Magic persists across a six-foot distance | News

Six feet and computer screens haven’t stopped fantasy game players from connecting in their worlds of spells and creatures.

Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy games all have some element of interaction between players that build communities and relationships around the games. The pandemic’s social distancing and safety guidelines forced players to adapt or move online, but not call it game over.

Magic the Gathering is a competitive card game where two players battle with creatures, spell and character cards. Despite the card game’s popular online virtual version, Gainesville players kept the game in person and socially distanced.

UF’s Magic the Gatoring, a two-year-old club that hosts weekly tournaments in the Reitz Student Union where members battle using card decks, started this semester with a social distancing plan that kept players in person after a Summer online.

The club president, Jackson McMillan, an 18-year-old UF biology senior, and other club officers created a social distancing plan that spaced out players even in the enclosed Reitz rooms where they meet.

Normally, Magic the Gathering players sit close enough to read each other’s cards and shuffle each other’s decks to prevent cheating, McMillian said. In the UF club, players sit feet apart and operate on good faith.

Every Wednesday, masked students line up six-feet apart to sign in and get assigned their opponents. After chit chat as the last players sign in, friends open their ornate card  boxes, shuffle their tailored decks and fight to the last hit-point with creature and spell cards.

Players calmly announce their cards and actions through masks while beating down each others hit points and destroy each others cards.

The UF club also limited its room capacity, required masks, banned food and drink and supplied hand sanitizer in compliance with UF’s event and gatherings guidelines.

Genny Anderson, a 21-year-old UF engineering junior and the club treasurer, began playing two and a half years ago in Gainesville. She was often the only woman at the local game stores.

When she co-founded the club, female students joined in force, Anderson said. She believes the club’s focus on helping new players and friendship brought more women to the game.

“We will literally sit you down and teach you how to play Magic,” she said. 

Fewer members played with the club since campus reopened with social distancing and event capacity guidelines this semester, but they still have a strong group of 20 students who make regular appearances, she said.

“It’s like family game night every week,” Anderson said.

Ian Coffey, an 18-year-old UF computer science freshman, learned Magic the Gathering with these social distancing rules at the UF club.

“I imagine for a game like this, you’d want to be closer together and read each other’s cards instead of shouting them out,” he said. “But we’re working with what we got.”

Although the gameplay is different, Coffey still found the friends and community he was looking for during the pandemic, he said. When Coffey came to the first meeting, he played with a loaner deck the club keeps for new players. Three weeks ago, he bought his first deck of cards.

“I came into my first meeting knowing nothing,” he said. “Everyone was willing to sit down and teach me anything about Magic.”

Dungeons and Dragons, another popular fantasy game has started up again in Gainesville with its own safety measures.

D&D is a role-playing, collaborative game where players create fantasy characters who are led through an adventure by a Dungeon Master, who gives players puzzles to solve and enemies to fight.

Role-playing games have heavy interactive elements, where players act out their interactions and play the game as their characters.

To keep the player experience alive, some Dungeon Masters moved games to an online audio format or continued games in person with social distancing measures.

Sean Donovan, a 23-year-old Santa Fe graphic design senior, began running Beginners’ D&D online in March for Gamesville Tabletop, an off-campus game store in Gainesville.

In Beginner’s D&D, people pay to learn the mechanics of the game in four weekly, two-hour sessions.

“We really get into what D&D is all about: the exploration, the combat aspects, communicating as a group,” Donovan said.

When nonessential businesses shut down, Beginners’ D&D moved to an online audio streaming service where players could chat back and forth and talk freely in real time.

In June, Beginner’s D&D moved back into a reopened Gamesville Tabletop. With in-person sessions Donovan could show players parts of the D&D handbooks and communicate using body language, he said.

Since moving back in person, Donovan encouraged six feet distance between masked players coming from different households and limited the group to five players. After a month of in-person sessions, players began coming in again and Donovan ran two five-person groups.

“People are looking for a relatively safe thing they want to learn that could be done in a different way,” Donovan said.


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