I have a 12 year old nephew who I’ve somehow, accidentally on purpose gotten addicted to Magic: The Gathering. I tell my sister that I did her a favor. I crack out the old chestnut, “It’s a good thing, sis! If he’s into Magic, he’ll never have money for drugs!” For me, the only downside is, at any and every family gathering, he wants me to play, and I was never actually very good at Magic. This is all background information for a little incident at our FLGS (friendly local game store, for short).
The nephew mows our lawn, and sometimes afterward, he asks me to take him to an FLGS to get cards. Today, the mower was dead (battery issues) so on the way to taking him home, we dropped into the store. He has never really bought singles before this, and was unclear how it worked. Magic singles in this particular store are put in large card binders that you must flip through. The particularly juicy cards are stored in the glass counter case.
As he was flipping through the binders, a couple of guys in their mid-20s came in and began to look around. One of them decided to look at Magic singles also. This guy decided to strike up a conversation with my nephew.
“What kind of deck are you building?”
“A blue/red aggro thing.”
“Like, with spells, or creatures?”
“With creatures you get out fast and pump up to make more powerful.”
“Blue/red? There aren’t a lot of good cards for that. That won’t work.”
And with that, gamer dude moved on to looking at board games, not realizing that he’d just shit all over the deck ideas of a twelve year old. The nephew was a little disheartened, but he tried not to show it. Eventually he gave up, bought a couple of cards, and we left.
On the drive back to his home, I told the nephew how Magic: The Gathering was in the early days when I started playing. Not very many people had the internet back int he early 90s. There were no deck lists, and there were really only a small handful of sets to draw from. The weird codified rules of Magic hadn’t come to be yet, and you didn’t see the same decks consisting of the same powerful cards over and over again. We often played with 200-300 card decks–sometimes every card we owned. We were free to experiment and try different things.
I said: “I want you to know that when people try to give you advice like that, you don’t have to listen to them. They may be older than you, but they’ve forgotten how to just have fun when they play this game. All they care about is winning at Friday Night Magic. Remember that the most important thing about Magic is to have fun.”
I encouraged him to keep making his own decks, and to keep experimenting. “If everyone played Magic like those guys, nobody would ever invent a new deck again. There are a lot of different card combinations out there to be discovered.”
I’m sure that guy thought he was being helpful, but it’s people like him, and play styles like that, that drove me out of games like Magic: The Gathering. If the collective idea of fun is limited only to winning, and not diving deep into the game’s many possibilities, then a game loses a lot of its luster for me. The same thing as happened with the X-Wing miniatures game for me. It’s ruled now by specific lists and specific play styles codified by “top level” players somewhere else. Where’s the inventiveness and creativity?
You’re welcome to your play styles and your obsession with winning over all else, but hey, maybe don’t put that on a kid? A kid who might crack the code and make the next championship deck if he keeps his mind open. You never know. He certainly won’t do that if he listens to people who tell him to keep “coloring within the lines.” (Is that a Magic pun? Oh well.)
In general, geek dudes, myself included, tend to be full of all kinds of opinions about how games and our hobbies are meant to be enjoyed. It’s one of the many things we debate amongst ourselves as part of the hobbies. However, these attitudes and behaviors do not play well with newcomers. We do a lot of harm to our hobbies when we act like we own the goddamned things, when we project our opinions unsolicited onto others. My nephew did not ask for advice on his deck ideas. That girl browsing the graphic novels did not ask for your advice on which book she would like the most. And so on, and so on–the internet is full of anecdotes like this one of much greater seriousness.
I’ve seen so much policing like this take place in hobby stores. I’m certain I’ve even been responsible for incidents. I’m sure my intention was to be helpful, but you know what they say about intentions. You can bet after seeing the impact things had today on a kid’s enthusiasm, I will be much, much less likely to do so in the future.