My name is Colin Moll and I am a veteran player who left the Pokémon TCG for about five years, but recently started playing again. The primary explanation for my break was a demanding professional life. I have been working full-time as a project manager for a healthcare system in Portland, Oregon. I have also been working toward my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in a part-time/mostly online program through the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
I found the MPH attractive, because it is a versatile degree that is highly useful for administrative roles in healthcare, government, and other health-related organizations. The MPH program also provides excellent preparation for students that may be interested in doctoral-level education. The two disciplines of public health and medicine approach disease and other health problems (e.g., cost of healthcare, climate crisis, violence) in different ways. Public health focuses on the health of populations (rather than individuals) and the prevention of disease (rather than treatment). The MPH is grounded in science, statistics, research, policy, communication, leadership, and management. The degree is broad and the Bloomberg School of Public Health is large, so I was confident that this particular MPH program would help me narrow my interests while also protecting me from becoming pigeon-holed in too narrow a focus area.
Anyway, there have been many changes in the Pokémon TCG since 2014. Much has remained the same, however, including the best parts. The game gives many of us, myself included, an added sense of purpose and community. These are the reasons I decided to start playing again last December. I also started feeling fewer demands of my free time, because my MPH program was beginning to wrap up. All I have left to do is submit my masters thesis.
On the Fence About Playing Again
The decision to start playing again was not easy. Neither was the decision on a thesis topic. I wrestled for at least a year with all the leisurely activities that are available to us and I wrestled with all the public health problems that deserve attention. My primary objective in the MPH program has been to focus my areas of interest down to a manageable level. Somehow, at some point last fall, I started to detect some connections between these two decisions. They began to feel deeply related. I eventually realized that our community is too special to me and that no substitutes will ever exist. Almost simultaneously, I realized that our special community has some unique public health challenges.
This second realization was based entirely on the observations I have made over the past 17 years—12 as a player and 5 as a non-player, but an observant Facebook friend to many veteran players. I have known for some time that our community is at greater risk of depression and suicide. I suspect many of you know this to be true too.
Dealing with Depression in the Pokémon TCG Community
As you can imagine, there is absolutely no scholarly literature on our community. There is some literature, however, on nerd culture. This literature has confirmed that nerds, geeks, etc. are at greater risk of depression. Males are also about four times more likely to complete suicide than females. And we all know this is a male-dominated community.
This literature was enough confirmation for me. I had a loose topic in mind for my masters thesis: depression in the Pokémon TCG community. To be clear, I am not talking about blue mood or gloom. Everyone feels emotional distress and thoughts of sadness. I am talking about major depressive disorder—a clinical diagnosis. And while we may be at greater risk of depression, the Pokémon TCG confers so many protective benefits. In my case, I developed a rich social network filled with friends and mentors. This network was critical in my adolescent years when I struggled with my sexuality and the difficulties that came with that. My involvement with the game and the community helped promote resilience, critical-thinking skills, positive emotion regulation strategies, and help-seeking behaviors. I learned how to deal with emotional distress, which is something we all feel (to some degree) after we lose meaningful matchups.
But these benefits are clearly not enough to completely protect the community from depression and suicide. This is a demon that continues to torment the community and the current situation is only making it worse.
How the COVID-19 Pandemic Relates to This
Like you, I have felt the sudden effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament and League cancellations, along with future uncertainties are all taking a toll on our community. I am very concerned about the effects this may have on Juniors, Seniors, and younger Masters. I am also very concerned that the situation will prevent young people from starting the game, joining our community and benefitting from this involvement. I realize much of the audience on SixPrizes does not fall within this age range, but I know you all care about them too. As someone once said, no one ever truly leaves the game. I am guessing many of you started playing when you were younger and have kept with it for the same reasons I have. Or, maybe you are the parent of a young player.
In any case, many younger members of our community are in need of additional support right now—even if they don’t think they do. I cannot point to a single moment, mentor, or tournament that individually helped me become more resilient. The collective experience of being a player is what helped me develop in a positive way. The pandemic is interrupting this experience at a critical time of development for Juniors, Seniors, and younger Masters. I know the SixPrizes family is filled with mentors and coaches for the younger part of our community. I urge you all to offer some extra social and emotional support to this group.
What You Can Do to Support Younger Players of the Community
I must first strongly emphasize that there is a distinct difference between the function of a mentor and the function of a clinically-trained, mental healthcare provider, or therapist (I will refer to this second group as clinicians). This difference is analogous to the differences between public health and medicine. The clinician is trained to identify cases and treat patients suffering from a mental disorder such as depression. Their primary function is treatment. Clinicians can also determine if a patient should be diagnosed with depression or if their presentation is subclinical in nature. Subclinical depression is a condition in which a person has depressive symptoms, but does not meet the criteria for a depressive disorder. Subclinical cases of depression can certainly evolve into full blown cases of depression, however.
Mentors, on the other hand, are not in a position to diagnose or treat depression. They do not have the skills or training to do this. Mentors, however, can play a critical role in preventing or reducing the impact of future cases of depression. There have been many studies that have shown what I know to be true—effective mentors can promote resilience, critical-thinking skills, positive emotion regulation strategies and help-seeking behaviors. All of these factors can play a role in the prevention of depression over the entire life course of a current Junior, Senior, or young Master. This holds true even if the Junior, Senior, or young Master is not currently showing any signs of depression. The age of onset of depression has a wide range, but it seems to peak around your late teenage years and early 20s.
Mentors in the Pokémon TCG derive their unique and powerful influence from the connections that are created and sustained by the Pokémon TCG. Their influence does not come from clinical training. So, to be clear, do not attempt to be a clinician. Your role as a mentor is very different.
With that said, here are some tips on how to offer emotional and social support to the younger members of our community. First and foremost, think about what you needed at this age.
- Ask younger players about the non-Pokémon parts of their lives such as school, friends, and family. Try to get a sense of their “complete picture.” It is unfortunate that child abuse and intimate partner violence will likely increase due to effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Ask younger players to retell the story of their proudest accomplishment in the Pokémon TCG. Tell them you want a detailed account and probe for more information! Perhaps suggest they write a tournament report to document this accomplishment.
- Ask how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their lives—particularly as players. Gently remind them that this situation will end. Gently try to refocus their attention to the parts of their lives they can control. Gently try to correct any negative thinking such as “playtesting this format is now a waste of time with Rebel Clash coming out in May and no events until then.” Perhaps share some past experiences when you may have had to miss an important tournament or series of tournaments because you were too ill, too busy, too poor, etc.
- Share your age-appropriate difficulties in life—especially the difficulties that Pokémon has helped you weather.
- Share how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting your life—particularly as a player.
- Share how the COVID-19 pandemic would have affected your life if you were their age. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic could have prevented you from playing in a tournament that you had been excitedly preparing for? Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic could have prevented you from playing in a past tournament that you now regard as one of your most cherished achievements?
You should note that every interaction will likely be more impactful if you are able to share some digital facetime. This is generally superior to chat and calls.
And here are some other ideas for digitally replicating activities that you may already be engaged in with younger players, but perhaps only in person at tournaments and Leagues.
- Invite younger players into your online testing circles.
- Share your online decklists with each other.
- Invite them to a series of PTCGO games.
- Compare and analyze PTCGO collections—this is a great way to identify novel and powerful card combinations. Aim to kindle their creativity—do not diminish their “bad” deck ideas! Our youngest players are often the cleverest among us.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for all you have done for me and for everyone else in our community. I look forward to seeing your faces (in person) on the other side of this pandemic.