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Fighting Back Against Persecution in Magic

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This is a guest post from Mark Nestico Jr. and was not written by Denis Stranjak. While the subject of this article is a little different than the usual fare you’ll find on Brainstorm Brewery, we believe this is a subject that is vitally important to the Magic community at-large, and we want to thank Mark for his willingness to tackle this difficult subject and share this piece with us.

I’m a funny guy.

I like to write satirical articles about decks or other trivial bits of nonsense that are meant to make you laugh. Sometimes people don’t understand that, at their core, those pieces are meant to hold a mirror up to the community. Whether it’s about the outcry for bannings in Modern, the distaste we may have for a format, or whatever else…I have always tried to give you something that would make people smile. I don’t always do the best job, but the heat from it never really bothered me. All I ever really want to do is entertain you.

Bear that in mind. It’s not about being entertaining- at least not today.

Over the weekend StarCityGames posted about the recent legislature, HB2, as it pertained to the upcoming Grand Prix in North Carolina. I won’t speak to it, because Pete explained everything about as perfectly as he could. The issue I have doesn’t stem from Mr. Hoefling’s words, but rather some of the comments posted in regards to them, and more so over various forms of social media. Perhaps I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I had this set up all differently. I’ve already deviated from my outline. I guess it’s just time to write from the heart.

So anyhow; None of us are normal. Make sure you understand that before you proceed, because I assure you that’s a point we are going to drive home today.

Imagine for a moment you don’t belong. That shouldn’t be a terribly far-fetched concept, right? You’re not the captain of the football team nor are you the head cheerleader. You’re just you, and for some people you isn’t good enough. This is high school, middle school, elementary school, work, or wherever else all rolled into one. Eventually you start to think that you’re not good enough. Depression sets in. Pain sets in. Suffering sets in. You are suffering.

You’re not the person now that you were then, but you’re certainly a byproduct of it. All the downers, bullying, trolling, vicious comments, physical assaults, psychological assaults- they shape you. Not everyone can just “brush it off” or “stand up for themselves.” Amputate the leg and you’re no longer a track star. Amputate the self-esteem and  you’re no longer capable of fighting back.

Time passes.

You find Magic. Maybe you stumbled upon a store or saw it on the internet. It’s a children’s card game, but it has millions upon millions of people that play it, and there is a convergence of other people who just don’t belong meeting there a few times a week to battle, discuss, and share in a hobby. “What the hell.”

Forsaking your baser intuitions that tell you to avoid these kinds of interactions completely predicated on all of the unfavorable ones you’re used to, you go. You learn. You observe.

617d7b1dc3083eec2890c1e3c8b4adc5Time passes.

Magic isn’t just a hobby to you anymore- it’s the very air you breathe. Your friendships exist because of Magic. Your self-confidence has grown because of Magic. Your time is now spent between when you get to go to your local game shop and be happy and the life you loathe. Your life means more because of Magic. It has saved you.

Time passes.

You’ve spent so, so, so very much time being different. Not good enough in your own eyes, but Magic and good friends have finally given you the courage to be who you thought you always should be. When you go to these Opens or PPTQs or random events you’re surrounded by literally thousands of people who were all a little different, or made fun of, or outsiders/geeks/nerds/whatever the hell people need to call other people to make themselves feel superior. They all convene in one place for plenty of different reasons: commander, cosplay, to meet artists, trading, play competitively or casually, hang out with friends, draft, and a multitude of other possibilities.

With that in mind you decide you’re going to go to your first Grand Prix. Maybe it’s in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Developments in that state make you feel significantly less safe. Your pragmatism sets in, and you do your best to understand the “whys” and how they directly impact you. It’s not just HB2. It’s the reaction. Polarizing. You’re called names again. Your very state of being is called into question. You begin to feel those old notions of inadequacy- the kids in school who relentlessly tease you, or the adults who stare and point. It’s not just the bill. It’s the people and their treatment of their fellow man or woman. Anxiety sets in.

Here we are again, suffering- wasn’t I silly for thinking I could escape from you?

The Island of Misfit Toys

We are all beautiful, and beautifully broken. From the lowliest internet troll who seeks to inflict pain in order to feel something…anything to the most holier-than-thou crusader who finds offenses in everything regardless of if it exists or not. We all are something special, and usually that conflicts with the opposite end of the spectrum. Magic is the Island of Misfit Toys. Its where a lot of people who have never felt a sense of belonging go because they don’t know any other options. For some it’s the first, and for some it’s the last stop on a journey to find their place in this world. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There is something wrong, however, with acting like your place is somehow more sacred than another’s. Bullying is a hot-button topic. It has been for a few years. There are two camps:

1- Those who think the bullied should stop being soft and fight back.

2- Those who are bullied.

