The recent “Finkeldate” issue had me thinking about the nerd stereotype and how that stereotype involves Magic and Magic players. More personally, it reminded me of the nerd status I hold and don’t even bother to hide.
For those of you who weren’t following along, former World Champion Magic Player and current Magic Hall of Famer, Jon Finkel recently went on a date. By the end of the second date, it was clear things were going nowhere and Finkel and the woman never saw each other again. During the course of the dates, Finkel revealed that he was a Magic player. This was enough of a reason for the woman to no longer be interested in Finkel, making it clear in the article that someone interested in Magic was part of the Untouchable caste. She does write for a website though, and opted to share her views of the dates on the website.
I’m not going to tell you that I think she is a horrible person. This article is not about one person’s ethics or morality. This article isn’t about the over-the-top backlash from the Magic community and all those who disagree with her statements. This article comes out of the writer’s belief that Finkel should have presented his Magic tendencies up front, as a warning of sorts, that he was one of “those” people.
My thoughts at the time were less than kind. “So should those of us who play Magic all wear dragon t-shirts or have the stylized M stitched to the front of all of our clothes like some scarlet letter?” [An M tattoo over the right eye would be awesome—GBM, former X-Men nerd] Are we still in a time where Magic players, or “those people” are still looked down upon? This article suggests that this is still the case.
The strong backlash against the writer suggests that most people don’t see things in the same way as her. It should be remembered that most of the people who read that blog are young males in the technology industry. This is a group that is made up of a far higher percentage of nerds than the general populace. I’d suggest that many people feel the same way as the writer. The general public is generally far more mainstream and less likely to see gaming such as Magic, as being “acceptable.”
Things are getting better. Poker is completely accepted in society and the pervasiveness of video game systems has made games and gaming culture far more accepted, particularly by the younger population.
Just forget the general public and think about just us, the Magic players. What do you think of a person who casually tells you they play Pokemon? What about someone who mentions they are part of a monthly D&D campaign? What about cosplayers? Nerds have created a hierarchy of nerdery, so we can point at others and proclaim how we aren’t losers like “they” are. How can we be so violently negative towards Finkel’s date when so many of us are seeing ourselves as better than others.
People who share the author’s attitude continue to hold those beliefs, at least in part, because nerds are embarrassed to be nerds and hide it. Being a nerd is far more mainstream than it ever has been before, so living your daily life without anyone knowing who you are or what you do is easier than ever.
At this point I feel the need to assert my “nerd cred.” If I am going to suggest that nerds need to be the ones to make the change, I want everyone to know I include myself in that category.
That is my life counter. It is from over 10 years ago and I haven’t seen one like it since. It draws envious stares from other casual players and is a great way to have your life total available for everyone to see without anyone actually seeing it! That is my bag for dice and counters. It was a gift from my friend Harry.
That is the box that holds most of my decks. An old girlfriend had it made and burned the logo into the cover itself. My wife hates the box and wishes I would throw it out. I’d like to tell her that if she had something made up that was even nicer than that box, I would throw it out but really, that thing is just too awesome. Besides, that Magic box is easily the best thing I got out of that relationship…
That is Spencer posing next to my library card catalog. 60 drawers. Full of Magic cards. Spencer has claimed the bottom two rows, while I have the top 6 rows. My wife and I both hated that I would drag out my white cardboard boxes every time I wanted to build a deck. It left a mess of Magic cards all over the house. Having to do that discouraged me from making new decks since it was such a hassle.
On a trip to Rochester, NY, I discovered a card shop called Boldo’s Armory. They were using two huge library card catalogs to store Magic cards. They had thousands of cards by set in the drawers and it was just so easy to find what you were looking for. It allowed you to just flip through a ton of cards. It looked so cool and just made sense. I loved the idea. I finally found this beautiful oak one on ebay and bought it. I had to drive four hours each way to get it, but it was so worth it. It sits in our living room, and it is a conversation piece at all of our parties.
