Why Do People Think Magic's Full Of Fat, Rude Slobs?
Hopefully, this article will extend the ideas Philip Stanton expressed in his recent article, and perhaps challenge the notion that the professional aspect of Magic presents Magic's best face. I am a female Magic player who started six years ago just after Mirage was released, and have been playing continually since. It is still difficult to discuss Magic around mainstream colleagues, supervisors, and certain friends. We have all encountered the occasional fundamentalist religious person who believes that Magic is"evil." However, the religious objection to Magic is restricted to a few voices in our community; I think the real obstacle for most of us is the behavior and appearance of the players themselves.
Ideally, these questions could be answered by conducting a survey of the general public on their general opinions regarding Magic. The cost and economic yield of this type of survey has never appealed to Wizards of the Coast, since their market share for Magic has never correlated well with public acceptance or approval of the game or its premises - in fact, part of Magic's enduring appeal is its healthy sprinkling of gothic horror elements and coffin humor!. However, it may be useful for Magic players themselves to know if their hobby can be viewed as legitimate by mainstream society, or what they can do to change society's perception of the average Magic player.
The public tends to blame Magic for turning youths into unwashed, obese, immature social outcasts. Does Magic cause people to become overweight, unwashed, antisocial, and immature - or does the nature of the game attract people who already have a nonconformist streak and preexisting barriers to physical fitness and hygiene? Both are partly true; however, the game is still just a game and has less power over the America's youth than the average person would like to give it. Many players would balk at my suggestion that Magic causes some of their image problems, so I feel compelled to explain.
Magic costs money. Unlike some other pastimes, where a pair of soccer cleats, a uniform, and a ball will suffice for several months, your Magic hobby will demand either a continual upkeep if you like drafting, or an initial investment coupled with large chunks of cash if you prefer Constructed. Either way, you will keep spending money. The player hurt worst by this perception is the young adult who is training in earnest for a Pro Tour slot, whose time and money are consumed by playtesting, travel, tournaments, and cards. To a significant other or a concerned parent, this is a"cry for help" - especially if they do not share your optimism about winning. Some players adeptly juggle their competitive fancy and their social responsibilities, but quite a few have problems in this area.
In addition, the game is a game partially of chance and of skill, so your winnings are partially driven by luck - and to some, this smacks of gambling. Society frowns on gambling; even bingo night has acquired a reputation as a cover for Grandma's gambling problem. Parents and spouses are often put off by this, because of the money involved and the gambling issue. This is something that players can't change, at least not without cheating - indeed, it makes the game more exciting! We all know players who spend way more than they should because of the chance. Sadly, their ensuing financial difficulties guarantee they will be few and far between, but the behavior of a few among us gives ample fuel to the arguments of those who disapprove. Playing in moderation, adhering to a reasonable money and time budget, and not steering every conversation in the direction of your favorite game all help to dispel the concept that Magic"sucks people in."
Friends, parents, and spouses of Magic players often tell me they are appalled at the number of overweight Magic players at tournaments. They notice that many of the players seem to be eating junk food and sweets in great excess, and that in most cases this is provided expressly and exclusively by the tournament venue's catering service. How many times have we been warned,"No outside food or drink," only to notice that the venue is catered but that their"offerings" are neither food nor drink? Certainly the inactivity of sitting for hours at a time and eating this fare does not encourage weight loss... But whether it makes Magic players as a whole more overweight than their peers is in question. When I was in high school, the cafeteria and local fast-food restaurants were doing just as brisk busines, and all without Magic. It is human nature for teenagers to be attracted to the taste and texture (not to mention the marketing and convenience) of these rich foods. However, Magic as a hobby does not permit the physical activity necessary to use these excessive calories, and so directly contributes to obesity.
I have often wondered whether food and drink should be allowed in the tournament areas at all - and it's certainly not allowed at major chess or bridge playoffs, if only for sanitation's sake. Each tournament should have areas for eating separate from the main tournament area, so they stay clean and tidy, and not a hazard to the cards. In addition, either caterers should be required to provide low-fat yogurt, sugarless items, and fruit and vegetables as snacks, or not be permitted to establish an exclusive service agreement. These"monopolies" could be viewed as if in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act - or even the First Amendment if they deter children with diabetes or other dietary restrictions, religious or otherwise, from playing in tournaments. (As a tournament organizer, it is much easier to ask this of vendors voluntarily, than wait for a lawsuit and be required to have it by law.)
While the nature of the game and its attendant junk-food vendors may contribute to making Magic players fat, there are plenty of players who were already overweight long before they started playing Magic, and who will remain so long after they quit the game. Young people with physical disabilities that prevent them from participating in sports may become overweight for lack of sustained physical activity. They may turn to Magic as a social outlet that matches their lifestyle limitations, and derive much enjoyment from the game... But Magic cannot be blamed for making them overweight. In addition, recent medical surveys suggest that overweight and obese young people rate the quality of their life at or lower than the quality of life for their peers who are suffering from childhood cancers, because overweight children suffer from many obesity-related ailments and social and psychological problems. They may be especially drawn to a game where your weight is not considered grounds for discrimination. 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.
Are Magic players, as a rule, antisocial? Do they start out that way and gravitate toward Magic as a way to get fame and fortune by doing little, or does Magic stunt the moral and ethical growth of our young boys? As Mr. Stanton stressed in his article, 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. It's not because of the overweight kids, or even the occasional unwashed one - it's that the conduct prevalent at Magic tournaments is generally repulsive. Some former avid players of Magic tell me they quit mostly because of the competitive hostility, jostling, and foul language found at the largest tournaments. They simply couldn't concentrate on their games with so much chaos going on around them, regardless of how solid their skills were in less intrusive settings.
I believe Magic attracts some people whose natural tendency is to disregard convention and who tend to tread on the rights of others, even if they don't do so deliberately. The game tolerates people who are bright but absentminded, inattentive, impulsive - which also draws people who would take advantage of those people. Every tournament has its share of disappearing binders, book bags, sideboards, or decks. As judge, I would grudgingly announce that carelessly leaving property about is an invitation to theft, again and again, without heed.
I can suggest no ready solution for this. Confirmed thieves should be banned from tournaments... But who decides who is a thief? Most theft is unwitnessed and covert. Sometimes it is even inadvertent, such as picking up the sideboard of the person next to you by mistake. However, if you are determined, you can return things to their rightful owners in most cases... But I think the innate motivation for this is low in some Magic players.
On the other hand, the floor rules and penalties of Magic are expected to rein in some of this. However, they are too permissive, and this in turn alienates the mainstream. 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. Admittedly, nobody got hurt or injured, no part of this was being aired on national television, and few parents were in the room at the time, and the perpetrator appeared to be an adult capable of making his own decisions in life. Still, 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.
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. Penalties are applied lightly, except at the highest level of participation. Certainly game-mechanics infractions should be more lenient locally to accommodate those who are new to the game or who might have fallen victim to circumstance, like leaving your sideboard cards in the restroom. However, behavior and conduct are entirely the players' responsibility, and 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 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.
One last word, this one about hygiene: Dirty, stained, or ripped clothes, unwashed bodies, too much cologne, not enough clothes...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. You are thus much more likely to find a mate who's okay with your Magic habit at a tournament... Need I say more?