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A Winning Strategy
by R. Mozlin Insler, O.D.

About 2 months ago, my 11 year old son came upon a booster pack for a card game called Magic: the Gathering. Eric loves games, especially strategy games. His interest in Pokemon cards had waned, primarily because he couldn't find anyone interested in playing the game. Merely collecting and trading the cards had become boring. He had recently finished reading The Hobbit, and his mind was receptive to Magic's fantastic creatures which lurk in swamps and draw power from mountains. The timing was perfect and Eric invested in a Magic: the Gathering starter set. That left him with one problem-- he needed an opponent. Like my son, I found myself drawn to the game by its fantasy theme and its strategic nature. And so, I volunteered to learn to play Magic and become a worthy nemesis. That was the beginning of our family style journey into Magic: the Gathering. We each grabbed a deck and we began to play Magic virtually every night. Most nights, Eric won. Sensing the power of his deck, he was reluctant to switch with me. One night I discovered he had gone so far as to label the decks. His deck was named the Deck of the Roaring Army. Mine was named the Deck of the Aging Wizard.

Soon we stepped up to the advanced level, which increased the complexity and strategic possibilities of the game. I kept losing. Many asked me, "Why do you play if you keep losing?" Most often I gave them the simple answer, "Because it's fun!!" In reality the answer is more complex. I keep playing because I can feel my brain working. No two games are the same and I find myself exploring new strategies to optimize my available resources (make the most of a bad situation). I think offense. I think defense. I think what if? I think what if not? I feel smarter after playing Magic. Then I look at my son. I can see the, gears turning and the light bulbs burning as he gets ready to launch a major assault or lets me know when I do something incredibly stupid. Magic has helped develop his ability to view a problem from several perspectives. I'm sure this skill will serve him well now and forever. Certainly other strategy games such as chess can accomplish the same thing, but kings, bishops and castles just can't be compared to Abyssal Specters, Bog Imps, and Trained Armodons.

As much as I was enjoying playing Magic, losing every night was getting to be a drag. I began to invest time and money in transforming myself into a winner. I bought strategy guides and booster packs. I built and rebuilt decks. I joined an on-line discussion group to seek advice. Overkill, you say? It's just a game? Perhaps, but I was enjoying these learning activities almost as much as actually playing the game. It reminded me of times when, as a child, I would play a game against myself because none of my friends were around and the PC had not yet been invented. Thinking through all these scenarios and strategies was almost like playing the game by myself. I could feel my cognitive skills growing as I prepared to take down my 11 year old son.

The investment paid off. I started winning! When I won two in a row, Eric exclaimed, "Mom, you're improving!" That brings me to the major reason for writing this article. I am sure most of you assumed that this tale was being told by Eric's father, not his mother. Why aren't there more girls involved in learning and playing strategy games such as Magic? Are girls intimidated by the basic premise of most of these games-- do whatever it takes to kill your opponent before they kill you? Of far greater importance is the question, what are the girls doing while the boys are playing Magic? Are they involved in strategic games or other activities which are enhancing their cognitive skills and problem solving abilities?

I don't have a daughter, but if I did, I would teach her to play Magic. I would also teach her to play chess, chinese checkers, backgammon, Stratego, Yahtzee, and Sim City. I would want her to develop her competitive spirit while her mind is engaged in activities requiring strategic planning. As a developmental optometrist, I understand the relationship between the visual perceptual skills which are enhanced by these activities and functional success during our everyday lives. Strategy games have enormous potential to feed the growth of visual cognitive and sequential processing skills and thereby augment the outcomes of a vision therapy program. Drawing upon this potentiality can successfully expand the reach of a vision therapy program beyond the walls of the therapy room. For example, you can establish a lending library of games for your patients and use games as rewards for compliance and good attendance. Even better, host "Family Game Night" once a month. Charge a minimal admission fee and donate the proceeds to a local or national charity such as P.A.V.E.

Yes, we can serve as role models for our young patients and hang posters of successful female athletes such as Mia Hamm in the office. We can also become decidedly more proactive in our attempts to extend our reach beyond the office into the communities in which we live and practice. Over the last few years, "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" has become a national phenomenon. First, it was mothers taking their daughters to work. Then, fathers began to participate, too. I propose we start a "Teach Your Daughter to Play a Strategic Game Day." At first, the responsibility would lie primarily with the fathers, but soon, mothers would learn to play and gaming would become a family event. Future generations of girls and boys would grow up to become thinking, enterprising, thoughtful, smart and successful women and men.


Rochelle Mozlin Insler, O.D.
February 17, 2000

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