Constructing a Discourse Community

James Gee says “how we speak or write create [the context in which we are communicating]” (p. 11). This is important when writing about Magic: the Gathering because for the most part the Magic community is very insular. The Magic Community naturally gathers around plays that encourage them to play, this might be a group of friends you meet in middle or high school, or people at the local game or comic shop that help support the casual and tournament players. One could do a search on the internet and find a wide network of people who share passion for the game. But the words take on different meanings to a player; this shared discourse helps to create the community. I would like to see the community grow and this insular language means that this can be hard to do.

When encountering a new player it is important make sure they know what you are doing while you play the game. For example pretend that you are at a new job, but do not understand the acronyms used. My job at a grocery store uses more acronyms than I can remember, like OOS (out of stock), OOD (out of date), etc. If you were to ask for an explanation, you expect to be answered in a polite manner. This same essentially the same response you should expect when learning the terms in a game of Magic. As you learn these new terms and use them you become part of the community; it is a “reciprocal process through time” (Gee p.11).

Unfortunately language in a game of Magic is part slang used by the players and the specific words used in the game to specify specific actions. For example earlier this year who knows how to play the game casually told a player used to the semi-competitive scene that he had a “devotion to life-gain deck.” While this is a perfectly accurate description of what his deck does, gains a lot of life and abuses cards that have effects when you gain life, the word “devotion” has a specific meaning in Magic. Devotion is a mechanic that counts specific symbols on the cards (mana symbols) and has effects on the game based on this number (Mechanics of Theros). My friend had only recently begun playing the game again and had no idea that the word “devotion” meant anything other than what it meant outside of Magic.

Due to the ever-evolving nature of the game situations like this can crop up. Every few months a new set of cards is released and every eighteen months sets of cards rotate out of the most common form of competitive Magic, called Standard. This creates a unique situation of intertextuality within the game. “All texts are interdependent: We understand a text only insofar as we understand its precursors” (Porter p. 225). The example of my friend using the one word wrong discounted him as a competitor to the other Magic player because he did not know that “devotion” became part of the “web of meaning” within the game of Magic (Porter p. 225).

Magic: the Gathering is a game based on intertextuality. As I mentioned new sets get added to the card pool and new sets rotate out, but for a short while specific sets of cards that are developed separately are played together. This leads us player to find new interactions that may not have been intentional when the cards were made, a perfect example of “authorial intention [becoming] less significant than social context” (Porter p. 225). Each new set of cards come with new keywords and mechanics that give the cards new interactions or abilities. Some of these may be returning from older sets, but they may play differently with specific sets of cards. The means that even though an experienced player has played with returning mechanics and keywords a new player is not at as much of a disadvantage as they may think. For example I took ten years off before returning to the game, but had no real problem getting right back into the community because even though mechanics and keywords were added I still understood what was going on because the base of the game was still the same.

Works Cited:

Gee, James Paul. “Discourses and Social Languages.

Porter, James. “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community.”

“The Mechanics of Theros.” 2 September 2013.


4 thoughts on “Constructing a Discourse Community”

  1. Your examples of discourse in Magic leads to a wider conversation of the discourse of games in general. Gee has another article titled “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics.” I suggest it if you are interested in Discourses. Gee continues to explain that there is no partial knowledge of a discourse and using a discourse you are not familiar with with mark as a fake within the community. In gaming, I feel that this labeling can easily turn off new learners of games. Do you think this is an issue with your experiences?

    Great insight and great post!


