The Guy in the Corner
A few years ago, the New Yorker published an article retelling 25 years of Magic history through interviews and observations made at GP Vegas 2018. Like many journalism pieces that cast glances from the outside in, its tone carried a semi-distant mockery of the game and of nerd culture in general, which was only exaggerated by cartoonist Ed Steed’s sketches of the scenes playing out on the convention floor. I can’t say if the article did any service in dismantling the stereotypes that haunt our game, but it certainly posed a few questions that were subsequently left hanging in the air.
Ed Steed’s illustrations (much more than Neima Jahromi’s narrative) have lingered in my memory since the article’s publication. I keep coming back to this one in particular, which features a charming drawing of the game’s most unlikely celebrity. Cassius Marsh is making waves lately with the opening of his new, high-end card shop in LA, but I’m not here to tell his story. I care more about the guy off to the side.
Maybe it’s his dorky, short-sleeve, white and blue gingham shirt buttoned all the way to the top. Or that cheap thrill of drawing a card subtly captured in his thousand-yard grin. Maybe it’s simpler than that, or far more complex. I don’t know. I just love this guy so much. I remember tweeting about him when the article made its rounds.
It’s been a year since the pandemic hit the USA, a year of perpetual boredom and guilt, a year of staring at screens, a year of avoiding everyone in passing, a year of confronting the paradox of possessing infinite entertainment yet having zero desire to engage with it. Like many, I turned to the Nintendo Switch last May in search of joy, distraction, and perhaps community while combatting this hypermodern unnatural disaster that is staying, exclusively, at home.
I grew up playing playstation and xbox consoles, then discovered Magic in college and distanced myself from video games. Being a bit of a loner, an angsty teen surrounded by metal music and a distant idea of girls, I found a lot of solace in the more violent and action-saturated games in high school. At a certain age, be it because of marketing tactics or the proverbial falling out of love with ‘toys’ that every kid endures, I stopped caring about Nintendo. There were locust to chainsaw, and I didn’t have time for the cute, cartoony aesthetic that informed much of the company’s game design. Pokémon defined my elementary years, like those of any kid growing up in the 90’s, but that’s also where they stayed.
Then, suddenly, and to the surprise of nobody more than me, I found myself holding a Nintendo console once again. In my own two hands.
Because of the phenomenal maelstrom that was Animal Crossing’s release date and the worldwide unavailability of Switches, we had to go on a bit of a quest to find our Lites, which added to the excitement of the endeavor and has since become a defining moment of happiness from last year’s wreckage. It was a treasure hunt, a real Schwarzenegger in hot pursuit of a Turbo Man doll couple of weeks, bombarded with refreshing digital shopping carts and mapping all of our local Targets for quick reference. My girlfriend narrowed down the delivery dates of new shipments. I scoured leads online. It wasn’t a shopping plan – it was a heist! One Monday morning in particular, I drove out to a strip mall and arrived just as the stores opened, only to watch a dozen customers pass me gripping Switches of their own. I rushed to electronics to be met with a disheartening “we’re all out!”
The cinema of our lives!
In the resounding melancholy that has lived at the center of our year in quarantine, the Switch has been a beacon of lightness and cheer for both of us. To speak of paradoxes once again, it took twenty years of maturity to understand that Nintendo’s core ethos, and the reason for their renaissance of success, is that their games are made for Everyone. The very elements of their products that pushed me away in high school are now the only reasons I am playing video games again at all. Nintendo only cares about fun. This is a profound mission statement.
Joy is effervescent and relative and taxed. But the older I get, the more I understand that the simplest of pleasures are the most foundational to happiness.
I return again to the guy in the corner. The negativity and bickering that plagues discourses surrounding not just Magic, but all fandoms and hobbies, has never been worth my energy or attention. Even less so this year. In my falling in love with Nintendo’s IP, with games I never thought I’d play, with a group of new YouTube creators and Twitter accounts that brighten my daily life with excitement about the console and its offerings, I enter new circles and conversations. I notice the same patterns, the same major players emerging in this realm: entrenched veterans who despise the direction of new releases, analysts and critics dog-piling on statements about the projected year ahead, groans about the inclusions and exclusions of characters in the latest franchise piece, a general taste of malcontent. Passion dilutes into disdain if left unchecked.
And then suddenly a newcomer arrives, a button-up white and blue gingham, who is just happy to be at the convention. The guy in the corner doesn't care about the endless lamentations or the company's payroll or the blurred pixel on your malfunctioning hardware or the missing reprints or off-color fetchlands or overpriced old cards or amc zombies. He just cares about fun. This is special and profound.