Lessons From a Card Game

It’s not quite what you think. I’ve had something of a long-standing fascination with how Tradable Card Games (TCGs) promote accidental learning in teenagers. (To give you an idea of how long I’ve been pursuing this, I started when they were Collectible Card Games, or CCGs.)

One of my roommates works at a game shop that is considering organizing a Pokemon League on the weekends, and last night he asked if I’d be interested in helping out. I’ll admit it, I was intrigued. Five years ago, I was a co-Gym Leader for the Pokemon League in a friend’s game shop. For as much as I’m not excited about Pokemon (especially in light of what happened to the cartoon this year), I have some very, very fond memories of my year and a half as Gym Leader.

Being a Gym Leader was interesting, because it allowed me to watch how playing Pokemon affected these kids. For my League, it was incredible. The core kids weren’t afraid to approach newer League players and mentor them, both in Pokemon and in the workings of the League. Trading was taken very seriously; the kids would often grab the most recent list of the value of the cards to make sure everyone was getting a fair deal. Even more interesting, a kid who wouldn’t even look at the list was left out of the trading because the other kids were afraid the kid wouldn’t deal fairly. I would love to keep an eye on these kids, just because I think they’re all going to have some strong business skills (most of them are freshman in college this year).

Another aspect I like about Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh both is that I’ve watched kids who complain about not being good at wither reading or math become completely engaged in both aspects of the games. “I hate school because I can’t read well or do math well” gave way very quickly to a kid asking to read the card their opponent just played and trying to keep track of their life points. It’s down and dirty, but any way you can get a kid to practice basic skills is a happy thing in my book.

These kids are also learning to interact with other kids. The old stigma of the anti-social gamer goes out the window when confronted by eighteen teenagers. There were friendships created through the League, and there were some mortal enemies created, but they learned how to control their seething hatred inside the game shop because I had no tolerance for it. They figured out how to work out conflicts without involving us grown-ups. They took the initiative to make sure new kids were absorbed into the culture, thereby encouraging the newcomers to keep coming back.

I realize I’m sitting here talking myself back into being a Gym Leader, if for no other reason than to continue my observations and see how kids in a highly technical area in a quickly evolving world continue the behaviors I saw in my ranchland students.

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