    1. Allen,
      The insular community of the Magic game player is a great example of a discourse community. What caught my attention was your opening reference to Gee: ‘’’how we speak or write create [the context in which we are communicating]”’. I work in a writing center at a community college, and every day in the cafeteria, I see hordes of students engaged in Magic in which I have very limited knowledge about. Furthermore, as an educator, I work hard to understand more effective ways to communicate with the vast student population that is culturally, economically, and socially diverse. When working with student on the writing process, I try to incorporate whatever discourse the student uses in his/her social world. As you described the development of language in relation to the evolution of the game, a light bulb went off when you stated, “’This creates a unique situation of intertextuality within the game. ‘All texts are interdependent: We understand a text only insofar as we understand its precursors’ (Porter p. 225).’’’ With that said, when I see those same Magic players from the cafeteria in our writing center, I can engage in their discourse to use examples from the game to use as analogies or comparisons to what they do in the writing center. Also, I can help students not feel so isolated in the writing center. In terms of learning terms/acronyms in English, “’ When encountering a new player it is important make sure they know what you are doing while you play the game…. As you learn these new terms and use them you become part of the community; it is a ‘reciprocal process through time’ (Gee p.11)”. I am going to use your point as well as Gee’s point to build a community in the writing center for Magic players to help them make connections between English skills/terms by using the discourse from their Magic world. Thank you. Very enlightening.


  2. Allen

    I liked how you discussed intertextuality within the game Magic: The Gathering. As I said previously in my last post, I don’t know much about the game. However, it does remind me of expansion packs that certain video games and computer games come with. I also don’t play those either, but I know enough to pretend I do. I know, for example, games like World of Warcraft (WOW) and The Sims are big on expansion packs. This is intertextuality in a different form. One needs to know the ins and outs of these games to fully understand and appreciate the additions that the expansion packs provide. And like you said this is the case with your example of the Magic game. I wouldn’t say, however, that it’s unfortunate. Maybe it’s unfortunate for those who are learning how to play the game, but that’s what makes them special. The fact that they have their own language separates them from other discourse communities. If this weren’t the case, Magic wouldn’t be as popular as it is.

    Your example at the grocery stores you work at is a good example, in my opinion, at intertextuality gone too far. I’m a teacher and we have many, many acronyms. Maybe in the case of your job it’s not that big of a deal to use an acronym like OOS and OOD because I’m assuming that most of that information really only pertains to those who work at the stores. However, in my job it makes it difficult to have so many acronyms when communicating with people, especially parents and students. But in terms of Magic, learning the intertextuality is, in a way, part of the fun. Sure there is going to be a learning curve, which can be a struggle. But like they say: “Anything that is worth doing isn’t easy…” or something of that nature.

    Lastly, while I do think that understanding the intertextuality of the game is important it can make others feel ostracized. I think you could have provided insight in your blog as to why people who play Magic play it in the first place and why so many others don’t play it. Stereotypically, people who play Magic are nerds, which I honestly don’t think based on those I know who play it. But why is it the type of game that while it seems so many people do play it there are so many that don’t? Is it the intertextuality that turns people off? I don’t think people have ever thought about it in that sense and I think if you gave them some understanding of the term they may surprise you with their answers. I think that there are many of us who don’t understand much of the game in the first place that it would give a better context. Also, in regards to your job is there any real reason to use acronyms? Maybe interview your boss and ask him/her the benefits of using them and whether or not it would be just as proficient to not use them. I’d be curious to read about why discourse communities are so adamant about those pesky acronyms.

    Great job,



  3. Hi Allen,

    I think I reread your descriptions of the games more times than I like to admit. Not because it was unclear, but because it is so complicated to me. It is interesting that your basic descriptions can confuse me so much, but the fact that you can leave the game for a decade then come back to it easily shows the high amount of discourse in the game. It appears that regardless of the backgrounds of the players, if they are interested in playing, they will need to dedicate themselves to that discourse.

    A few questions came to mind while I was reading your post. Well more than a few, but, there are some questions that I have that might help me understand the game, while not being confused on the actual mechanics of the game. Do you know who or which group decides upon a new deck? Also, when a new deck is submitted, does it take time to become acclimated to the new system? Are the new decks expensive? It seems like it could be quite profitable.


We appreciate your comment on this blog post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s