The Dangers of Playing 'Magic: The Gathering' in Public

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, PolicyMic writer Jared Keller tells us more about adults who like to spend time playing “Magic: The Gathering.”

Two grown ass men playing Magic in Herald Sq

— Jared Keller (@jaredbkeller) May 16, 2014

Jared! So what happened here?

I just started a new job a few blocks off Herald Square, and while strolling to catch the 1 downtown, I spotted two gentleman engaged in a highly intense game of “Magic: The Gathering” in a near-empty Subway. It was a sort of depressing scene, the kind of thing you’d maybe find if you Googled “geeks”: two guys of stocky, even portly build, with beards that looked like something a blind bird built, wrapped up in a fictional world, oblivious to the thousands of opportunities for social interaction swirling around them. It sort of reminds me of the time a friend spotted Jonah Lehrer buying bulk packages of frozen chicken at a Whole Foods a few days after his plagiarism scandal broke: a single snapshot of a sad, lonely life.

I kid: Plenty or normal, well-adjusted people play Magic (although maybe not in the middle of Herald Square on a warm Friday evening). I even know some of them.

Am I completely out of it for not knowing that adult-aged human beings are still playing “Magic: The Gathering” in New York City and elsewhere on planet Earth?

Maybe! I’m kidding, sort of, in my description above. I have close friends who are highly functional, wonderful people with excellent social skills who are also intensely good at Magic. They just don’t normally play in public because then they’d end up in tweets by jerks like me. But damn they’re good at it.

I’ll admit that I have a Magic deck, left over from my years working at a summer camp. I worked with 9–12 year olds and used to get stuck with a lot of, um, “indoor kids.” (This is likely because I lack hand-eye coordination, and ball-throwing and sport-catching are tricky.) Magic was a great way to get them focusing on something that wasn’t my face, so I could engage them in conversation and check up on them and make sure they were having a good time. (There’s some scientific research that shows people are more forthcoming in conversation when they’re not looking at each other, which is why baseball games and movies are great for first dates or parent-child bonding.) And, to be honest, I relished those games. Magic saved me as a young kid, gave me something to do that was social and engaging that I was good at, and gave me a safe place to hone my social skills so I could survive through middle school. I stopped playing in high school (girls and drinking got in the way), but it was a significant part of my life. I was (well, I work in media, so I guess I still am) a big fat geek, and Magic will remain part of who I am.

But it ain’t just for geeks! Or, at least, for overt, neck-beardy, fedora-wearing geeks. My close friend Kyle was an all-star soccer player in college, built like a brick shithouse and a total dreamboat with the ladies, but give him a Magic deck and he would dismantle people left and right. Everyone’s entitled to their guilty pleasures, and Magic is one of them for many people. Then again, those people may have been geeks like me back in the day. Some of them grow up and stay geeks, and some of them grow up and become super normal but have retained their geeky impulses, a leftover keepsake from their childhoods (ask me about the Justice Society of America sometime). But geeks are super cool now, right?

Then again, busting out your Magic cards depends on circumstances. I’m happy to play, maybe once, for old times sake, with a few friends so we can sate our nerd impulses and bro out on bourbon and mana. But it’s just not appropriate sometimes, like the time we picked my buddy up for Kyle’s bachelor party in Maine and he brought a giant, custom-made wooden cube with something like 1,500 Magic cards for building custom decks. We were going to spend all weekend drinking and disturbing the peace, so I don’t think that a 4/4 trample was an appropriate party accessory (although we also dropped $250 on plastic superhero masks, so maybe that’s debatable).

Lesson learned (if any)?

Let people do what they like. If they want to play Magic, let them play Magic, unless it’s distracting them from more age-appropriate things like paying a mortgage, getting a job, or having children. It’s just like a video game on cardstock anyway. But if you’re going to do what you love, maybe don’t do it in public because some jerk like me may tweet your photo without knowing a damn thing about you. It reminds me of that guy who was an open object for Internet ridicule but was actually a perfectly decent person with an interesting backstory. Everyone has a story, and most people are just trying to be happy and live their lives in the best way they know how without doing harm to anyone.

Just one more thing.

People are judge-y creeps, and I regret sassing these two men. They looked like they were having a fun time. And you know what: Who really gives a shit what some jerk passerby like me thinks? Cast like nobody’s watching.

Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.