On Magic and Detachment
Fragments from imaginary dialogues
“When playing Magic the Gathering, what’s the most challenging practice?”
“At first, it was keeping it under control. Playing only the amount of time I allocate for it, and playing only after finishing my work for the day, no earlier than 5pm. It was very challenging, but I succeeded. Considering how addictive the game is for me, this is a huge accomplishment.
The most challenging practice now is Detachment from the outcome. Maintaining Balance, by focusing on playing well (and on the beauty of the game) rather than on winning, and in the face of losing and winning.
As a side note, a beautiful thing about Magic is that it’s an environment that allows me to actually practice Detachment. Games in Magic are relatively short (10-20 minutes). I like to think of each game as a repetition (rep). Playing it every day, I get a lot of reps in.”
“How does losing and winning disturb your Balance?”
“There are many aspects that can influence the outcome of a game. The relative power-level of the decks, the skill of the players – which can be quantified by the quality of their decisions (decision-making) and the number of mistakes they make (focus) –, the cards they draw over the course of the game. Due to the random shuffling of the decks, every game of Magic is unique, every gameplay situation a unique puzzle. And, unlike jigsaw puzzles, Magic puzzles often have hidden information.
Magic is a game of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. Your decisions and capacity to focus are the only things within your control, which do not guarantee victory. You will inevitably lose some games. But even though I understand these things, I have a tendency to forget after a game is over.
After winning, I feel good, as if everything was under my control. There’s several cognitive biases at work here, among which Resulting, tendency to equate outcome-quality with decision-quality (it is possible to win even if I played poorly), and Hindsight Bias, tendency after an outcome is known to see it as inevitable.
After losing, I feel bad, perceiving it as a personal failure, as if everything was under my control.
Before a game, the practice lies in centering myself.
After a game, in letting go, reconnecting with the value of Humility, and asking myself:
Could I have played better?“