August 10, 2004

Once upon a time in cyberspace


Misty Memories of Another World



It has been almost three years since a group of terrorists hijacked some planes and destroyed the modern Tower of Babel. Three long years of wars in Afganistan and Iraq, inspired in no small part by American paranoia. And yet, the horrible imbalance in quality of life around the world that generated the anger of the terrorists still remains. In short, nothing has improved and whole lot has actually gotten worse.

Keep this in mind, because the stage we play out our lives upon has a dramatic and lasting impact on each of us individually, often in ways we cannot begin to imagine. My own problems are related to the most innocent of modern devices, the credit card. I have been carrying and using a Citibank Mastercard for almost 20 years now. Over the past three years it has become almost impossible for me to use my credit card online. You see, Citibank keeps a database of personal information and when you try to use your credit card online, the personal information you provide at the shopping cart page is compared with the personal information in the database and if they match, the sale is authenticated. But the Citibank database does not like non-US addresses and I have lived and worked in Japan for eighteen years now! Whenever I try to buy something online, the databases don't match, and my purchase is declined. This problem has become noticeable worse ever since 9/11 and in one case, an online store told me straight up that they would not accept an American credit card with an overseas billing address! Part of the problem is that modern American businesses have no motivation to seek out overseas customers. Paranoia and xenophobia have finally replaced greed and covetousness as the primary drive behind American business. Although, in all honesty, fear of reprisal has always played at least a minor role in American business practices.

And not only in America, either, but that is for another day.

That brings us finally to the real point of today's post: Magic!

I played Magic: the Gathering ("MTG", to its many online fans) from the spring of 1999 to the summer of 2002. It was, and remains, one of the most challenging and rewarding card games ever invented. My recent return to MTG came about because I cannot play Lineage II at work. At first, I was visiting the forums and posting my very own words of wisdom, but not many people enjoyed reading them. I did not want the immaturity of forum regulars to damage my experience of this great game, so I drifted away from the the discussion groups and began looking around for something else to do when things are slow at work. I wandered into Usenet again, especially Cuddleland, AFO, and RAP. Usenet does not have as many immature contributors as it once did, but it still remains a wild and woolly place where flame wars rage endlessly and an unwary user could easily find their pride and joy reduced to a heap of useless ash. Not a nice neighborhood, but fun if you can handle the fire and the fury.

Then I broke down and wrote to a friend of mine who works at the company which makes Magic: the Gathering. He dropped the hint that now could be a very rewarding time to return to Magic: the Gathering. Specifically, the next major pro set will be built around Japanese legends, folklore, and myths. Now how could I refuse such an opportunity?

The new set is called "Kamigawa", which probably means "god river", but could have a dozen different meanings depending on the kanji the designers were thinking of when they came up with the name. Judging from the official introduction (see the link in the last sentence), it will be one of the most dynamic and exciting sets they have ever produced. Well, I want to play it! That in turn meant finding some way to brush up my Magic skills, because MTG is not a simple game. My friend recommended Magic Online, which seemed like a fine idea to me! I headed over and downloaded the client, but couldn't get logged on. Why? Because in order to log on I have to pay $9.99 for the client (refundable in store credit, mind you) and the Magic Online store will not accept the credit card I have been carrying and using longer than some of their employees have been alive!

And thus we have the long rant above about American paranoia. I don't know why, but it is getting worse with every passing year. Don't believe me? Check CNN!

I don't know what kind of world you kids think you're building, but trust me, when you get to be my age, you'll be very sorry you went about it this way.
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