I want to ask you something.
Do you know that overwhelming feeling of frustration, injustice, and pain after losing a game of Magic Online that you shouldn’t have lost? What about the burning urge to hurt your bad, slow-rolling opponent with whatever you can . . . to make sure he fucking knows he didn’t deserve to win, that he better realize that his pile isn’t gonna make it next round? I know that feeling.
Have you acted on it?
If you answered “yes” to either, please stay with me. I want to talk to you.
You are not alone, and these impulses don’t make you a bad person.
Let me ask you something else.
There’s a kid who drafted a bad deck and played it poorly but his opponent was mana-screwed, and the kid won. Would you like to press this button to punish the kid, to make sure he becomes anxious, feels emotional pain, and believes he is worthless and didn’t deserve to win?
button from psdgraphics.com
Didn’t think so. Then why do we go ahead and push several keys on our computers to do exactly that?
I want you to know that you are making the world a nastier, darker place to live every time you send an insulting message to your opponent.
Some of the more common things to throw out there before the scoop are various iterations of, “Go kill yourself”—from those literal words to the abbreviation DIAF. In case you haven’t thought about it before, please take a minute to process the fact that we have a shortcut for telling people that we hope they die.)
Words mean things, friend. They also burn and cut and leave marks. The fact that they were thrown out there in an impulsive rage doesn’t change the fact that you told someone to take his or her life—that you hope the person dies in a lot of pain. You cannot possibly know the impact words like that will have on a stranger.
Bullied people are up to nine times more likely to commit suicide. Men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women are, and we all know well about Magic’s unfortunate gender gap.
I know you’d have trouble sleeping at night knowing you helped, in a little way, to drive an unstable kid to suicide. So please keep that in mind next time you want to type those words.
You never know the story from the other end of the screen.
So, let me give you a couple.
When I started to write this, I approached Magic players asking for their experiences with verbal abuse on MTGO. I started by sharing my story. When I was fifteen, I was in a dark place in my life. I was homesick away from my mom who had just been diagnosed with cancer, I was in a bad relationship, and all that was on top of being an awkward teenage girl with teenage problems. I escaped into Magic Online often. I loved the game, and it had helped me keep my mind off bad things. So I would often play when I was at my most vulnerable—to focus on something good. That made verbal attacks unbearable. Some days, they made me cry, and I had to close the computer.
http://www.flickr.com/people/wentongg/ used under Creative Commons
A couple people reached out to me with their own experiences.
An incredibly self-reflective player told me about how, when he had started having some success in the game, he came to feel very entitled, and he took out his losses on his opponents, verbally abusing them, disconnecting, and trade-spamming their clocks. For him, the turning point came when he watched a young kid being berated by an older player at a Friday Night Magic event. Right after winning his match, the boy dropped, called his dad to pick him up, and never came back to the store.
Another friend had shared that his girlfriend almost quit Magic after someone lashed out at her just one month after she picked up the game.
Whenever you verbally abuse your opponent, this is the level you are sinking to. You are all these people. You are the person who made a fifteen-year-old girl cry when she tried to find a comfortable safe space. You are the guy who ruined an eleven-year-old boy’s first FNM and ensured that it would be his last. You are someone who put a new player through enough pain that he or she wanted to stop playing.
I know you don’t wanna be that guy.
So don’t. Think about these stories whenever you are tempted to.
Would you like your kids to play Magic one day? Your little relatives? Your girlfriend? How would you feel if someone told another person that he or she is worthless—that the person should kill him- or herself? Of course you’d hate it. So, before saying something you were going to say, imagine that you are saying it to someone dear to you whom you didn’t know picked up the game—or saying it to a little kid . . . whichever moves you more.
Another practical thing you can do when you lose is apply known anger-management techniques to control the impulses.
- Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm and count to ten.
- Slowly repeat a calming word or phrase, such as "relax" or "take it easy." Keep repeating it to yourself while breathing deeply.
- Take a break. Close your computer, and walk to another room. Turn on some TV.
- Prepare yourself. Learn to recognize when the anger is just coming up. While you are still rational, make a conscious decision to not lash out at your opponent.
That last one has worked for me really well. When I feel the emotions rising, I make sure to think ahead. “Okay, Rada. If he has Divine Verdict, you will concede, say, “Good game,” and close the computer. Concede, ‘good game,’ quit. Concede, “good game,” quit.”
Please consider taking these steps. It may not be easy, but I swear it’s worth it. Not only will you make the world better and stop spreading the pain, you will find yourself happier. Anger hurts. Learning to deal with it will help you stay calm and level-headed and improve your game.
There is another wonderful thing you can do for yourself to help rid of these angry impulses in the long term that will also make you happier. Recent psychology research tells us about self-compassion as a way to relate to yourself. When you decide to do that, you choose to appreciate yourself in the way that you appreciate people who are close to you. We don’t measure value and worth of people close to us in their online ratings or other sorts of glitter points. Their value is not shaken by a single poor showing at a Magic event—or ten of those poor showings. When you convince yourself that your value does not depend on that either, you can learn to love yourself for being you. You can stop relying on your achievements, quantifiable results, and other sorts of self-esteem boosters to be in peace with yourself. You can understand your humanity and imperfection and approach mistakes with empathy. You can be kind to yourself through both pain and success. Here’s a good place to start.
Finally, a lot of bullies are or have been bullied. I know that if you’ve had too little love in your life, it may be easy for you to imagine that the person on the other end is malicious. If you feel alone or hurt or bullied, reach out to someone. Reach out to me if you’d like. Don’t turn pain into more pain. Let’s work together toward a happy, safe community for everyone.
Thank you so much for reading.
P.S. Special thank you to:
- Everybody who sent me their support and opened up with their stories
- Ben Wilinofsky and Natasha Lewis Harrington for peer editing and advice—you guys are rock stars!
- Juvonen J, Graham S, Schuster MA. Bullying among young adolescents: The strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics. 2003;112(6):1231–1237. [PubMed]
- Wang J, Nansel TR, Iannotti RJ (2011) Cyber and Traditional Bullying: Differential Association With Depression. Journal of Adolescent Health. 48: 415–417. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
- Neff, Kristin D. Self-Compassion, Self-Esteem, and Well-Being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass. s 5/1 (2011): 1–12