The Sarcastic Author

For about two years on Starcity Games, I wrote a regular column about Magic: The Gathering. It was very amateurish writing, with a lot of emotional energy but without any real sinew to most of it. The best of the experience was that there was a feedback forum, which taught me, at the time, to elaborate on my points, and taught me, with hindsight, that it’s my job to communicate clearly.

When I was writing regularly for the site, one of my main elements of style was an attempt to be both surreal and sarcastic in large measures. I would routinely drop references to the impossible or the ridiculous alongside utterly hyperbolic statements that had to be false. Once I wrote an article that written to be a call for civility and kindness amongst Magic players, describing the Standard environment as full of decks that were hard to play well. The article was written after reading article after article insulting the three major decks of the format – Dragonstorm was brainless combo, Dralnu was just overpowered control, and Gruul was a stupid aggro deck.

In this article, I left this:

Dredge isn’t very good, because This Girl Player Flores can lose to Mark Herberholz.

To provide context of this quote, Mike Flores, a player who did a lot of experimental things and had recently touted the format-breaking power of a deck called This Girl that did nothing but push Mike Flores to a local win (not an unimpressive one, but still), and who was a renowned decent player who hung around great players, had written an article playing a deck called Dredge against the current format-ruling champion, Mark Herberholz, when Mark was playing his favourite deck. The conclusion Mike Flores drew from this, in a lengthy article, was that clearly the problem was Dredge.

That’s it. One line. It’s a joke. It’s a joke meant to punch upwards at an established superhero of the Magic scene who I am sure did not give a thundering fuck that I lived or died.

In the comment thread for that article – sadly lost to time – there was a discussion from Dredge players about how I was an asshole and how my argument for Dredge being a bad deck was a bad one.

At the time, I was pretty mad at them. I mean, come on. It’s a joke. It’s clearly a joke. How could anyone take that line of argument seriously?

A year or so ago I went back through my archive and reread it all, trying to get at the roots of what in my writing did and didn’t work. Sarcasm was half the big problem, all the time. I would state something that was meant to be disregarded, an opinion that had to be stupid, and then saw people dismiss me as if I genuinely held that opinion. It happened with such regularity I was lost. How could anyone seriously believe this stance? How could anyone? It was deliberately fanciful and extreme? Clearly, I thought, readers were stupid.

The other half of my problem was my belief that it was the readers’ fault if they didn’t understand me. When I wrote about green flavour justifications being weak reasons, and self-perpetuating problems in the development cycle, I didn’t do it properly, and instead looked like ‘just another green mage complaining about power.’ I’d aggressively disagree with that, but I didn’t do anything to help that complaint.

This is the nasty, dark truth of the world right now. There’s a lot of opinions you can’t state sarcastically, because there are too many people who believe them unironically. There are too many people who use sarcasm as a shield for what they really think, and by trying to use this to ridicule ideas, all I was doing was adding my voice to a massive wall of ideas I already felt were wrong.

As an author, it falls to me to communicate to the reader; while sure, it’s nice for the reader to meet me half-way, I have to do my due diligence along the way. No free rides on meaning. Maybe if people have a closer, more intense emotional connection with my work. Maybe if I’m dealing with people who can love what I do, I’ll have that leeway. But I don’t have those people. I have to make my words closer to perfect.

Some shades of irony have to die along the way, but oh well. I’m sure I’ll find other things to replace it.

PS: Nerf Blue.