The Battle You Won’t Win
Yu-gi-oh! is a trading card game based on a Japanese TV series in which two players duel with each other according to a hugely complex set of elaborate rules. Children also swap cards or do brisk business after school selling and buying individual cards.
When my son was 11, he fell in love with Yugioh. After school, I’d find him in a group with other small boys huddled over a table like eager gamblers, shuffling cards and muttering furtively about the right leg and arm of Exodia The Forbidden One. Words like Ritual Monsters, Graveyards, Tribute Dolls and Trap cards were also part of this new schoolboy vocabulary: it all had a rather sinister ring to it. Glancing at the cards, I saw the surface flash of glamour but didn’t find any of it appealing. Grotesque and gothic, the images seemed unholy fusions of myth, machinery and monstrosities with a good bit of the occult thrown in. What else to make of cards called Premature Burial , Dark Magician of Chaos, Call of the Haunted and Tribe-infecting Virus? And when you discover that the whole point of the game is to annihilate each other’s “life points” it seems obvious. These kids are trucking with the devil, right?
In my efforts to slow down my son’s ardour, I would casually dismiss Yugioh as a phase he would grow out of. I took to calling it Yuckioh and Uglioh – which only made Yugioh’s voodoo more potent. Months passed. My son’s persistent devotion did not. He chipped away at me until my resistance caved in to that oldest and most mundane of ploys: the torture of relentless repetition.
I gave in; but not without a last token attempt to retrieve my credibility as a parental force to be reckoned with. There would be one condition. And then I found myself in Wizards Book store, spending a whole heap of money (with a goodly contribution from my son’s carefully saved pocket money) on a Dragon Structure Pack. Did I say a heap of money? Make that two heaps. The girl-child was with us and quite reasonably expected to get something out of this spree too.
Her choice was a magical crystal-encrusted fairy book all written in difficult-to-read old fashioned handwriting in brown ink. Full of mystery and sparkly bits, it was a treasure trove of tiny folded letters, secret pockets, teeny envelopes, one even containing a substance called Invisible Fairy Lust. I choked inwardly as an unexpected vision of uncensored Fairy Lust on the wing appeared without warning in my head. Good Grief! Is nothing sacred anymore? On closer inspection it resolved itself into Invisible Fairy Dust (hence my fractious whinge about the handwriting). But by now you will have gotten the point. These entertaining toys for children nowadays are complex, elaborate beyond belief, expensive.
Sure, there were crazes when I was at school. We had yo-yo’s. Dingbats. Knockers. But they went up and down, to and fro, backwards and forwards and made satisfyingly disruptive loud noises that annoyed adults. You got the hang of it after trying it out once or twice. It was obvious. They did not turn your brain inside out trying to understand them.
You see, the condition I made was a foolish promise. I would buy my son Yugioh cards on condition that I would figure out how this game works and play it with him because on the face of it, the whole thing was incomprehensible to me. I wanted to understand what my boy was going to be spending his energy and attention on. I was totally confident that once I had a pack of cards and rule-book in my hands, my superior intellect and years of problem-solving abilities honed in corporate management would be sufficient to work it all out. Little – how easily we are tripped up by our own ignorant vanity – did I know.
Googling Yugioh sites for help that night, I came across smug pronouncements like “Even if you are a rocket scientist or brain surgeon, you will still need the help of a 10 year old to explain the rules to you.” Hah! No kidding, people! As another exasperated parent vented; the rules are designed to be totally impenetrable to grown-ups. Adult-proof.
Which is why I’m now asking you for help. So please – tell me what this means:
When this card is successfully Normal Summoned, Flip Summoned or Special Summoned, put one spell counter on a face-up card on the field that you can put a spell counter on. If this card is destroyed in battle, you can select 1 level 2 or lower spellcaster-type monster from your deck and special summon it to the field in face-down defense position.
Got it? Right.
And don’t even get me started on the addictively acquisitive nature of these games. This was a big deal for my son. He was truly thrilled and thankful to get these cards after lobbying for them for so long. This did not, however prevent him from settling down to examine his treasures once home and immediately announcing with urgent disappointment: “Ah no, mum, I’m missing a Mutant Mindmaster and a Polymerization card!”
Hellloooo? Gratitude? This was beyond built-in obsolescence. This was built-in dissatisfaction and a perpetual craving for more.
In the car afterwards driving home from this momentous purchase, my daughter caught my eye from the back in the rear view mirror. She was looking at me sceptically. “You know mommy, you don’t actually look like a person who suits buying Yugioh cards for her child.”
Well there’s her first lesson in how appearances can be deceptive. I mean, could she ever be more wrong?
And what have I started?