Magic the Gathering and Addiction
July 9, 2024
By The Gathering Community

Hello Everyone in the wider MagicSphere! I’m Thayne, and I am here today to do something a little different from my regular article–so hold with me. Today, I am putting my degrees to the test and writing about something that has interested me for a while now: Magic The Gathering and its effects on people–specifically regarding our game and addiction–by examining peer-reviewed research on card and trading card games and their relationship with addiction. This will be mainly a summary of the general effects that happen when a person plays card/board games, the ramifications of it, and how we, as players, can better navigate the world of collectible card games. We do dive into some heavier topics including gambling and addiction so trigger warning. 

Magic: The Gathering (MTG) has long been celebrated for its intricate gameplay, strategic depth, and immersive world-building. Like many board games and card games, it has a multitude of positive effects, such as enhancing decision-making, increasing pattern recognition, strengthening problem-solving skills, and demanding players to make strategic choices amidst uncertainty. The game fosters critical thinking as players must evaluate probabilities, anticipate opponents’ moves, and adapt their strategies accordingly. Moreover, MTG cultivates pattern recognition skills as players discern synergies among cards, identify strategic openings, and exploit opponents’ weaknesses. However, amidst its virtues lies a potential pitfall– the allure of loot boxes and similar addictive traits, which can lead to problematic dependencies and low self-esteem. By examining both the benefits and risks, this article seeks to take a look at whether magic is a problem and if so what that looks like. 

What is addiction?

To start this discussion of addiction, I feel we should first define what exactly we are defining. 

The American Society of Addiction Medicine best describes addiction to be a “treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.” When we discuss addiction, we are talking about destructive behavior, rather than the more light-hearted way some players will use when they mean their way to escape reality. 

So first off, why do we play this game? Well, many people play games and do similar hobbies as a form of escapism. Many people do this, so they do not need to deal with the stressors of real life for a time because let’s be real, life can be hard and painful sometimes. As stated before, Magic has many good traits and can be a good form of escapism in healthy doses. 

Playing games to escape from reality can be a healthy behavior, “Despite the risks, escapism isn’t always bad. Sometimes it can be good. Daydreaming and imaginative play, for example, are healthy components of child development.” Olivine (2023). But when escaping turns into dissociation from reality, this dissociation together with a high immersion in the game contributes greatly to the development of addictive behaviors. 

Don Ross outlined in his research how addiction is not viewed merely as an individual pathology but as a socially constructed phenomenon shaped by broader cultural norms and societal structures (2020). Within the MTG community, addiction manifests through various channels, ranging from compulsive card acquisition to excessive gameplay and financial expenditure. The normalization of gaming culture, coupled with peer pressure and social reinforcement, reinforces addictive behaviors and perpetuates cycles of consumption. Examples of these behaviors can be seen in people buying cards outside of their means and spending unhealthy amounts of time on the game by interfering with relationships in a person’s life. 

More than just a game

MTG serves as more than just a game; it functions as a social nexus wherein individuals forge bonds, cultivate identities, and seek validation within a shared subculture. The sense of belonging and social cohesion fostered within the MTG community can both mitigate and exacerbate addictive tendencies. While supportive networks offer solace and encouragement, they can also inadvertently enable addictive behaviors through normalization and collective reinforcement. I have personal experience with both sides of this coin. People can be extremely helpful if you are trying to get out of the hobby by supporting you in taking a break and /or trying to stop cold turkey. But it is a game all about spending money so inadvertently discussing the game has made me buy more and more where I would normally not have bought so much, especially compared to other hobbies I enjoy. 

One of the more interesting conclusions that the majority of the studies I found on this topic came to similar conclusions is that collectible card games are on the lower side of addiction problems, with many studies finding results that were rather shocking to me personally. 

While not directly about the game (MTG), researchers analyzing card games, in general, found that card games are a safe hobby that falls well below the IGDS-SF9 (The nine-item internet gaming scale) a scale that tests gamers for problematic behaviors. In their study, they even said that many card gamers falsely claimed that they were addicted to the game they played when they displayed only minor addictive tendencies. But they also warn that having low self-esteem and low life satisfaction paired with using games to escape reality can lead to addictive symptoms and addiction problems (Calvo et al., 2018).

Other researchers came to somewhat similar conclusions when they compared opening booster packs to opening loot boxes and problem gambling. Booster pack opening was found to be much less linked to gambling problems than loot boxes in video games because of the amount of time it takes to purchase a booster pack compared to online and in casino purchases.  (Zendle et al., 2021)  

In Conclusion

In the end, the game is for many a way to escape the woes of everyday existence, but for some, this can be dangerous based on the evidence if you have other problems such as having low self-esteem and using the game purely as a way to escape your life. 

Also if anything stated in this article has you concerned for yourself or another here, I have provided a short list of the symptoms of gambling from the Mayo Clinic and if you feel that you show signs of addiction I urge you to please go and get help! It’s never too late to work on addiction. 

“Signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling (gambling disorder) can include:

  • Being preoccupied with gambling, such as constantly planning gambling activities and how to get more gambling money
  • Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill
  • Trying to control, cut back or stop gambling, without success
  • Feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down on gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
  • Trying to get back lost money by gambling more (chasing losses)
  • Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling
  • Risking or losing important relationships, a job, or school or work opportunities because of gambling
  • Asking others to bail you out of financial trouble because you gambled money away

Most casual gamblers stop when losing or set a limit on how much they’re willing to lose. But people with a compulsive gambling problem are compelled to keep playing to recover their money — a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time. Some people may turn to theft or fraud to get gambling money.

Some people with a compulsive gambling problem may have periods of remission — a length of time where they gamble less or not at all. But without treatment, the remission usually isn’t permanent

If you found this helpful in anyway make sure to follow either my Twitter or my Podcast, TheShockseize, to say up to date with my projects.

When to see a doctor or mental health professional

Have family members, friends or co-workers expressed concern about your gambling? If so, listen to their worries. Because denial is almost always a feature of compulsive or addictive behavior, it may be difficult for you to realize that you have a problem.”

Mayo Clinic. (2022, June 18)”

 

 

Reference page. 

Compulsive gambling – Symptoms & causes – Mayo Clinic. (2022, June 18). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/compulsive-gambling/symptoms-causes/syc-20355178

 

Calvo, F., Carbonell, X., Oberst, Ú., & Fúster, H. (2018). May the passion be with you: The addictive potential of collectible card games, miniatures, and dice of the Star Wars universe. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7(3), 727–736. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.73

 

What is the Definition of Addiction? (n.d.). Default. https://www.asam.org/quality-care/definition-of-addiction

 

Zendle, D., Walasek, L., Cairns, P., Meyer, R., & Drummond, A. (2021). Links between problem gambling and spending on booster packs in collectible card games: A conceptual replication of research on loot boxes. PLOS ONE, 16(4), e0247855. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0247855n 

 

Jouhki, H., Savolainen, I., Sirola, A., & Oksanen, A. (2022). Escapism and Excessive Online Behaviors: A Three-Wave Longitudinal Study in Finland during the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(19), 12491. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph191912491 

 

 Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH (2023, August 31). The meaning of escapism in psychology. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/escapism-7565008#:~:text=Using%20physical%20activity%20as%20escapism,can%20lead%20to%20negative%20effects

 

Ross, D. (2020). Addiction is socially engineered exploitation of natural biological vulnerability. Behavioural Brain Research, 386, 112598. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2020.112598 

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