MTG: Sportsmanship

We’re all a bunch of tossing experts in the Magic: The Gathering community.

We also care about Sportsmanship.

Earlier in the year there was some talk about The Handshake and the like, and some followup conversation about whether or not you should say good game. There are people who seriously think that the alt-right advocates amongst Magic’s community and their behaviour around the game shouldn’t be used as a reason for excluding those people from organised play and Magic online, and much is made of some people’s willingness to be positive and happy and outgoing when it comes to the play of the game because of their sportsmanship. There’s a longstanding question about Mike Long’s cheating and whether it should exclude him from Hall Of Fame consideration, or if the game ‘needed a villain’ to get the narrative of the Pro Tour going. We care a lot about sportsmanship.

I play Magic almost exclusively with friends and on MTGO, so sportsmanship there takes on a different cast. What I find interesting

In The Art of Failure: An Essay On The Pain Of Playing Videogames, videogame thinkyman and all-round clever clogs Jesper Juul writes about sportsmanship, specifically sportsmanship as it applies to games. The idea is that what we call bad sportsmanship is a reaction to failure, and we recognise that bad sportsmanship is an inappropriate reaction. It’s something we teach children about.

Juul talks about the ways that we can see failure. There are failures of execution – failures where we mess up. There are failures of motivation – failures where the game doesn’t properly drive you to act in a way to overcome it. Then there are failures of function, where the game breaks in some way. We Magic players are convinced, convinced that the game is only ever having failures in function. That is to say, there is the kind of bad sportsmanship that comes out from responding to a failure with the game itself is wrong.

I am overwhelmingly wrought with the idea that Magic players as a community seem to make a competitive, communal sport, out of bad sportsmanship in a way that condescends to the people making it and to the game itself.

I think it’s because of the intricacy of the game. I mean, I love talking about the design of Magic cards, or the way Magic cards should be designed. I like that suff. But there’s a vast invisible clockwork that means many people treat Magic the game as a game like a videogame – a super-intricate machine where the people who make it can’t possibly know that much more than the people who play it at whatever level they have. The inscrutability of the game means people are translating their own experiences as a lens for their vision of how the game can or should be.

There’s always room for bad beats – I know I’m fond of commenting on how silly some cards are when the dust has settled – but I’m left wondering just how dehumanising and condescending our conversations about Wizards of the Coasts’ decisions have to be. Well, okay, I’m not – I don’t think we have to be condescending or dehumanising at all. Don’t do that. Be nice.

Ya ding dongs.

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