Friday, February 11, 2011

The Yu-Gi-Oh Blues

I am fortunate that The Teen, while beginning to assert his independence in increasingly annoying and odiferous ways, still likes to hang out with dear ol’ Dad. We go to movies together, have Boy’s Night Out, and deal the cards for poker. We play miniature games like Heroscape and blast away at Lego Batman on the Wii. And, God bless him, he still wants me to play Yu-Gi-Oh.

For those of you who are blissfully unaware, Yu-Gi-Oh is a trading card game from Japan. If Hello Kitty is penance for the Doolittle Raids, then Yu-Gi-Oh is retaliation for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But like in-laws and cockroaches after nuclear fallout, it never goes away. Bakugan came and went, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers have fought their last battle, but Yu-Gi-OH is the Energizer Bunny of nerd-based commerce.

After three years of patient tutoring by The Teen, here’s what I know about Yu-Gi-Oh:

The cards in a Yu-Gi-Oh game are used to duel with an opponent.

There are Monster, Spell, and Trap cards.

These cards are combined to make a deck. Decks have themes. Some of the themes are Arcana Force, Ancient Gear, and Gladiator Beast.

Decks are played on an expensive piece of flexible plastic called The Field.

Someone someplace gets paid way too much money to think of names for cards such as “Blue-
Eyes Toon Dragon” and “Obelisk the Tormentor.”

The wording on the cards is too small for an adult to read.

I lose every time.

While I don’t understand Yu-Gi-Oh, I try to be understanding. I think it’s probably his version of my comic book collection or my fascination with Star Trek (TOS…because there was no Next Generation) at about the same age. And I’m glad it’s something that gets him off the computer and out of the house from time to time to play with others at local card shops. The only thing that bothers me is that most of the cards are “dark” in nature. Characters with names like Ghost Knight of Jackal, VWXYZ Dragon Catapult Cannon, and Judgment of Anubis course freely throughout decks of Chaos and Zombies. The iconography probably doesn’t mean much, a function of the battling nature of the duel coupled with the game’s cultural origins, interesting translations from the Japanese, and marketing to the seething hormones of adolescent boys. But it still disturbs me a bit.

Here’s an example of what I mean. The Teen made me a practice deck for me. Knowing that I’m not too hot on the “darker” side of the world, he built a Dinosaur theme card set. Here are some of the cards in my “tame” deck:

Black Tyranno
Goblin Out of the Frying Pan
Super Conductor Tyranno
Mad Sword Beast
Ultimate Tyranno
Super-Ancient Dinobeast
Dark Diceratops
Hyper Hammerhead
Tyranno Infinity

I understand that in dueling, you have to fight fire with fire. I would never tell my son to go up against someone playing a deck full of Gladiator Beasts armed only with Penguin Soldier. That being said, I would like to see a see a market out there for nice Yu-Gi-Oh cards:

Genial Whale
Happy-Go-Lucky Earthworm
Polite Bunny
Playful Dolphin
Friendly Wombat
Smiling Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier
Squealing-With-Delight Dacshund

But why stop at cuddly critters? Maybe we can use Yu-Gi-Oh for instructional purposes:

Well-Mannered Child
Homework-Doing Pre-Teen
Regularly Showering Adolescent
Boy Who Limits His Television Time
Admired Father
Glorious Father
Father Automatically Wins

(On several occasions in years past I really would play this card. It was when The Teen was still The Child and I would play Pokemon, essentially a younger child’s version of Yu-Gi-Oh without the rage. As opposed to Yu-Gi-Oh, I could play a fair game of Pokeman and generally pull my weight. This frustrated The Child, so he came up with these things called “Invisible Cards” that would defeat anything I could ever play. So I came up with an invisible card called “Daddy Automatically Wins.” Which is undoubtedly why he switched to Yu-Gi-Oh shortly thereafter.)

Anyway, last weekend I took him to a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament at a local card store. To be honest, I was a little on edge about this…he usually plays the game against kids who are less experienced and have less cards than him, and consequently he almost never loses. Besides, he comes from a line of bad losers. (That would be me.) So I wasn’t certain how he’d react if the cards turned against him. Sure enough, I was watching from a distance when I heard him exclaim that he wasn’t going to play anymore, and saw him cup his head in his hands with a gesture of despair.

Me (adopting deep paternal voice): “What’s going on?”

The Teen: “I always lose. Why should I play anymore when I just lose?”

Please note that I am a father ever-alert for the teaching moment.

Me: “It happens. Deal with it.”

This was apparently not the right answer, because I heard the unmistakable grumble of early adolescence rise up from his chair. But he sat and played, which is what socialization is all about, while I sat in an adjoining room watching a game of Warhammer and listening for the next yell of exasperation that blessedly never came. I’m sure the fact that he won the next three matches helped. I’m a much more gracious winner, too.

(Interestingly, I was actually the only parent there. All then other parents dumped and ran. For which, having suffered through five hours of Gladiator Beasts and Arcana Forces and Magic Cylinders and the like, and not a single Friendly Wombat, I don’t blame them one bit. And in fact, when it came time to run out and get the child lunch, I was able to get down a beer while waiting for our hot dogs at the local Parrot Cay. I’m not proud of it, but as a parent you sometimes do what you must.)

I am really hoping that Yu-Gi-Oh is a phase, not a lifestyle, and that at some point it will go away. Sort of like when I gave The Teen advice about one Justin Bieber:

Teen: “Dad, can I ask you a question?”

Dad: “Sure. What’s up?

Teen: “Why do all the girls talk about Justin Bieber?

Dad: “Who’s Justin Bieber?’

(A brief pause. The conversation resumes after a quick visit to the Internet and 3 minutes 45 seconds of “Baby” that makes even Richard Harris’ rendition of MacArthur Park sound like Placido Domongo. Which, incidentally, would be a very cool version of MacArthur Park, especially the part where he would sing “Oh NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”)

Dad: “Justin Bieber is like when I was a kid the girls talked about with David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman.”

Teen: “Who?”

(Cut to video of “Easy Come, Easy Go.” Teen rapidly loses interest as I exclaim about the quality of the song. He sits, glaring and bored, as I then watch the video for “Seattle” and the Opening Credits for “Here Come the Brides.” Conversation resumes.)

Dad: “You know, maybe it would make sense if I said it was like the girls used to talk about Michael Jackson?”

Teen: “He did Thriller. Now he’s dead.”

(Pause to regroup.)

Dad: “Okay, here’s the bottom line. They’re going to talk about Justin Bieber for about three years. Then he'll go away and they’ll talk about something else. It’s what they do. Get used to it.”

Another teaching moment found...and lost.

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