Yu-Gi-Oh: Uncovering The Phenomenon

Main character (Yami) Yugi Moto from the from the popular comic/television series Yu-Gi-Oh. Courtesy of Planet Minecraft

Main character (Yami) Yugi Moto from the from the popular comic/television series Yu-Gi-Oh. Courtesy of Planet Minecraft

Imagine a world where magic and monsters are real, countless traps spring out of nowhere, and a deck of cards is your only defense. This is the world of Yu-Gi-Oh. In what is rapidly increasing in popularity since its creation many years ago, the Yu-Gi-Oh phenomenon is making its stamp on history as one of the most popular franchises of all time.

According to the Official Yu-Gi-Oh Rulebook, the Yu-Gi-Oh card game is normally played by two players and one achieves victory when the opponent’s life points hit zero. Both players begin with 8000 life points and the players must use a mixture of monster, magic, and trap cards to win the game.

Both players begin by drawing 5 cards out of their deck and draw an additional card each turn. Each monster has its own strength that can deplete the opposing player’s life points, while each magic and trap card has its own unique ability to help attack or defend against the opposing player. Players must utilize each card to their full potential and timing is a key aspect of the game. One wrong move could heavily impact a player and cause him/her to lose the game. So basically, with a whole lot of strategy and a little bit of luck, anyone can play Yu-Gi-Oh.

According to the Official Yu-Gi-Oh Wikia, Yu-Gi-Oh originated as a Japanese manga (comic) in 1996 and was created by Kazuki Takahashi. The manga did not originally include any card games, which is what the brand it is famous for today, and was extremely violent.

Opening credits of the Japanese Yu-Gi-Oh series. Courtesy of Yu-Gi-Oh Wikia

Opening credits of the Japanese Yu-Gi-Oh series. Courtesy of Yu-Gi-Oh Wikia

The Japanese version of Yu-Gi-Oh includes graphic and sexual scenes not suitable for children. The series included blood, violence, chainsaws, guns, and knives, which is completely absent from the American series seen today. Soon after the first season, known as season 0, the brand began to incorporate card games to add onto its already violent premise. Then, when it was dubbed to English by 4Kids for America, an entirely different version of the show was created that resulted in a kid friendly cartoon that emphasizes friendship.

So that’s where Yu-Gi-Oh came from, but who plays it? Well, the community surrounding Yu-Gi-Oh has no boundaries, except maybe infants who can’t understand the game. From what I have observed the majority includes boys and men, but a fair amount of girls and women are also involved.

The common perception is that the community just includes children, but in reality that is not the case. There are, in fact, many teenagers and adults that are involved in the community. The Yu-Gi-Oh Wikia also states that the original Japanese series was aimed for teenagers 17 and older while the redone American series was aimed for kids 7 and older. As a result the Yu-Gi-Oh community ended up with a wide range of ages.

There is also a common perception of why people play Yu-Gi-Oh. Members outside the community normally think that these players are socially awkward, have no friends, and are childish. However, these assumptions are just assumptions, so what better way to find out why someone plays Yu-Gi-Oh than asking the actual players themselves?

Meet John Heffley*. Heffley is just a typical 23 year old that works a day job as an auto mechanic, but instead of hitting the bars with his friends most nights and weekends, he plays Yu-Gi-Oh. Heffley has been playing Yu-Gi-Oh for 11 years, and has vdone it all when it comes to the game. He’s watched the show, read the comics, played in numerous local tournaments, and even traveled across the country to compete in National tournaments.

Heffley’s Yu-Gi-Oh deck that has helped him place in numerous tournaments. Courtesy of John Heffley.

Heffley’s Yu-Gi-Oh deck that has helped him place in numerous tournaments. Courtesy of John Heffley.

In an interview with Heffley I was able to ask him what about the game first captured and what still captures his interest.  “At first I enjoyed the skill it takes to play the game competitively and still do. The ability to outsmart and deceive your opponents takes a lot of skill because you always have to be one step ahead of them. Also, by playing the game I gained a new interest when I learned that I was also able to make a good amount of money by selling cards.”

Heffley isn’t alone when it comes to the interest in making money; in fact, many other Yu-Gi-Oh players that I came across in my research also include the money factor when giving the reasons why they play.  In an article by Alex Vancant, he states that the game of Yu-Gi-Oh includes its very own economy. Players buy and sell cards that have certain prices and over time these prices fluctuate. These prices are determined by the players, and are influenced by the rarity and demand of the cards. So just like in a real economy, if one can anticipate future values of cards, the ability to make money is very possible.

However, players don’t necessarily have to be good at predicting values of cards to make big bucks, they can also get lucky. In the following quote Heffley gives his example of how he and other players have made money through luck. “Imagine that you bought a fresh pack of cards for 3 dollars. Now, imagine that you found a 100 dollar bill inside that same pack of cards. Since every card has its own value that ranges from being absolutely worthless to hundreds of dollars, depending on the rarity/demand of the cards inside the pack, a player can find himself/herself making a lot of money.”

But there are more reasons that players are interested in Yu-Gi-Oh than just money, and these reasons could be found at my local gaming store. Evolution Gaming is a small game shop located in Butler, Wisconsin, and is open to all players every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. At this shop small tournaments are offered and open to all players for a small fee of 5 dollars on Saturdays and Sundays, and free on Wednesdays. Players are also allowed to buy, sell, and trade cards among themselves while the shop itself offers merchandise to buy.

