Magic: The Gathering and Improv

“I want to be the best improviser in Orlando”.

It’s something I’ve grown less sheepish about lately, which is scary for some.

When playing a team sport like improvisational comedy, players who express a desire to be the best often times want to be the best at the expense of their partners. They’re the guys who are going for the cheap laugh at all costs and that’s obnoxious and taxing to play with. I try not to be that guy and I try to play to the highest level of support as well as intelligence. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

A bit ago I sat down with a good friend of mine and got to talking about improv. It’s not an uncommon occurrence. A local group had recently invited him to play with them and it irked me a ton. I knew they were doing this and had been attending a bunch of their shows in the hopes of being asked. I knew everyone in the group, hung out with them on occasion, and shared the stage with them on multiple occurrences elsewhere. I still hadn’t been asked.

That pissed me off a little.

“It’s nothing personal” My friend said.

But I explained to him that, yes, to me it was personal. By specifically not inviting me to their shows, they were telling me that I was nowhere close to being the best improviser in town. I wasn’t even a good improviser. There was also this long line of people that they had picked to come and play that were better than me. That people I didn’t enjoy and were still green had more going on for them than I did. The guy who’s been putting in lots of hard work to be a genuine practitioner of the art. It was personal to me for sure.

My friend listened to all of this, and at the end, reiterated that it wasn’t personal.

“How could it NOT be personal!?” I argued. “If I’m doing great work then how could they NOT want to have me on the stage?!”

He calmly explained that while it was a very hubris filled thing to believe myself to one of the best, that it was entirely possible that they didn’t want to play with me even though they thought I was good.

This blew my mind. Why wouldn’t everyone want to play with the best and have the best scenes and make something that was worthy of being called ‘art’? Why wouldn’t everyone want to be the best?

“Well, because they’re Timmys and Johnnies and you’re a Spike.” He explained.

If you’ve ever heard of the popular card game “Magic: The Gathering” or seen nerd in comic shops sitting around and throwing cards down on top of each other, you’ve probably been exposed to this game. The rules can sometimes become complex, but the basis of the game is like that of many card games. You have cards in your deck that you pre-place there, only using a few types out of the massive library of cards available to everyone to try and beat your opponent.

In creating and developing the game, 3 different psychographic profiles were created to help the makers of the game understand why people play. Each different profile was given a name by the developers and that’s how they talked about them in their everyday work. Here’s part of the description of the player type off the MTG blog. (Article here by Mark Rosewater)

Timmy: “Timmy is motivated by fun. He plays Magic because it’s enjoyable. Timmy is very social. An important part of the game is sitting around with his friends.”

Johnny: “Johnny is the creative gamer to whom Magic is a form of self-expression. Johnny likes to win, but he wants to win with style. It’s very important to Johnny that he win on his own terms. As such, it’s important to Johnny that he’s using his own deck. Playing Magic is an opportunity for Johnny to show off his creativity.”

Spike: “Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill of Magic is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory.”

Sitting with my friend, we roughly translated this to improv. My interpretation is below:

Timmy: Timmy is motivated by fun and enjoys doing improv for the sense of play and wonder it brings into his life. Timmy likes to make people laugh and it’s important to him to make friends in his improv classes and be friends with the people in his group.

Johnny: Johnny is a creative player to whom improv is a form of self-expression. Johnny likes to do shows, but wants to come up with new ways to play old games and different long forms to show his own creative abilities. It’s important to Johnny that his team is doing a form that showcases it’s own unique energy and talents. Johnny wants to have new experiences and to test the limits of the format.

Spike: Spike is the player who wants to master the art of improvisation. To accomplish this, Spike will play wherever the best team is, study whatever materials that he can source, and try to learn how to play to the highest of his ability constantly. To Spike, the thrill of improv is in the moment of the show. Spike enjoys the process of improv as well as the performance aspects, and will apply whatever material he finds to the height of his intelligence.

It was simple. I’m a very loud, obnoxious Spike. The team that I wanted to badly to play with was mostly full of Timmys and Johnnys. They just wanted to play to have fun and my hyper-spike-y desire to be the best wasn’t jiving with them.

I get it now. It’s not personal.

Vampire Nighthawk