Card Games and Chill
For my assignment, I went to a local hobby store in Ottawa, where adults, teenagers and children can come and play table top games, or card games together. A couple times a week, this store hosts a local league for the trading card games “Magic: The Gathering” and “Pokémon.” As someone with a passive interest in both of these games, I sometimes go to the meetings of these leagues. This time, however, I went to conduct my observations at a time of the day when I have never gone myself, so that I would have no idea who would be there. In the first ethnography, I give a chronological account of what I observed, to capture what I saw as it happened. In the second one, I recite what happened from memory which ultimately focuses on my feelings and own thoughts on the environment and events happening in the hobby shop.
I walked into the store at 7:04pm only to discover that the event had already started. There were tables all around the store, but everyone chose to sit at the tables by the walls, leaving the centre table empty. I sat at the centre table by myself for about five minutes until a pair of Pokémon players decided to sit next to me for their game. It was a man about my age playing against a boy maybe 10 or 11, and they seemed to be friendly to each other despite the age difference. I counted the number of people in the store: there were 22 people there, plus the two staff members behind the counter. I then noticed a TV mounted on the wall that listed the pairings and standings for the current round of the league. The TV had a timer as well. I then saw the “Magic” players sitting further down in the store. Unlike the Pokémon players who consisted of mostly white males my age, with two children and one woman, the “Magic” players were all older males.
Over the chatter of the players who were playing with figurines, I then realized the TV was playing rock music. On the other side of the store, a young girl and her father walked into the store, but the young boy next to me kept catching my attention due to his talkative nature. I turned to look at him and noticed that both players had a nervous tic, where they would constantly shuffle the cards in their hand when it wasn’t their turn. I noticed the timer tick down to zero, but realized nothing happened, as it simply started ticking into the negatives. The boy won the game that was going on next to me, and when they decided to rematch, the other boy who was playing Pokémon came over to watch. I moved tables.
The “Magic” players were bilingual, playing and talking in French and English. A die fell down and a Pokémon player picked it up for them as they rose up. They were bilingual also. One of them accidentally kicked me. I noticed some of the men that were playing the figurine game had left the store, dramatically lowering the overall noise. Then, a fly started to buzz around me. I moved again, and overheard the boy who won the first game had won against another woman. I checked my watch at 8:13, the timer had hit zero again and nothing happened. The “Magic” players swapped partners again. I simply observed them, as they were extremely engrossed their game and did not notice me. One man received a bye, meaning he had no partner for the last round, which ended his night. After he left, I moved back to the centre table. There was a man browsing the board games in the store, and I heard laughter from a staff member who was talking to a Pokémon player. The league was over for the Pokémon players and they distributed prizes. I left at 9:04.
I walked into the store and immediately the store clerk smiled at nodded at me. I’ve seen him a bunch of times before, he’s one of maybe three or four staff that worked here. Since I was here in order to gather material for an assignment, I wanted to sit alone and a bit off to the side to observe people, but the only table that was empty was the one in the centre. It was odd, but at the same time unsurprising, that the type of people who frequented these hobby shops didn’t typically want to be in the centre of attention, by literally being in the centre of the store. It was strange to see a young boy by himself on a weekday after 7pm, it was even stranger to see the adult he was playing lose to him. The man stared at me occasionally, and I felt extremely self-conscious with my notebook in hand, and my anxiety grew with him noticeably looking at me. Wanting to get closer to the other players, I decided to switch locations and move closer to the “Magic” players.
The “Magic” players were definitely older, in their 20s, 30s maybe even 40s. I noticed that two of them even had wedding rings, and one of those men were occasionally glancing at me as I took notes. I felt self-conscious again, people watched each other’s games all the time, but as soon as someone takes out a notebook, it’s weird for them. It was a little annoying. At some point a player walked by me and accidentally kicked my shin. I didn’t say anything, and he didn’t even turn around or apologize. I assumed he thought my shin was a table leg, and felt mildly slighted. There was a fly constantly buzzing around; I tried to ignore it no one else seemed to notice. The fly even landed on the shoulder of the man with the wedding ring but he didn’t acknowledge it. Everyone was wearing extremely casual clothes, old t-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants and jeans. The atmosphere felt a bit dirty, the floor was dirty, the wall paper was a bit ripped, and I did not want to enter the washroom. It felt like a little bit of Purell on every surface would go a long way. The only people who didn’t look raggedy were the female Pokémon player (she wore purple, no one else wore purple!), her son, and the other boy, who I presume was also dressed by his mother. Despite this, everyone’s cards were clean and pristine inside their card sleeves. Everyone also had sleeves of a different colour, maybe to signal what kind of deck they were playing, or maybe it was just their favourite colour. The most memorable thing was a man in a blue hoodie who had red sleeves, and was playing against a man in a red hoodie with blue sleeves. I wonder if they caught that detail themselves.
I’m not sure when, but “Californication” by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers started playing, but I couldn’t really hear it over the loud excited exclaims of the people who were playing some war game with their figurines. I also didn’t understand or even know what game they were playing, so the only thing that stood out was the fact that one guy had a giant red dinosaur and everyone else was using superhero figures. But they were loud, excessively loud compared to the card players, a lot older than I was, maybe late 30s to mid 40s. On one hand, I was thinking “good for them, they’re having fun.” On the other hand, I couldn’t comprehend how these older men could be so excited over a game like this, and if they knew they were disturbing other customers in the store. By then, “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers was playing on the speakers, and at this point I was getting tired. The music and the loud chatter of the figurine players didn’t really fit the mood of “half-past eight on a Wednesday.” Soon after, the card players started to pack up, and then the staff distributed prizes. The winner won three packs of cards, the second-place person won two, and then everyone else won one for participating. I looked around at the merchandise behind the glass counter and the books/board games on the shelves. Those were clean, new and well kept. I left before everyone else did as soon as my two hours were up, tired from the entire day.
In the first approach, I was listing things as they happened, trying to imagine myself as a video camera. A challenge to this was remaining emotionless in regard to what was happening, and simply creating a timeline of events. Additionally, I tried to write the approach as plainly as possible, to avoid adding my own interpretation into the narrative, but this was quite difficult because I found my writing to be extremely bland and simple due to this, which is not fun for a reader.
I wrote my second approach from memory, without consulting my notes. It ended up being more detailed, but covered a smaller range of events because the things I remembered clearly resonated with me in some way, and highlighted what was important to me from my perspective. There was more speculation and emotional involvement in this approach. Unless I wrote it down, there was no way I could remember the exact actions and little details of everything I saw. However, because something was familiar and affected me as a person (and not as “video camera”) I could remember the exact song that was playing over the speaker, or how I felt when I was kicked by someone else.
From this assignment, I learned that there are many ways for one person to interpret a situation they were in, without even having to think about another person’s perspective or changing their own, but by changing the method in which they observe. I definitely remembered colours very easily while writing my second approach, and I concede Michael Taussig may have had a point regarding the importance of colour in “What Color Is the Sacred”—even though this wasn’t initially my favorite reading. Additionally, any ethnographer who can make their work interesting or funny to read has my respect. Writing is hard.