What’s good, Spirit Squad!

Today we’re gonna talk about an aspect of gaming that most of us have long forgotten about, but has affected us all from probably the very first time we caught the gaming bug: how to make gaming seem like a good idea to the adults in our lives.

Now that we (for the most part) are adults, there’s no need to convince anyone of our decisions. We can just do stuff like playing Magic: the Gathering or whatever our favorite games are, and that’s that. But if you’re of a certain generation, you grew up with a mum or dad who maybe respected your odd decisions in an effort to be a good parent, but didn’t care to know the finer details of what you were doing or why you were so interested. In turn, this means that a lot of parents out there never saw the true benefits that gaming provides.

Humble brag time.

This wasn’t my mom. My mom is the best. She still doesn’t know any rules to Magic, Pokémon, or the other 450 games I’ve played, but she did an amazing job of being supportive, being there, and making sure I had the ability to succeed.

The very first competitive tournament I played in was a chess tournament. I had vaguely hinted that I was interested in getting good when I was 12, and the next weekend she packs us up on a Saturday morning and drives me to Cornell University, about an hour away from where we live, for the U.S. JUNIOR OPEN. For my very first tournament of anything.

This is a tournament of all of the best 20-and-under players in the country, and here I am not even knowing how to record my moves for future reference. If you’ve seen The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, it’s the same tournament Beth lost to Benny in, except with the age limit. I obviously lost more than I won, but my little 2-4 record taught me a few lessons that would help form the person I am today.

How is a 2-4 record a good thing? I thought this was gonna be an inspiring bit.

It is! Yes, I lost a lot more than I won, but that actually didn’t bother me. Here’s what I took away from that weekend:

  • There are players out there who are a LOT better than I am. I got demolished by a 20-year-old who literally didn’t even use 5 total seconds’ worth of chess clock in our game. If I ever wanted to compete with people like that, I’d have to work hard to get there.
  • I got two wins! In a field as impressive as this, the fact that I didn’t go 0-6 meant even though I knew close to nothing about the game I was able to use what little I had learned. In my 12-year-old mind, this made the effort officially worth the time I’d put in so far.
  • I wouldn’t be shamed for losing. I referenced the value of being able to learn from your losses in a previous article (Little Tournament, BIG Lesson Learned!), but without this first experience and being taught that taking L’s can be positive, I’d never have been able to learn from future losses.

Being able to take a loss well is a huge lesson, and the fact that my mother was there to help me to see the L’s as a learning experience rather than as a reflection of my person was immense. But that’s certainly not the only benefit that came from getting into gaming at such a young age.

This is the part where you sell parents on Magic, isn’t it.

Yup! I’m saying this in plain English, because I see a lot of potential in gaming to foster good habits and cultivate skills in children that may otherwise never come up in a normal home or school life.

To start a story from the beginning: Magic: the Gathering is a card game that is focused on a fantasy universe and contains a lot of the whimsical elements you would expect. Magic (as the name implies) is of course part of the game, as are things like elves, dwarves, and swords. The objective of the game is to reduce each of your opponents’ life totals from 40 to 0 using the cards in your deck, which never have to be surrendered to an opponent after a loss. The cards you own are yours.

The main way to play the game is called Commander. Commander is a 4-person format in which it’s a last-person-standing battle. This is an especially good place for kids to get into the game for a few major reasons:

  • As the name of the game also implies, Magic is really about “the Gathering”. Having four players play at once teaches players that you have to be politic while still trying to maintain your objective. If you’re too obvious about your plays and focus on one player, the other two can always decide to “jump” you.
  • A 2-person game of tournament Magic can take as little as 5-8 minutes. 4-person Commander games tend to take much longer than this, sometimes as long as multiple hours. In the wake of a COVID-affected society, this is a lot of face-to-face time in which a young person can socialize with multiple peers, and in a hobby space they choose to be in.
  • There are no screens in Magic. Hardcore players like me can choose to play online versions of the game, but you do not need a single electronic device to play Magic. If you’re looking to get your kid off their iPad or laptop for a bit, Magic is very good at doing that!
  • While Magic can be expensive like any other hobby, it doesn’t need to be! Commander decks can be bought as pre-constructed decks on a website like www.fusiongamingonline.com and that investment of $50 CDN ($37 USD right now), less than one video game, is all you need to be able to play the game with three friends at a time!
  • If they ever decide they want a more hardcore experience, that is an option! Tournaments exist with prizes and 1-on-1 play, and the life totals are just 20 instead of 40. So if you want a casual experience with friends or the thrill of victory at a competitive level, both options exist!

Magic also serves to actively Cultivate (pun intended, Magic players) skills that help young people develop into intelligent, skilled members of society. I’m serious. Check out this list:

  • Magic involves a lot of simple math. You’re not exactly gonna be busting out trigonometric charts or doing calculus, but a lot of consistently-changing algebra and mental math are absolutely on the table.
  • Since Magic exists in a fantasy universe, there will be a lot of words and names that basically force people to be good at reading. Names like “Malcolm, Alluring Scoundrel” aren’t exactly the hardest thing read, but not every 9-year old is gonna know how to pronounce them and might not know what the words “alluring” or “scoundrel” mean. Excellent opportunities for vocabulary lessons everywhere!
  • As a game with lots of moving parts and nothing electronically tracked for you, Magic requires players to develop an attention span.
  • Some Magic cards can be worth real amounts of money. Knowing this can be a great way to teach financial responsibility and the value of investing.
  • Finally, and this was already mentioned, Magic involves a LOT of social interaction. In an age shaped by electronics and in which some kids are still recovering from COVID-forced isolation during their formative years, Magic is a great way to sneak social interaction into an otherwise “just for fun” activity. I can’t understate the value of the friends I’ve made through gaming. I’m going to my best friend’s wedding later this year, a guy who I’ve known for 25 years and would never have met if not for games like Magic and Pokémon.

(Coat of Arms is an example of a very popular card for decks focused on one Kindred type: Goblins and Elves are very popular, and I’m known for playing Kindred Spirits decks. But it requires you to be able to do a lot of math!)

No way is Magic all sunshine and rainbows. Come on.

Every single game and hobby that exists comes with its own set of flaws. Luckily, Magic’s flaws are almost all circumvented by simply making a conscious choice of where you want to play. I’ll spell the big ones out for you right here:

  • The average age of a Magic player is much older than players of basically anything that isn’t golf. If a kid happens to find a group of players their own age, that’s a rarity. One concern that comes up is that kids will overhear things their parents may not be prepared to explain—not anything as drastic as “adult” talk, but things like politics or complaints about work should be expected in an environment where people don’t often think about the presence of children.
  • At the tournament level, Magic can be very expensive. If you don’t think your kid is the type to care about playing in tournaments, this is an irrelevant point for you.
  • The player base is overwhelmingly male. As in, more than 90%. If you have a kid who’s scared of grown men just as a default, you may wanna talk with them about that before introducing them to the game.
  • Magic is complex. If your kid has a learning disability or just plain doesn’t have the attention span for sitting and reading for a long time, the sad truth is that this may not be the game for them. At least not yet!

…and there we have it! I hope today’s honest, but hopefully-compelling review of Magic: the Gathering helps to shed some light on just why so many people are interested in it, from the person you went to middle school with all the way up to A-list celebrities like Post Malone!

I hope that this gives potential future players help to make the case that Magic: the Gathering is something that can enrich a child’s life. I’ll see y’all on the next one!

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