Magic is a very complex game, and I’m not talking about the rules. Sure, the rules take some learning, and there are so many cards that it is fairly ridiculous, but what I am really talking about is the social aspect of the game. A large portion of Magic players are nerds and geeks. Call me out for stereotyping, but it is true. As such, many of us are probably pretty shy. But to play the game, we have to interact with other people, particularly if we are playing in person! One of my biggest fears is walking into a new place and striking up a conversation with someone that I don’t know, and when I go to play Magic, I have to do this more than once!
My family and I recently moved to the greater Seattle area, and I couldn’t be more excited. I finally have a myriad of game stores literally at my fingertips. Within forty-five minutes I have no less than ten shops that I could play at, and most importantly, I have a shop within ten minutes of my house! I have never had this before. The game store I liked back in Southern California was about forty-five miles away, and while there were one or two closer than that to my home, I didn’t like them as much so I chose to drive further. I had no stores in my home town. But now I do, and I can finally get some use of that standard deck that I built for some reason.
I have attended Friday Night Magic at my local shop two times since we moved here, and both times I have felt uncomfortable… almost unwelcome. The clerk was happy enough to interact with me when I signed up or when I would purchase a soda or whatever, but they didn’t make any effort to introduce themselves or truly interact with me. I have been to stores where the owner has come out and helped me, talked with me, learned about my interests and then made suggestions that pertained to those interests. I’m not really asking for much. They know who the regulars are, and as such they should know when someone new is attending their event. I was on the fence about driving twenty minutes to the other store and I chose to stay with my local store, but now I’m wondering if I made the right choice? It didn’t end with just the interactions with the store employees. The people that play at this store don’t seem interested in new players. I know that I have to put myself out there, perhaps ask to join that Commander game that they have going on before FNM starts, but even my opponents tonight barely acknowledged my presence. They interacted with me in the game, but there was no personal talk whatsoever. Barely a hello, and not one introduced themselves to me. At one points I was literally in the middle of three people talking to each other (I was just sitting at my spot at the table and they were all around me) and they talked around, almost through me as if I wasn’t there. Do you remember that song Cellophane from the movie Chicago? That’s how I felt tonight. I can’t say that I’ve never felt that way before, and I’m sure it isn’t the last time that I will, but tonight it was palpable. I mean people wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.
Maybe this is just me? I’m certain that I need to be more out there and speak up when I have something to say. I’ve never been great at small talk, and as I mentioned before, I’m especially bad at it with new people. I shouldn’t expect them to include me for the same reasons that I tend not to include myself.
What can we do about this? First and foremost, look at yourself. Are you putting yourself out there? Introducing yourself to people before the event, starting the conversation with your opponent during the event? Asking to join in that Commander game? If not, then try it. I’m sure that in some cases, your opponent, or other people in the shop are in a similar situation, and they are just as shy as you are. It can’t hurt to try, right? If it turns out they are just assholes, then it makes the choice to go to another shop that much easier right?
Second, if you own a shop or run the events at a shop, be on the lookout for new players. Introduce yourself, ask the new player some questions; “Are from the area or just visiting? Are you interested in other formats? Oh Commander? That’s great, we have a group on Thursdays, or the guys show up a couple hours before FNM to play. Hey Frank – This is Chad, get him into a Commander game!” Introduce the new player to some of your stronger personalities in the shop. At one shop in the area I saw an employee sit down and play a game with a customer and his son because the son wasn’t sure if he would be able to understand the rules! These are the kinds of people that you need working in your shops. Are there times I just want to walk in, buy a game and leave? Sure, but far more often I would love to have a genuine interaction with the employee where I feel that they are actually trying to make me happy, rather than just make the next sale. I’ve seen many shops come and go, and the more shops that I visit (and I visit a LOT of shops) I can see that the most popular, most successful of these are the ones where the employees make an effort to genuinely interact with the clientele. I haven’t used the popular term Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) in this article yet, and what I come to realize is that a game store has to earn the “Friendly”, and until it does, I’m likely to take my business to the shop that has earned the moniker FLGS.
Finally, if you are a regular at a shop, please remember that you weren’t always a regular there, and you weren’t always as close with that group of players as you are now. Just like the clerks, you know when new players are around. Take a bit of effort and strike up a conversation, or ask them to join your game or offer to take a look at their deck (asking first if they are interested in advice of course). A little effort will go a long way in making the new players feel comfortable, and hopefully they will want to return to that shop and play more.
I think we all tend to forget that the Magic community is what really keeps this game going as strong as it is. Without the players, the game would fade away. Yes, I recognize that Magic is bigger than it has ever been, but is that sustainable? I feel that it is, as long as the community remains as strong as it currently is. The community is made up of people however, and if some of those people are unwelcoming, then that portion of the community is doomed to wither and die.
In summary, if you are the new player, make some effort of your own, introduce yourself to your opponents at least and attempt to get the conversation going. If you are the shop employee, make some effort to recognize a new player, interact with them, and try to get them interacting with the regulars. Finally, if you are the regulars, also make some effort to recognize and interact with the new players. A little bit of friendliness will go a long way to keeping the community strong and growing.
This game is a social one after all, and it takes effort on everyone’s part to make a game or match more than just the results slip.