If you have kids in their “middle childhood” (8-10) or adolescents, then you may be familiar with what is called a “collectible trading card game.” Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and Duel Masters are all popular franchises but the one to take the childhood world by storm the previous decade was the latest Japanese phenomenon- Yu-Gi-Oh! Based off of a popular television show, the game featured fantastically drawn monsters and spells which interacted with one another in a complex set of rules which, though difficult to master, were still simple enough for a child to grasp.
I was drawn into the game from the TV show, like most kids. Thinking back, I can remember fondly daydreaming of the cards (before they even released) in the 3rd grade, wishing I could finally become a duelist and be one with “the spirit of the cards.” I can still remember the ecstasy of purchasing my first starter set, of opening the case, gazing at the cards and thinking how cool it was that I had the same cards from the television show. That night my brother and I played dozens of matches against each other. Though it was dark and rainy no bad weather could interfere with our joy.
Over the following years we would be loyal fans. Every new series which released we bought dozens and dozens of packs. We even went to tournaments to compete. Every Sunday we would go down to the local hobby shop and play against other youth; the McDonalds trip after wards being the icing of the tip. Those visits were great socialization opportunities and I still have fond memories of the joshing and fun which transpired in that small shop.
Eventually the pursuit of the best cards and the most competitive deck would subside. I fell out of playing due to a combination of not being able to beat my brother and simply tiring of the game. Yet when I think back on my days as a duelist I can say that playing that game helped me more than merely as a recreational outlet. It helped me as a budding intellectual. Such may seem like a loaded statement but if you will allow me to explain it is completely rational, I assure you.
If you were a dedicated player and kept up with the sets as they released (and had the money to continuously buy packs), then you had at least hundreds, if not thousands, of cards; every card had its own stats and effects. Different elements, attack and defense points, purposes and special effects all combined with the specific strategy you were constructing to form a coherent vision. Seeing as how you needed to do this in 40 cards, if you wanted a solid chance of your plan actually functioning, you needed to read and re-read every card in your possession, as well as those not (hence the importance of attending the tournaments). Obviously this was a huge amount of reading which, considering the age demographic of the target audience, wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Additionally, the player in question didn’t simply have to read each and every card but they had to figure out how to use the card in relation to every other card. So not only was the child engaged in a prodigious amount of textual interaction but they were stretching their thinking caps as well. All of this is healthy for developing minds (absurd mutterings about unholy and anti-god tendencies, aside).
I bring attention to these facts because I am reminded of another instance involving Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards. It was in the sixth grade. Free reading time was scheduled and the teacher asked if everyone had a book. One student raised his hand to ask if reading the text of his cards was an appropriate substitute. Expectedly, the teacher shot him down without question- no, she said, it was not. Books only.
This is another example of literary elitism. Of the snob behavior I briefly covered in my last musing. In short: the action of the teacher was counter-productive. I can understand the arguments supporting her position: it is better to read an actual book with a plot and something to enrich the mind of a young person than have them read trading cards; it is better for them to read books in school to augment their recreational reading habits; and of course the classic, cards don’t say anything!
Clearly, as I hoped to have demonstrated through my personal experiences, there are benefits to youth playing these games. And as I said last time this subject came up, the hope is for them to graduate to more mature reading materials (such as classic literature). Yet in our present society any interest in reading is something positive. Not only did the action of the teacher make the classroom slightly more hostile to the student, but it also discouraged him from reading outside school; prevention of him engaging in his mentally stimulating hobby could result in his premature exit of the game, since he cannot compete with his peers. In turn this deprives him of an untold amount of possible readings and social interactions.
I am not trying to sound apocalyptic here, or assume too much benefits from a card game, but I am hoping to stress that there exists numerous gateways to personal literary enrichment. Not every instance is what’s expected. Different shapes exist for different people and persuasions. So my point is that everyone has a range of possibilities helping them develop positive reading skills and this diverse range of minutia shouldn’t be overlooked due to stubborn conceptions of intellectualism. I was assisted in my reading ability by these cards and I know many, many others were as well. Educators and parents should embrace these alternatives as means to further their offspring’s potential, not strangle it before it emerges.