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A Naughty Word

Besides listening to jPod and blogging, my other online pastime is Magic: the Gathering Online. Magic is a collectible card game, and was the first. I realise that not everyone will realise what this means, so I’ll give you a quick rundown: you buy packs of trading cards, which instead of having sportsmen on them, have pictures of fantastic monsters and wizards blowing each other up. Below this picture is a small box of text. You make up your own deck of these trading cards, find a friend, and play game of Magic with him/her.

If you’re still not sure what Magic is, this article on the official Magic site entitled “WHAT IS MAGIC?” might make it clearer.

Magic is quite popular in Japan actually, so much so that tournament reports (yes, there are regular organised tournaments) are usually written in both English and Japanese. The four semifinalists from the most recent Grand Prix (yes, we have a Grand Prix) were named Kurihara, Osawa, Tsumura and Hron. All except one are 日本人 (I’ll let you work out for yourself which one). The world champions (yes, there is a world championship!) for the last two years have both been 日本人. In 2005, the World Champion, World Team Champion and Player of the Year were all from Japan. The only other country with such a record is the USA, which invented the game.
I guess that Magic appeals to the Japanese psyche; the diligence that goes into 盆栽 and the discipline of 武士度 melds together to make some damn good Magic players. Or maybe I’m looking too deeply into it. Let’s just say that before every tournament, the commentators (yes, we even have commentators) always mention the Japanese players, and speculate on what lethal innovation might lay waste to their opponents.

Recently there was an entire set of cards based on Japanese mythology: Kamigawa was another plane where Ninja, Samurai and other warriors would fight each other. There was a tribe of warrior human/foxes called Kitsune, and killer rat-samurai known as Nezumi. I mean, the race was called Kitsune, and the rats actually called themselves the Nezumi, in both the English and Japanese versions of the game. A little difficult to explain, as the Japanese word for fox is Kitsune. Some of the monsters had cool names: 夜の星、黒瘴 (Kokusho, the evening star), 深き刻の忍者 (Ninja of the Deep Hours), 激憤明神 (Myojin of Infinite Rage) and so on.

Magic also has an online version: instead of holding cards in your hand and putting them on a table, they come up on your monitor, and you just point and click. This is usually what I’m doing if I’m online, and an engrossing game is often the reason I must listen to jPod lessons 3 or 4 times before understanding the dialogue.

One can also chat during a game of Magic, much like instant messaging programs like ICQ or MSN messenger. If I notice someone’s online name is Japanese, I usually try to coax some converstion out of him/her. Sometimes this is difficult though; some people like to concentrate when they play.

Conversation is sometimes difficult for other reasons too. Some people with Japanese aliases aren’t actually Japanese, and the program doesn’t allow for ひらがな so everything must be typed in plain looking Romaji. I chanced upon another weird problem the other day.

Tanaka_the_Destroyer was my opponent, and he was making a complicated play. I wondered what he was up to. I had to ask. 「何しっていますか」 was my question, transcribed into Romaji as “Nani shite imasuka”. But my message came up as “Nani _____ imasuka”.

I was intruiged, and tried again. Same result. The present progressive form of the verb する () was coming up, as a big blank. I tried many more times, but to no avail. Annoyed, I wrote a message to one of the Adepts, who are online helpers. It also had strange blank spaces:

“This ____ thing isn’t working properly, there are blank spaces everywhere and it’s really ________ me off.”

Eureka. I had it. The Gaelic slang word for ‘faeces’ and the present progressive of the Japanese verb ‘to do’ when written in Romaji script are exactly the same. The program was censoring something it saw as a naughty word.

Eventually I got the question across to Tanaka_the_Destroyerさん by using the less polite “Nani yatte imasuka”. He answered my question by hurling a 20 point fireball at me. I never even saw it coming. He had been toiling away diligently on the other side of the table, building up resources slowly but surely, before striking only once, but lethally.

I wasn’t too peeved about being beaten, but the fact that I couldn’t communicate properly with my opponent did annoy me a little.