How one dude restored my faith in humanity, gaming, and retail (all in one night)

First off, I'm going to try and keep the sappiness in this post to a minimum. That said, I'm being serious.

To preface: I don't get much personal satisfaction out of my retail job. That's not to say that I don't take pride in a job well done, or that I'm lazy. Quite the opposite, really. I just feel that retail, and many other jobs, have little benefit beyond getting paid. If I'm going to put forth the effort to do my job, it's rewarding to receive something in return beyond simple monetary compensation — I want to feel good about what I'm doing, and I want to help people.

Retail doesn't offer many opportunities for personal enrichment like this. But sometimes, even menial cashier work can make you think.

I worked a closing shift by myself this evening at the board game shop. A Magic: The Gathering tournament was scheduled, but we only had one guy show. His name was Michael. Upon meeting Michael, I quickly discerned that he was slightly mentally disabled — not glaringly so, just a little slow was all. Michael seemed disappointed that the tournament wasn't happening, and confessed to me that he had taken the bus to get to the store, and that it would take his mom at least an hour or two to come by and pick him up.

I explained to him that folks didn't always show for the Monday night tournaments, and that he was more than welcome to stick around the store while he waited for his mom. I also told him that he could look through our many binders of single cards to help pass the time. He thanked me.

Michael stayed in the store for over three hours.

Recently, I have become disenchanted with the gaming community and the way it presents itself. I deal with too many jerks and snobs to look upon the populace that I belong to and find redeeming qualities. It's the obsession, the fanaticism, the body odor. It's a lot of things, but it certainly isn't kindness or camaraderie.

But Michael and I talked for three hours, while I worked and sorted behind the counter, and he looked through singles and organized his own cards. Michael told me that he loved the game, and that he was still pretty new at it. He showed me a couple of his decks, and asked for my advice on how to improve them.

Now, I'm not an expert on the game of Magic. But I know the game fairly well, and play it often within my circle of friends. I talked to Michael at length about his decks, and what cards I would recommend for them. Michael seemed excited to be talking to somebody about this game that he loved, and listened with rapt attention, eyes widening when I would explain the outcome of certain cards and combos. 

"And what does this card do?" he would ask again and again. "When would I use this ability?" 

And we just kept talking.

Michael talked about his job, his family, and how he didn't have many friends. For him, playing Magic was an escape from the hassles of working a grunt job at his local Wal-Mart. It allowed him a space to be creative and thoughtful while interacting with real people. It became clear to me that Michael was just a lonely guy looking for connection.

"You look tired," he said at one point.

"Just bored," I answered.

"Well," he said, "at least we have each other to talk to."

I don't want to overstate the importance of Magic, of trading card games, or of this particular experience. But I also don't want to deny its effect on me. As Michael left the store, I couldn't help but think that this is what gaming is capable of, and that no matter how many self-important douchebags come through our store, there are always people playing the game for the fun and the sense of community.

Michael kept thanking me for my help, and for keeping him company while he waited for his ride. I didn't really know how to tell him that he'd given me so much to think about, that we were even.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Matt. There are some rare gamers who are very inclusive and helpful with their favorite hobby, but that's not often the case.

    Thanks for being one of the good ones.

  2. Gamers can be some of the best and the worst really. I've seen some pretty appalling behavior, especially at tournaments. There wasn't even that much glory or cash at stake. At the time same, when I lived in Hong Kong, the gaming community created my first set of friends there, and taught me a hefty percentage of what little the Cantonese I learned.

    Gotta say though, it was sometimes some pretty useless vocabulary. Led to some humorous situations. I should type that up some time...

    I guess all I have written up right now about Magic is what tournament Magic taught me about business negotiations. I'll throw on my name's link. Wish I had something more useful to give back, and thanks for the cute story!


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