Gathering Magic

Today I had a great day. Some friends and kids I know from my time at the community center all came over to my house and we played a game. A game called Magic: The Gathering. This game and I have a long history, and it is always writing itself.

When I first started grade seven, I was in a new school where I knew no one. I’ve never had a problem talking to people, but like any kid, I was nervous and didn’t know if I would make friends.
It wasn’t until a group of kids in my class introduced me to a card game that I really got my solid circle of friends.

Magic: The Gathering is probably a game most people haven’t heard of. But simultaneously, millions of people, most of them kids, play it all over the world. It’s a collectible card game where you pit your cards against a friend’s in a game to see who will win. It’s a very simple concept, but full of so much more complexity beneath the surface. At first glance most adults, especially parents don’t understand the fervor with which their children play it. Many adults in fact, would go as far as to not allow their kids to play it. They focus only on the perspectives which they choose to see –
“It’s a money sink”
“It’s too competitive”
“The artwork is too graphic” (I find your average episode of Jersey Shore more graphic by tenfold)

They are quick to dismiss it because they don’t understand it. Of course, the old adage is true, and they fear what they do not understand.

Here is another perspective.

Magic is a game that taught a nervous boy in grade seven how to find something in common with other people. How to be patient and learn to be taught something new. How to put my addictive personality towards something constructive. How to learn to interact with other people. It has taught me these things and many, many other things.

It’s a wondrous game filled with art, fantasy, role playing, escape, strategy, math, personality…With the wonderful element of real, face to face, human interaction involved. This last note is increasingly important as most kids today, especially young boys, find that same escapism in a virtual, online, gaming world. That person to person reality can help even the most socially awkward of us to get better at communicating with each other.

But my story is hardly the most inspiring as to what this game can do. The last job I had (at that community center) had a large community of children that play that game. In fact many of whom only come because its a place where they can play with their friends. More so, There are kids there that I wholeheartedly believe may have gotten into a lot of trouble if this game hadn’t found them – nay – if that community of players hadn’t embraced them as I was so many years ago.

It has deeply, deeply, saddened me to learn that this year, that same community center has decided to ban magic from it’s summer camps.
It would be one thing if a couple of parents decide that this game is not for their kids – that’s their right, they can raise their kids how they see fit.
It is my understanding that a couple of parents complained – so the whole camp is now not allowed to partake in it. I also know how this works. Pretty soon, it will be banned altogether. I only say this because I have witnessed similar policies slowly creep their way into this place in a similar fashion.

Additionally, attempts to reason these positive aspects to provide perspective to this knee-jerk decision have been futile and frustrating.

As I deal more and more with internal politics, bureaucracy, and policy makers, I am finding myself becoming more and more angry, frustrated, saddened, and hopeless in our future as a community. I’m seeing more and more already made up minds, closed doors, and walls, where once there was an actual discussion taking place. This is the worst kind of policy making – the kind where you like it or lump it. No amount of discussion will ever be had or encouraged or met with anything but defensiveness.

Why must we throw the baby out with the bathwater?
Why must we completely ignore the fact that we are losing so much by ignorantly just cutting off all access to this from kids who can really benefit from it?
A couple of parents get in a huff and puff and because we don’t want to deal with their confrontation, we just decide it’s easier to give up on a great thing altogether.
But the hypocrisy is staggering.
Perhaps I should come in and complain that I don’t like the kids using their Wii because the songs in Rock Band are too taboo.
Or how about I don’t think it’s appropriate for kids to be in swimsuits in front of adults so we ban all water based activities?
Or no more manicure days because Cosmo magazine shouldn’t be read by the girls as it is rotting their minds?
Shall I keep going?

If we trashed every idea because one or two people didn’t like it, we wouldn’t have much to offer each other.

I do not write this because I believe it will actually inspire some change to this decision or even some more thought on it. I write it because it is in my bones to do so. If I don’t write out this frustration it will fester in me. Why?

Because, something I love, that is dear to me, and so meaningful, is being attacked for the flimsiest of reasons!

Worse still, real kids suffer because of it. But it’s the silent kind of suffering, the out of sight out of mind kind, where a few years from now those kids that didn’t have such an amazing distraction start lashing out against the same community that took that escape away from them. Where would I be if I hadn’t had friends that taught me this game back then? Something tells me I would have found vices much more damaging to me – I certainly had enough reasons growing up to need distractions.

Clearly, there is a need for this game there. I filled my house with that need today.

So, are you listening? Are you actually hearing what is happening?

Your community is speaking, if you will listen, and it is telling you what it wants.

Sometimes we have to stop giving in to external pressure and start paying attention to the internal reality. Doing the right thing takes courage. Doing what’s best for the kids, instead of pleasing our egos.

Because pretty soon, our community centers will become emptier and emptier. The gatherings will happen elsewhere.

We need to start putting our trust not in rules and policies but in the people, the kids, our neighbours and friends.

Otherwise mark my words – soon all these centers will be left with empty rooms and full policy manuals.

I risk many things in speaking so brazenly and openly. I will no doubt receive much backlash.
But one thing I am not is an enabler. One thing I am is a writer.
So I write, and I am prepared to accept any and all reactions. I stand by my words and offer no apologies.

I do hope this inspires discussion and I hope that discussion opens some minds, opens those closed doors, and breaks down some walls.

Whether it is accepted or not at our center, we will all gather to play magic. The question is whether or not it is done in there.
If it is not, how many kids will we lose in between the cracks in the meantime?

That’s a question that needs to seriously be asked, and honestly be answered, before the magic has gone out all together.