Each drawer is also the perfect size for a bottle of wine…
The cards in the library card catalog are sorted by color in each column of drawers… and separated into creatures (two drawers) and spells (two drawers)… and mana cost… and even into what the cards do (disenchant, fog, etc.). Can you feel the strength of my nerd cred growing?
I won this Overgrown Tomb print (called “City of the Dead” on the print) at a prerelease. My wife was willing to hang it in the house if we got it framed. The frame cost a fortune, but I now gleefully tell everyone what a wonderful wife I have for agreeing to have a print entitled “City of the Dead” in our living room.
I am a Tournament Organizer for my son’s Magic group. Part of this is conversing with the parents of the children in the tournament. Invariably, some parents seem to believe that this is some sort of chore that my son has forced me to do. It is nothing of the sort, and I make it clear to every parent that I love doing this and watching the kids grow as Magic players. Some are a little taken aback when they realize that a grown man plays a game that, up to now, they assumed was some activity exclusively for children. I correct their misinterpretation and move on.
I even read the Magic books for a while. Either my tastes changed or the books became complete dreck, but I don’t read them any more.
My nerd cred is not limited to Magic either. Fantasy books, Buffy, Diplomacy, Axis & Allies, and creating random board games are all a part or have been a part of my life.
Magic is a huge part of my life, but if you’d asked anyone I worked with a couple of years ago, they would have had no idea. All they knew is that I played “cards” with some friends on Thursday nights. Before I was married, my life consisted of my Magic friends and my other friends. Those groups did not overlap and I made sure of it. I was convinced that if my enjoyment of Magic was known by everyone, my life would come undone. Having a social life and finding work as an attorney were going to be difficult enough without adding another stigma.
Somewhere between then and now, I just stopped worrying about it. When I said earlier that you shouldn’t hide being a nerd, I’m not then saying that you have to shout it from the rooftops either. It is not an either/or proposition. Some people want you to take the issue and shove it in everyone’s face. I don’t talk about cantrips or the stack to people who don’t play Magic. I don’t shout it on high that I’m a Magic player. That doesn’t demonstrate pride in being a Magic player; that simply announces to everyone else, like a warning, that I’m a Magic player. It is a little too close to the scarlet letter. It feels a little like the pedophile being forced to knock on all the doors in the neighborhood: “Hi, my name is Bruce and I just moved in next door a couple of days ago. I’m required to let you know I am a Magic player.” Ick.
Rather, I simply choose not to hide it. I don’t play “cards” on Thursday night, I play Magic. Since I started playing Magic on Thursday night, I’ve met several coworkers who used to play and still have their cards, and one coworker who still plays.
My 12-year old son struggles with this far more, simply because children are far more cruel. If I’m going to hide my Magic side from public view, how am I going to encourage him to be himself in a world that is far less forgiving of anyone who is different?
In essence, what Finkel did on his date is what I try to do every day. He didn’t immediately announce himself as a Magic player, but simply allowed it to come up in conversation, just as you would being a fan of a particular baseball team, or a connoisseur of fine wine. Apparently Jon Finkel and I have something in common!
I believe the negative connotation that seems to go along with being a nerd is at least partially tied to the embarrassment in being found out. We can help eliminate the stigma by simply refusing to acknowledge the stigma. Stop being embarrassed about being a nerd. Stop ridiculing others because their nerdiness is on a higher scale than yours. Stop ridiculing others because they are not as nerdy as you. This should be a non-issue. Simply put:
I play Magic and there is nothing wrong with that.
 I offer the link here for interested parties, but I discourage you from clicking the link. Her hit count will only encourage further, similar statements. http://gizmodo.com/5833787/my-brief-okcupid-affair-with-a-world-champion-magic-the-gathering-player
 The internet does seem to bring out the best in people. If the writer had any doubts about her opinion of Magic players before the date, her negative stereotypes were only confirmed by the nastiness and vitriol that was rained down upon her. While I understand being unhappy with her point of view, and even suggesting she was somewhat closeminded with her statement, many of the responses were beyond what anyone should have to deal with and were embarrassing to me as a Magic player.