112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

From the Tarot Table to the Children's Table: Magic The Gathering and Ritual as Play

Derek Pedersen, Metropolitan State University of Denver

This paper will examine the relationship between ritual and play, specifically in an analysis of the history of Tarot cards, card games, and its more contemporary form, Magic: The Gathering


Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game created by game designer Richard Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast (1993); it is the modern forerunner of this genre of card game, which has spawned popular replicas including Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and hundreds of other trading card franchises. The premise is simple: the player embodies the role of a wizard, and each card represents a spell. In other words, it is a dueling card game between players who participate in a Tarot-like simulation of controlling destiny. While this card game has been wildly popular in gaming communities abroad, it has unfortunately not been examined by cultural theorists or academics. This paper seeks to investigate the lineage of card games, specifically from Tarot occultism to children’s card games. Drawing from a readings of ritual and play by such thinkers including Roger Callois and Johan Huizinga, this paper will illustrate the blurring lines between spiritual ritualism and subversive play while examining MTG. Moreover, this paper will argue, through a reading of Walter Benjamin’s essays “On Toys” and “A Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” that while we can trace the origins of most modern trading cards like MTG to occult ritual which was largely limited to hands of few, like shamans, oracles and seers, the rise of play in modern society signaled the loss of the religious aura and exclusivity. The rise of play and the fall of ritual illustrates a subversive participation and active revision of the aura even in the form of the game MTG.