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The Platonic Idea of Gaming

Gaming at its best is a contest between players who respect each other and are challenging one another to do their best, good players make good games after all. It’s the kind of things that can make friendships or even save a life. Nothing else matters, nothing else should matter anyway. This platonic ideal is harder than one would think or want to attain though. Let’s take a look at what makes this ideal so appealing and why it’s hard to attain this week, shall we?

This idea where society at large and all of its ills don’t matter; that this is a world a person can escape to in order to have fun. That this ideal exists in the first place is a big reason to be interested in gaming in the first place. It’s the promise of a different world where you’re able to channel your creative and/or competitive spirit free of societal pressures.

The hurdle to this platonic ideal can be summarized as the fact that gaming does not exist in a vacuum. It exists within the context of the real world and as much as we’d like it, and it’s hard to escape that baggage.  I want to use the controversy that has come to be known as Gofygate as a starting point.

Last weekend was Grand Prix Las Vegas, the biggest trading card game tournament of all time. It was a Limited Magic: The Gathering tournament for the set Modern Masters 2015, an all reprint set meant to alleviate the price of key cards for eternal formats. In short, we’re talking about a close to 10k person spectacle in a set where you can open serious money. In the Top 8, Pascal Maynard took a foil Tarmogofy pack 2, pick 1, over a card that would be good for his deck. Now, a foil Tarmogoyf is literally the most expensive card in the set, being worth about $400. The reaction, as with anything Magic related, was hyperbolic and negative. Several other pros talked about how they lost respect for Maynard and how he should respect the game. This was in turn accompanied/followed by people doing EV/utility calculations to determine if that was the right pick. It ended with Maynard saying he made the wrong pick and putting the card up on Ebay.

On one hand, it’s easy to see why there would be a negative backlash. It’s one thing to raredraft at FNM or on MTGO, cause those money cards are what enable you to keep drafting; and it’s often justified with logic along the lines of “well this isn’t Day 2 at a GP.” But this was the final draft of the tournament. On the other hand, this is literally a set designed to put out high value cards and passing a few hundred dollars while under time pressure is understandable; also it really can’t be stressed just how hyperbolic the reaction was. Such financial considerations are unavoidable in a collectable game but it does mar the idea of perfect gameplay, even if we’re talking about percentage points.

This isn’t an issue that is confined to money in collectable games either. It’s the small things, the microaggressions that bleed over from ordinary day. The bigger things as well: the flat out rudeness, hostility, and worse. All of these things mean that the platonic ideal is most likely accessible for only a segment of the population for basically no reason. While gaming’s original sin may recreating the patriarchy and other societal constraints, it doesn’t have to be that way. While the platonic ideal in its entirety may be a truly rare thing, there’s no reason why we can’t act in a manner that makes it as real as possible.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing the Netflix series Sense8. Till next time.


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