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On Cheating

I was caught cheating in the main event of Grand Prix Auckland in 2015 against my good friend Matt Rogers. I actually cheated before then too, against Wilfy Horig at a PPTQ. I have been thinking about both occasions a lot recently, as I am coming up to a full 12 months out of the game.

I was a cheater and I accept for a great many of you, I always will be. The point of this article therefore, is not to excuse or justify, or even to ask for forgiveness. We are past that point. Instead, I present my mildly sad story with the hope I can prevent another from doing the same, or if they already are, highlight the inevitable consequences.

I have been told cheating is the worst thing one can do in Magic. But behind the cheating is a person with thoughts and feelings. I do not believe anyone starts out wanting to cheat and I promise you any perceived advantage from doing so is not remotely worth it.

Why did I cheat? To (perhaps) understand, you need to know more about me.
At my core, I am an incredibly average individual, perhaps slightly funny and occasionally clever, but mostly unremarkable. I am very aware and insecure about this. I am clever enough to know how insignificant I am. My Psychologist says most people do not feel this way. They are the lucky ones. It is hard to describe, living with a pervasive feeling your existence is irrelevant. I do not remember when it begun – there was not a single traumatic moment I can point to – but I have felt this way for the longest time. I know I was already like this in early high school.

This will be at odds with my behaviour if you have only known me in passing through Magic. No one wants to be friends with someone depressing. If you want any friends at all, you learn to act to people’s expectations. Or in my case, you overly compensate by faking confidence and bravado, being confrontational, condescending, and if you think you can get away with it, mean. Unfortunately, our community encourages and promotes this.
Over the years I have found some meaning in competitive pursuits: Chess, Warhammer, Chess again, Warcraft 3, Poker and finally Magic. In competing, challenging myself and winning I found some reprieve. It was not much, but it staved off the drudgery of drifting through every single day. Having something to prepare for, throw myself into and honestly, distract myself with helped me survive. I felt powerful like a character from whatever anime I had been watching. Anything to escape from reality. I spend a lot of time trying to do that.

I have realised post-cheating, when your life was singly devoted to a competitive pursuit you are not even that good at, it leaves you nowhere to go or to hide when you hit your personal limits. Years of putting friends and family second left me with a very small circle in which to find support. Presently, it is not unusual for me to go days without talking to anyone outside of work and even then, it is usually someone messaging me about Magic. I wish people would reach out to me more so I could feel less isolated and alone. I hate the feeling of imposing on others. Everyone is busy. My fears have truly come to pass and I feel utterly worthless. My mistake was not just cheating. It was also allowing my life to deteriorate to the point where I felt I had no other options. If any of this rings true for you, the sooner you speak out and get help the sooner things will improve for you.

Magic, for me, was an opportunity to finally achieve something momentous. I wanted to be someone special, to make friends and perhaps fill my internal void. I let myself believe that succeeding at magic would somehow cure my condition. It did not work out like that. Measuring your self-work by accomplishments in a children’s’ card game is not the healthiest approach. I was all in for a time. I was somewhat happy. Things were certainly worse before and after. It was the most content I can remember being.

I enjoyed it far too much, the small amount of success I enjoyed went to my head. With the benefit of hindsight, I see what a monster I was. I was horrible, often for no reason. Many interactions I had in the community left me feeling awful –not just with strangers. I was a tremendous strain on everyone around me. Still, there is a pervasive mean spirit in our community. Many of us are frequently gripped by it, myself included. Perhaps others are like me, frustrated by their lack of success. We could all stand to be a little nicer and more supportive of each other. When one of us succeeds, in many ways we all do.

I need to apologise for my behaviour. I have been awful to many of you. I have cheated against friends, the people who should be most able to trust me. You deserve so much better from your friends. It was not you and I was not trying to hurt you. I am just acting out my own internal frustrations and you unfairly bore the brunt of that.

Thank you to those who stood by me, or who did not know me and went out of your way to show support. You know who you are and you must know you are very dear to me. To those who have left me or felt pushed away, I understand how I hurt you and hold no animosity. I am so sorry. I wish you every success and am grateful for the times we shared.

The personal cost for me to play Magic was enormous. When not at work, I was working on Magic. It was normal to spend 50-60 hours on the game weekly – I had to close the experience gap the better players held over me somehow. I could not be smarter but I could be better prepared and practised. I barely spoke to people outside the game. I making friends with whom I perceived were the best players, so I could improve. We did not always get on and my experiences further eroded my self-worth. There were good times too. I thought it was worth it.

