Emmanuel at camp

Emmanuel Williams in 2021

I freshly remember my first experience with Magic: the Gathering (shortened to Magic for the rest of this post) at OTC. Here I am, a 13-year-old kid so far tainted by society that I start my first summer at camp trying to find out where I “fit in” and who I have to pretend to be to seem cool. I’m led down to where all the other kids are hanging out as new campers arrive and such, and I see a group of campers crowded around these 2 kids, who must be the “cool kids.” But then, I walk up to see them playing.. a card game. They’re talking about summoning goblins and casting spells and I’m just.. confused. Are they cool? Are they nerds? Those archaic social categories crumbled in my mind as I realized.. they were being themselves. Doing what brought them joy and having a blast doing it. Not caring what everyone thought, because this was a place where people don’t look for you to be some cookie-cutter kid falling into some niche category in order to be valid, to be appreciated, to be loved. The only thing people look for is for you to be who you are. As my head was stirring with these revelations, the kids playing the game invited me to watch and learn how to play. They welcomed me with an overwhelming warmth that I didn’t quite understand yet. That was the day that I learned to play Magic, as well as about the magic of OTC. That was 10 years ago. That summer, I took a class that allowed me to build my very own deck for the first time, and since then over the summers, I’ve faced so many counselors and campers alike and forged so many friendships over this little card game, as it’s become sort of a camp tradition.

Ten years later

Emanuel Williams playing Magic at OTC in 2021

Fast-forward 10 years to my first time as a camp counselor. As teens have evolved in the world, still here at OTC, there are kids playing Magic. Remembering what it was like for me, not knowing anybody, not feeling like I could fit in… and how this card game sparked the flame that melted all that away, I wanted to give that to a kid, even if just one. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to teach the game, but I found that kids who struggled to make friends and participate in other activities really loved to learn and play Magic. I made it a point to play a game with those kids whenever we found time. It’s a really great way to start a conversation and get to know people! Over this past summer, many kids opened up to me about the difficulties going on both at camp and in life over a game of Magic, and others we would just joke and yell out spells at each other.

“Friendships forged in the heat of battle”

I watched so many friendships be forged in the heat of battle, and I even found myself a rival in one of the kids, who was determined to defeat me. This kid, who I didn’t even realize was in my first Magic class. This kid, who had never played before. He would reach out to other experienced players and make his deck better and better until the day finally came in the last week of camp that he was able to defeat me. His joy was palpable, and I can’t even explain how proud I was. But I realized that this kid, who had begun his summer not knowing anybody, and not being able to socialize as well as the other kids.. was now surrounded by friends. Friends who played Magic with him and friends who didn’t! I don’t even think he realized that along his mission to build a deck that could compete with mine, he ended up forming so many connections with the kids around him and with counselors that he would challenge to test out his cards! It wasn’t until then that I had realized that I succeeded in my own mission: to pass on the gift of Magic.. as well as the magic of OTC along with it.