Many people walk past without even glancing, day after day.
Some look momentarily as they shuffle along to classes or the Food Court.
Fewer still actually stop to watch.
Those who don’t take notice are missing something remarkable: a completely legal and mostly non-violent beat-down.
Battles of strategy and wit transpire among the tables in Bldg. 2 on Chemeketa’s main campus, and essentially only the players and a handful of spectators are alert to what is happening.
From the outside, the games appear childish and immature in nature – a silly pastime, perhaps, or even (and more aptly put) a waste of time.
But for the gamers, in many cases, it’s far more than just a hobby. It’s an outlet – an escape from an otherwise mundane reality.
It is, in fact, a lifestyle.
Players invest time, money, and emotion into their games.
They give each other nicknames, which are seemingly well known by other players.
There seems to be a sense of six degrees of separation between the different niches of players; everyone knows someone who knows someone else, and so on.
They’re aware of the stereotypes that surround them, and some even admit to falling into those stereotypes at times.
On the surface, it does look silly, student and gamer Brice Stephens says.
“We know it’s a kid’s game,” he says of Yu Gi Oh, his game of choice. “The basic concept of it is pretty simple.”
But upon closer examination – after looking more in depth into what is taking place during each game – it becomes clear that these are thinking games in the same vein as chess, poker, and even fantasy football.
“In fantasy football,” Stephens says, “you put all the players you expect to do well, and the ones that should work together, onto a team, AKA: the deck. Then you have to know what’s in the deck that can play off of what’s on the table, which is the poker aspect of it. And then you have to know the strategies, like chess, of which character moves which way; or, in other words, which one has which ability.
“It’s three things in one, with this caramel coating of a kid’s game.”
Stephens, who is known as Loli to fellow gamers, says that the gamers at each of the Bldg. 2 tables play a different card game. The variety consisting mainly of Yu Gi Oh, Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, and the newest addition to the mix, Love Letters.
As part of an unspoken agreement, each game has an agreed-upon area of play, with none infringing upon the others.
Magic has taken the lion’s share of Bldg. 2 space, however, with playing positions near the bus stop doors and also by the Student Retention Center.
While there are some who bounce back and forth between different games, a majority of the student gamers play Magic exclusively.
The strategic abilities required to play these games is evidenced by how complicated the games actually are.
The rule book for Magic, which is available online, is a daunting 199 pages, and it actually comes with a disclaimer informing the prospective viewer that it is not intended for cover-to-cover reading.
Yu Gi Oh’s online rule book contains 29 pages, complete with pictures and examples throughout. But despite having a smaller rule book, players agree that Yu Gi Oh is far more complicated than Magic.
Regardless, the rules are expected to be known by each player and, unless otherwise specified, are also expected to be strictly followed.
This aspect alone is somewhat challenging because the rules are constantly being modified and updated as new cards are released and old cards are shelved.
For the players who do have a handle on more than one game type, this is an impressive feat. However, Stephens admits to carrying a couple pages of the most frequently referenced rules on his person at all times, in the event that a specific action needs to be clarified during play.
Chris (last name omitted), a Magic player and alleged student who prefers to go by the apparently well-known moniker Zed the Evil Taco, says, “There are actually new rules coming out real soon; we’ll have to pay attention to those as well.”
Knowing the rules and understanding the fundamentals of the game will certainly get you started. But the real trick to being successful at any of these games, Stephens says, comes from having the ability to outwit your opponent.
“You build an attachment to some of the cards,” Stephens says. “The more you play with them, the more familiar you get with them, the better luck you have with them.”
Mandi Blatter, a student and Magic player, confirms that building a deck is the most logical starting point. But Stephens further adds that it shouldn’t be done haphazardly.
“One of the decks I use – everyone makes fun of it – is literally based on French desserts,” he says.
But after months of playing and familiarizing himself with these cards, he’s found ways to win consistently.
Many gamers, Stephens included, agree that each player’s deck to some degree actually reflects their personalities. In addition, their play style is primarily influenced by how they approach real-life situations as well.
For example, student/Yu Gi Oh player Hector Marin opts for a blitzkrieg style. He overloads his deck with strength characters and attempts to rapidly overwhelm and overpower his opponents.
Student Adrian Deloya is the exact opposite. He prefers to play slowly, reserved in a way, right up to the perfect moment for striking.
With such a variety of cards within each game, it would be unlikely for any two people to end up with the exact same hand.
Interestingly, the gamers maintain, the cards themselves make for a more real-life game as well away from the table.
Almost like playing the stock market, the trading cards are bought and sold from game stores to players and vice versa.
When a card is released, if it’s a rare card, its value may be high. A player could then sell the card for more than he initially bought it for.
Then, after a new set comes out, the rare card may then become what is known as common, dropping its value once again.
With the undulating price value for thousands of cards constantly going up and down, outside of just playing the game proper, gamers can potentially make a profit by simply playing the cards – provided they understand the game.
Stephens, who is currently majoring in business, says that he owns roughly $600 worth of cards, with an initial investment of about $100.
“It’s so funny how it plays,” he says. “I mean, it’s more than a game, yet the game is how it starts.”
And the game is surprisingly popular.
On any given weekday, more than 20 gamers can be found occupying the tables around Bldg. 2.
Better yet, and every so often, a game will become explosive.
Zed the Evil Taco, for example, has established a reputation as one gamer who doesn’t lose well. Frequently arriving at the college before 9:30 a.m., on most days he can still be found occupying the same table – the same seat, in fact – five hours later.
By mid-afternoon, the sour smell of sweat and halitosis and the putrid rank of luncheon leftovers have begun to swirl into its own atmosphere around the Evil Taco’s table.
Interestingly, none of the gamers seem to mind, or even notice.
At the center, the emptied soda cans and sun chip bags continue to pile ever higher, right alongside the cards.
Suddenly, the Evil Taco begins shouting across the table at his opponent, his voice carrying throughout the building.
A brief argument ensues, ending only after the opponent concedes in what seems to be a submission for the sake of silence.
Campus security has been called to this area before, student Taylor Hunter says.
However, the general consensus among the participants is that the games are meant to be played for fun – although they are something of a distraction between classes and tests.
In most cases, the beat-downs are purely figurative.
If you’ve been having a frustrating day, Blatter says, “You can just beat someone’s face in with your cards, instead of with your hands.”
“I’m giving you a beat-down,” is, in fact, a common refrain around the tables.
And regarding the stereotypes, the name-calling, the easy passing of judgment – the majority of the gamers don’t even seem to care.
The players acknowledge the nerdiness of what they do. In fact, they seem to take a certain amount of pride in it.
In a way, they’re no different from athletes, musicians, or even writers. It’s human nature to be prideful of the things that we’re good at.
And the games they play are legitimately complicated. With extensive rules, myriad playing styles, and thousands upon thousands of cards, these games are not simple.
Try it is the most popular sentiment among the gamers. “At least attempt it before you judge it,” Blatter says.
You never know: Perhaps sitting down with a well-planned deck of cards and calmly beating someone’s face in might be exactly the release you weren’t even aware you needed.
Then again, maybe not.