee is going to just send a friend to Taco Bell anyhow – it’s usually right down the street.

Fat-free yogurt is available at any supermarket and I don’t buy it now – I don’t think I’ll start eating it while I’m at a Magic tournament, where dietary changes are the last thing on my mind. The decision to eat something with seven layers as opposed to something with seven calories isn’t a reflection of lack of opportunity on the healthy side, it’s a reflection of the fact that fat-free yogurt tastes like ass compared to a Fries Supreme. Heck, even if I would eat the stuff, organizers wouldn’t bother bringing it in! Up here in Ontario, we don’t even get pens unless we bring a dollar. Scorepads? Nope, tough. Marv tells us,”Write on your scrotum and refer to it frequently. I hope you don’t sweat too much.”

“The focus of discussion of Magic with our potential superiors should be the Pro Tour. However, hardly a major tournament goes by without some allegation of cheating, collusion, or other shady dealings. In addition, foul language and trash-talking are considered benign by most players except at the finalists’ tables, where judges finally give more than warnings for this behavior. I am truly embarrassed that I could never bring my parents to a major tournament to watch me play… The conduct prevalent at Magic tournaments is generally repulsive.”

The rules enforcement level is highest at the Pro Tour. There is nowhere near as much cheating and collusion in professional circles as there is on the local stage, where judge supervision is nonexistent, there are no deck checks, no deck registration, no nothing. FNM is rife with cheating and poor sportsmanship when compared to the Pro Tour. Prereleases are cesspools of collusion compared to the Pro Tour.

Why couldn’t you bring your parents to a major tournament to watch you play? Are they that prudish? Do your folks faint when a radio DJ says”butt,” and long for the old days when men got arrested for topless sunbathing? I doubt it – give them some credit. I couldn’t bring my parents to watch me play, either, but only because they’d be bored out of their minds.

The conduct at Magic tournaments isn’t generally repulsive – it’s good times! It’s a thing of beauty to be able to head down to my local card store and just unwind. Even at PTQs, where tempers sometimes flare and it’s all on the line, you’re not going to see anything too offensive. Sure, someone might get upset at a lucky rip and say”What a sack!” followed by a few lines of something more unprintable… But so what?

You know what’s really offensive? People who look down on you like you’re a worm just because you say”hell” and wear your hat at dinner. Prigs that try to put a virtual lock on your tongue are really offensive. The great white father behind the desk that throws your application in the garbage because you have an eyebrow piercing. Jerks who hold you to a standard of behavior to spare their own ancient sensibilities? That’s pretty offensive.

All of my rhetoric, though, doesn’t address the main problem with the statement above. Basically, it’s a gross, gross exaggeration. On the contrary, the conduct prevalent at Magic tournaments is generally exemplary, with poor behavior being the exception. I don’t know what tournaments you’ve been attending. Grand Prix: Alcatraz? Pro Tour: Compton?

“[The floor rules and penalties of Magic] are too permissive, and this in turn alienates the mainstream.”

Bunk. 99% of the mainstream has no interest anyway. Anyone alienated by the lack of”trashtalk crackdown” should take up wine-tasting or tiddly-winks. First of all, you’re talking about mainstream players who might want to get into the game, right? They’re going to be playing at FNM or at the kitchen table – there isn’t going to be squat for trashtalk there, unless Chuckie Jones from next door has too much to drink and gets his Timberwatch Elf countered one too many times.

Does anyone interested in Magic pick up the rulebook and say, “Nah, this isn’t the game for me – the penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct at REL 4 is insufficient!” I’m no genius, but I can say”No!” pretty confidently, Like fringe players are going to see REL 4 anyway – they’ll be 0-4’ing FNM for years before they get anywhere.

If Magic were to enforce a game room atmosphere so strict as to take away any sort of boisterous behavior, everyone who plays Magic would hate it! Such a policy is not what the players want – it’s what conservative, high-society assclowns want before they will lower themselves to play with us. I can do without those guys, thanks.

“If I were to vault over a table and let loose with a string of profanity at a regional chess meet, I would be ejected immediately – but at this year’s Regionals, I saw the same behavior between rounds go unnoticed and unpunished….I would not have wanted my supervisor or anyone from work to see that. I would not have wanted my children or their friends to see that if I hoped to teach them how to play Magic.”

Man, this article is like, the mystical graveyard where ridiculous assertions go to die. Magic is not a Regional chess meet (thank heavens!), nor is it Tiger Woods’ backswing – noise is allowed. Again, trash talk is less prevalent than you say – I can only assume you are either exaggerating or playing on a regular basis with afflicted idiots. Here’s an idea – if your supervisor or friends or children see an example of poor sportsmanship, tell them that it was poor sportsmanship. I’m pretty sure they’re smart enough to tell right from wrong, and likewise capable of the conclusion that not all matches feature such vitriol.

“It seems that while Magic doesn’t exactly stunt the moral and ethical growth of young people, it doesn’t do much to strengthen it.”

Not only is this false – but if it were true, it wouldn’t be much of an indictment in any case. There are plenty of widely-accepted activities with large followings that are indifferent to the moral and ethical growth of their practitioners. Bocce ball. Cow tipping. Hot air balloon races. The list goes on.

Of course, I think Magic, like many hobbies, actually does encourage moral and ethical growth. Competition does that.

“Players should be expected to conform to a minimal standard of acceptable behavior from the get-go. There should be zero tolerance for inappropriate language, behavior, or poor conduct. People using offensive and racist language, provoking and bullying opponents, and running around boisterously should be taught early on that their lack of inhibition will equal game losses, match losses, forfeiture of tournaments, and ejections.”

This is true, but all the behavior you mention hardly ever happens. Ever. I ask again: What tournaments have you been attending to see this stuff? I think you’re confusing Magic with the last time you rented”Def Jam Vendetta.” That wasn’t the 7th round of the Swiss; that was Redman giving Ludacris a DDT. You’re getting mixed up.

“This way, Magic won’t be seen as fostering this sort of behavior – which isn’t tolerated elsewhere and usually results in dismissal when it is seen at work or in your better schools. Something tells me this will also go a long way towards encouraging more females to play Magic.”

Women have to deal with it, it’s that simple. They’ll play Magic when they can get away from hitting bars to get ogled, or looking in the mirror and thinking they’re ugly, or whatever it is that women do. They can’t ask the game to change for them. Seriously, most women like going to concerts and pubs, right? People act like idiots at concerts and pubs. Somehow, I think the behavior in Magic isn’t what’s keeping them away.

“If you think you are immune to the judgment of the opposite sex at a tournament, you’re wrong. I met my current boyfriend playing Magic. Another girl and I frequently go to large Magic tournaments and she always notes when we leave, ‘The guy playing Burning Wake in the third round was such a stud….’ You can wear your Marilyn Manson shirt and a pair of camo pants if you like; just make sure they cover your beer gut and you and they have seen soap and water in the last day or so.”

This is fine advice for players who go to Magic tournaments to pick up women! There sure are a lot of those!

Seriously, there is no way to”solve” Magic and take it into the mainstream without ruining it. Many people lodged in the mainstream are shallow, uninteresting dolts. I don’t want them playing Magic. You want to play Magic? You change. Drop your prejudices, toss your haughty assessments aside, and come have some fun. I’ll be waiting.

Geordie Tait

[email protected]


P.S.: I’m sure Kai isn’t losing sleep over the article – he can get pretty much any chick he wants – just ask TA”Babe O’ The Month” Alana Burman!