You cannot keep up that work rate forever, or at least I could not. Towards the end I gained weight from elevated stress levels, my hair was falling out and I now enjoy frequent back pain. Remaining physically active would have helped prevent this deterioration, and might have helped my mind too. Many of us could be more mindful of this too.

One of my eight unsuccessful PPTQ Top 8s broke my spirit. I had enough. I was putting in so much time and energy and getting so little. This is what happens when you only find joy in winning, and not in experience or camaraderie. In retrospect, I just ran a little bad and had not played the game long enough to understand it happens. A more stable person might consider such consistent results an accomplishment – for me it felt like a noose. I knew turning up to events that I would fall short. It did not help that people made sure to critique me publicly over every failure. Asking friends to stop deriding me just meant they redoubled their efforts. This was perhaps a good indicator they were not true friends.

Every event I felt my body and spirit fading. I enjoyed the game less and less. But what else did I have but Magic? I had pushed away all my non-Magic friends and did not really have any other interests. Stepping away from the game meant confronting my flaws and insecurities again. I had no more to give to the game: physically, emotionally or mentally. I could not see any other way to improve my chances of winning, which is incredibly ridiculous. Success really is just a matter of time if you apply yourself. For some reason, I thought I was so good I could not possibly improve in any other way. That is total rubbish. I was so deluded. But I felt so entitled. I deserved something in compensation for all my life that was draining away.
For a time I was winning, and people love a winner. I loved the attention. I wanted more but had nothing left to give. I certainly did not want to be a loser as I have seen how our community treats losers. I had hit a wall. I was not improving and did not have the energy to keep working as hard. There was no way for me to remedy these issues quickly.

So I cheated.

Magic is frequently not a fair game. You will beat people who are better than you, and lose to people worse than you. Frequently the outcome of a match is decided by a fortuitous draw. We cannot control that, only how we react to it. Our reaction to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is what defines us in posterity.

Following Auckland I hit a critical low point. The social structures I had come to rely on were gone. I drifted through life, barely eating, barely talking. I wanted to die. Other people wanted me to die (thanks internet!). I had to move back home, relinquishing my personal freedom in exchange for personal safety. I finally had to face my many flaws. I looked into the mirror and was not impressed by what I saw.

This is the real cost of cheating. Healthy people do not cheat. They do not need something as fleeting and temporary as victory to sustain them. They simply have more going on in their lives. For a cheater, there is nothing else – we have nothing else but a constant struggle to validate our existence.
My suspension ends in November 2016. I do not know what the future holds for me in Magic or in life. I am happy to be waking up without feeling like I am suffocating. a few people have encouraged me to return competitively but I feel there is a great deal of (justified) hostility in the community. I hope this changes but have no expectations. I have enjoyed helping others prepare for events – that may be the only aspect of the game I have any real aptitude for.
There is very little value in the moment of winning itself. The value is in preparation and growth leading to the win, and making the most of the opportunity afterwards. The journey to the top is long and you will be tested frequently. To borrow from Kafka, I could not make it past the first gatekeeper. I hope you are stronger than I am.

Treat other people well. Try to be understanding and supportive. You will receive what you put out ten-fold. For me, that was negativity and frustration. You can do better.

Do not repeat my mistakes.

If any of the above rings true for you, please speak to those close to you. If you do not have anyone, reach out. There are a lot of resources out there. I recommend:

Beyond Blue
web: www.beyondblue.org.au
ph: 1300 22 4636

Happiness is just a word to me, and it might have meant a thing or two if I had known the difference.

zemanjaski

tgm-cropped

  • Harrison

    Hey man, I’m pretty new to this game and I don’t know shit about you or what you did, but I wanted to say it takes a lot of strength to own up to your mistakes and offer help to others like you did here. You’ve taken time to analyze what led you to the point of cheating, and seemingly learned plenty about yourself and humans in general from it. I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself because in a lot of cases, learning from and admitting mistakes is all we as people can do to better ourselves. Good on you for writing this, and I hope you’re able to channel some of that energy you’ve trained on introspection for so long towards accomplishing future goals. Best of luck.

  • Christopher Bynoe

    As a person who never cheats at anything competitive it’s nice to look into one cheater’s mindset as it lets me better understand them. That was a very good read and I thank you for writing it. I hope your future pursuits bear well and I’m happy to see that (from the look of things) you have grown into a better person because of the experience.

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