Evolution Gaming located in Butler, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Evolution Gaming.

Evolution Gaming located in Butler, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Evolution Gaming.

The atmosphere of the Evolution Gaming could probably be described in one word; busy. Every corner of the store was filled with players buying, selling, and trading cards to go alongside matches occurring at every table. It was like a fish market minus the raw fish being thrown everywhere.

I was able to grab the attention of a few players and asked them why they enjoyed the game. I received a variety of answers that were all positive, and these answers included being a mixture of healthy competition and fun, ability to test creativity, and the opportunity to take long road trips to tournaments and spend late nights with friends. One player even gave a somewhat comical answer by saying it was a substitute for sports.

But does everyone believe that Yu-Gi-Oh is good for them? After all, it’s just a card game and a hobby is good right? The Pojo forum is an official gaming forum where players can put down just about any question and other players around the world can answer it. The question was simple enough, “Why do you play Yu-Gi-Oh?” However, a few of the answers submitted weren’t as pleasant as expected.

Some players don’t have the same positive views on Yu-Gi-Oh as Heffley or the players at Evolution Gaming; in fact, they wish they could stop playing all together. These few members of the Pojo community feel like the game is a drug that is consuming all their time and money. They wish they could stop but they can’t, which is a classic sign of addiction. It just goes to show that even something as harmless as a card game can have its addictive qualities and how involved a player is needs to be kept in check.

Evil Hero Infernal Gainer from the Official Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game. Courtesy of TCGPlayer

Evil Hero Infernal Gainer from the Official Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game. Courtesy of TCGPlayer

But it’s not just some players that believe the game is bad, but also some parents. In an article written by Tammy Higginbotham, she discusses how she believes that people shouldn’t play Yu-Gi-Oh and that the game is evil. Higginbotham is a religious Christian parent who has two sons who play the game. She believes that the game promotes evil entities such as spirits, witchcraft, fortune telling, demons, ghost, goblins, and vampires, and feels that the games messages and creatures are manipulating the minds of children.

In a response to Higginbotham’s article, an article by Jeff Cannon, who is a fan of the game, counters her argument by providing the positive aspects of Yu-Gi-Oh. Cannon argues that Yu-Gi-Oh teaches Mathematics, Strategy, Problem Solving, Socialization, and provides Entertainment. He believes that Yu-Gi-Oh is a healthy hobby for children and they should be allowed to play it if they want. He also argues that the creatures that the game includes doesn’t harm children’s psyche which Higginbotham claims.

I was able to ask Heffley what he thought about these two conflicting view points and he completely agrees with Cannon. “If you’re going to state that Yu-Gi-Oh should be band for promoting evil entities then you might as well ban Harry Potter for promoting dark magic and the Hunger Games for promoting killing people. Some of these parents fish for the worst excuses to ban things they don’t understand, and are afraid their kids will start summoning demons because of a card game. If your kids start worshiping evil entities it’s because you’ve failed as a parent, not a card game.”

Official Logo for the 2014 Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments. Courtesy of Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game

Official Logo for the 2014 Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments. Courtesy of Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game

Lastly, and maybe the most important component of the Yu-Gi-Oh community, are tournaments. Healthy competition is a significant part of the Yu-Gi-Oh culture and is probably its most compelling aspect. But these aren’t just the small tournaments put on by local gaming stores for small prizes; these are Regional, National, and even World tournaments put on by the game company themselves.

Going back to my interview with Heffley, he gave his two cents describing what he likes about the tournaments. “The tournaments are probably the most fun part of the game. I loved earning my invites to National tournaments because I was able to prove to myself that all my hard work achieved something.”

The Atmosphere that surrounds a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament plays a big role in making them enjoyable for all fans.  According to the Official Yu-Gi-Oh Card Game website, these tournaments are like conventions and include fun public events to go alongside matches and last several hours. In the U.S. there are plenty of Regional tournaments that run throughout the year in numerous cities, but there is only one National a year per country. There is also a World tournament that includes the highest ranked players around the world that normally takes place once a year in Japan.

Continuing our discussion about tournaments, Heffley described his Nationals experience. “Nationals was an extremely different experience from the numerous amounts of Regional tournaments I competed in. It was amazing seeing all these players gather from across the U.S. to play a card game.” In these National tournaments they also include a lot more public events then just an average regional. Heffley describes his favorite in the following quote, “They invited the original voice actors of characters from the show to reenact a popular duel. I know it sounds nerdy but it was really cool.”

Although Heffley hasn’t made to Worlds yet, he is still working hard and practicing as much as he can to achieve that ultimate goal. He also adds jokingly, “I don’t know what I would do if I earn an invite to Worlds. I probably won’t have enough money to go.”

There are thousands, maybe millions, of Yu-Gi-Oh players just like Heffley working hard at achieving their Yu-Gi-Oh goal’s as well. They are young, old, men, women, and are passionate about their hobby. They’ve built lifelong friendships and made irreplaceable memories that will stay with them forever. The game continues to grow in size, and it’s amazing to think how something that started out as a simple comic could have evolved into a worldwide phenomenon.

* Name changed upon request

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