MTG Arena, Cognition Issues in the Age of the Pandemic, and Infrequent Blogging

Two posts in one day? Yes! The rarity returns. :)

Though this one’s a little more personal than the other post talking about the new issue of Anathema being out.

So I play MTG Arena. Which is the online version of the Magic the Gathering collectible card game for those who have no idea what I’m talking about; ignore the neepery that follows as desired. I play Arena to relax.

But the other day I wandered into a match in the regular play queue and found myself across the virtual table from a streamer I like and whose videos I sometimes watch: HelloGoodGame. I watch a few different Arena streamers from time to time. Mostly Merchant, as well as AliasV, the aforementioned HelloGoodGame, and CovertGoBlue, alongside others.

I’ve been dreading the possibility of facing a streamer I watch since I started playing Arena back in February. It’s possible I’ve fought streamers whose names I don’t recognize immediately, but I’d have no way of knowing that, so what are you gonna do? But here my immediate instinct was to just quit out before I embarrassed myself on a livestream. Which is usually what happens in stressful matches for me. Because ever since I was in high school I’ve been having … sequencing and transposition issues. I used to think it might be some kind of dyslexia, but I’ve never had any trouble reading. Instead:

I transpose or replace words when talking to people — if you’ve ever seen me hitch in a conversation where a pause doesn’t belong, it’s because I’m trying to get my brain to make the intended word come out. I’ve gotten fast enough at it over the years that I think most people probably don’t catch it, but I can’t be sure.

I reverse or transpose travel directions even when I’ve taken a route for years. Much to the woe of anyone who’s ever had to have me navigate because I’m the one who “knows the way.”

I sometimes freeze as I lose a thought entirely mid-sentence and have to reconstruct that train of thought from scratch. That pause is harder to hide.

And in games like MTG I flip required sequencing, or think in the moment that a sequence works differently or in the reverse of how it does despite knowing, from years of experience, exactly how it actually works.

I did end up playing that match against HGG I mentioned above, and you can see it in this embedded video:

 

 

I go by “Sekisetsu” on Arena as in several other places online, and that match starts at about the 15-minute mark. And therein you can see good examples of the things I’m talking about in this post when I play the pair of Corridor Monitors before attacking with the Arcanist Owls I’d been intending to untap and have on defence by playing those Monitors, or when I let the remaining mana in my pool accrued from a Nyx Lotus tap dissipate between phases instead of playing the pair of Brazen Borrowers before that disappeared as intended, and so on.

I’ve been playing MTG in paper form on and off, mostly casually, since ’94. Admittedly with about a decade-long hiatus in there. Anyway, point is: I’ve been doing this long enough that I know what I’m doing, and when the stress gets bad and the transposition issues worsen I still can’t play properly for shit. If you’ve played against me in the Ranked queues on Arena, you’ve probably seen what I’m talking about happen. It’s not as bad outside of Ranked, where there’s less stress. But against a professional streamer? I’m surprised there were so relatively few misplays in the end. Which is why I mostly stick to unranked matches and play primarily in Festivals or Drafts these days.

Because the pandemic has massively ramped up these long-standing issues. They get worse with stress, remember? And what is this pandemic but an endless refrain of uncertainty and anxiety.

Even at the best of times my brain just jumbles information, to no real rhyme or reason. Which is hilarious, because I have an excellent memory, but it’s like a ransacked filing cabinet in here — it’s all there, but good luck finding what you need in the right moment. :D

And it’s not really the kind of thing I generally talk about publicly, because you don’t want freelancing clients knowing that particular issue when the bulk of your business relies on precision writing and editing. (So much for that now, *cough*.) But I make it work, it just means I spend a lot longer double checking my work. Hell, I reread every email I send multiple times, and things still slip through every once in a while.

Honestly, it’s the sheer shame of not wanting people to think you’re a fool because they can’t see what goes on behind the scenes, or sometimes just don’t care, that keeps me from engaging where I want to in a lot of cases. Or it can rob the joy of engaging in something like MTG because you know you’re going to routinely fuck up with that stress in a pandemic at an all-time high.

It’s why I tend to prefer listening over talking in group settings, and to observe more than interact. I’ve had numerous people tell me over the years that they think I like moving through spaces like a ghost. I think it’s meant as a compliment? Does’t land that way because I actively fucking hate ghosting through a space. But it’s been a necessity over the years because I’m constantly afraid of embarrassing myself.

And it’s one of two reasons I don’t blog as much anymore, despite wanting to. The other reason is a conversation for another post. But in so many ways it’s easier to just not put yourself out there when the fear of failure is super high.

So I almost didn’t take the match against HGG. I hovered over the Concede button during hand selection for what felt like an interminable time.

I was so panicked because I was terrified that I was going to get made fun of on stream — and then if/when that video went live on YouTube I wasn’t going to be able to keep myself from watching it and see that happening. Which is ridiculous, HGG doesn’t do that, he always seems like a lovely person. But the reality of that didn’t matter, because in my head everyone immediately sees my failures and is waiting to pounce on them. I also have OCD and Anxiety, that’s just the resulting expectation of that combination.

And then I watched the video, after checking for days if it was going to go up and beating myself up mentally at length.

And it wasn’t so bad. Because, yeah, I definitely fucked up multiple plays, but while piloting an intermediate-difficulty deck I still managed to hold my own against a much better player than me. I won’t spoil the outcome, you should go watch it yourself if you’re so inclined. It’s a good match, and HGG’s videos are always fun to watch.

But here’s the thing to stress: it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. And I say that as someone who quite literally shakes full-bodied from ramping anxiety.

We spend so much of our lives living in fear. Much of it justified in the face of the state of the world, and longstanding bigotry and hatred and oppression. But fear cannot rule you, or you will not survive it and you will never manage anything. Not exactly news, but always a good thing to remember.

I guess I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else. I usually am with this kind of post. But discussion of “not being afraid to do the thing” seems timely, somehow. Or perhaps it’s always timely and the reminder is just occasionally warranted.

A lot of ramble today. Take from it what you will. Hopefully some of it proves helpful or timely for some of you. And there’ll be more blogging from me when I have the brain for it. Or when I just need to let fly a good rant. As ever. :)

In the meantime, look after yourselves, and each other.

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