 

The interesting dichotomy that exists is that those who think it’s as simple as raising a generation of warriors often fail to realize how damaging it is to constantly be put down. Have you ever seen a boxer get knocked out? Does their corner rush to their side and scream “get up! You’re letting us down by being unconscious! What kind of loser are you?” Or do they rush to their side and try to take care of them? I’ll give you one guess, and it’s not the first one. We learn from getting knocked out, but some people become punch-shy, and they learn to dodge better rather than absorb a hit.
drown-in-sorrow-730x280

When I was a kid I was bullied, but I had a smart mouth and I wasn’t afraid to take a beating or dish one out. That’s just who I was, but when I went home do you know what I did? Watched television. Played with my action figures. Ate dinner. Talked to mom and dad. Went to bed. That was it.

People nowadays have no escape. Are you tortured at home? Lovely. Let’s continue that when you get home over social media- tweet at you how much we hate you, and tag you on Facebook statues about what a terrible person you are. Are you scared? You should be. Here come the text messages because we somehow got your number. Emails. Don’t even try to cover your ears. We’re everywhere.

This is the life that the bullied live nowadays. It’s not as easy as when I was young. We threw some punches and called it quits. There is literally no escape from being condemned for your race, sexuality, gender identity, looks, weight…your everything is on trial.

The Magic community, which is supposed to be a Safe Haven for those who enjoy the game, instead has fostered a subset of members who believe their hatred trumps compassion and reason. Look no further than the various comment sections of articles. We make a play or write about something you don’t agree with? We’re idiots. Don’t like our articles? We’re illiterate. Constructive criticisms are a thing of the past, because why be kind and understanding when you can just tell the other living, breathing, alive person with feelings that they should kill themselves. That’s the ticket, right? Forget the middle. Straight to the endgame.

It’s not about safe spaces or secret clubhouses. Magic is a game and it is meant to be enjoyed by every person who chooses to play it, and the injection of prejudices and ad hominem should be a notion so far removed from it that it makes almost no sense to me that a group of people just searching for happiness would cannibalize itself with hatred. Malice doesn’t come with impunity.

The Remedy

So far I’ve heard “stop shoving your changes down my throat,” “things were fine the way they were before,” and “political correctness is destroying America.” I’m here to hold your hand through this. It’s not the end of the world. Listen to my words: change is a good thing, accepting your fellow man and woman is ok, and not spewing hateful rhetoric will do your soul more good than it will harm.

We are blessed. So blessed. Beyond blessed that we have Magic. It’s not the game- because a game is just that. For some it’s a living, or a passion- a hobby or an escape route. You don’t know the extent that someone has ran away from persecution just to be able to sit across from you at the table, shake your hand, roll some dice, and battle some cards. Their struggles- internal or external- are a catalyst for their strength and determination, but are also scars they bare from battles you know nothing about. Just being in your presence shouldn’t be another war, nor should telling them how much they disgust you. They are a human. You are a human.

Despite philosophical, perceived, real or fake differences, hurting someone is never ok. Your rights do not begin based off of ending someone else’s.

Empathy.
Understanding.
Respect.

Emotion.

You can never underestimate these qualities. They are literally the perfect starting hand for interacting with those around us.
Magic should be all-inclusive, and even though the vast majority of it is, that doesn’t mean we can’t be better. We should want to be better. After all, what would you rather do?

Destroy a life?

Or save it? Your words can do either.

Embrace the power your can have over the Magic community. Spread love, not hate. Spread positivity, not malicious thoughts.
Free yourself from the thorned bonds that would prevent you from helping those around you. Exile bullying or doing harm to your fellow players. This is my declaration today, tomorrow, and for the rest of the time I play Magic.
Next week I’m sure I’ll write about some deck or do some satirical piece. I’m a funny guy, right?
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Denis Stranjak

Denis Stranjak

Denis is a 20-something college student who co-hosts weekly drafts over at Windmill Slam on YouTube.
Denis Stranjak

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About the author

Denis Stranjak

Denis is a 20-something college student who co-hosts weekly drafts over at Windmill Slam on YouTube.

4 comments

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  1. Jonathan K.

    Thank you for writing this Op-Ed Mark. I really enjoy your writing, and this is no exception. This is the direction we need to go as a Player-base, and also as a generation to a larger extent. All else fails, ‘just be nice’ should be the phrase to live by. I hope this gets posted/shared and read elsewhere, because there are so many people out there who exist only on the internet that really need to read and internalize what you’ve illustrated here. Well done!

  2. Pittsburgh_Phil

    Glad that you wrote this, Mark, and glad that you guys posted it on the site.

  3. Kyle

    I guess I see what you are saying. But this is the safest “controversial” article I’ve ever read.

    No specific examples. No mention of the specific issues. Beating around the point with vague examples and generalizations. It basically says “don’t bully people, be nice” with no context which kind of makes for a lousy article.

    And I’ve read marks articles before, he is a better writer than this. You can tell he had more to say but felt he couldn’t say it because of “controversy”. Sad really.

  4. Cameron Brake

    This is so necessary, urgent, vital.

    Thank you. Thank you so much.

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