On “Everyone”

A common trope when a top name takes heat in a given circle is to spread the blame—”oh, everyone does it.” This manifests once in awhile in the Pokemon Trading Card Game competitive scene, and unfortunately, it’s one of those times right now. Whatever is or isn’t true, I want to focus briefly on the statement that “everyone cheats” in the context of a top player facing allegations of cheating. Of course, as always, this is just me thinking aloud and trying to foster thought: you do whatever you feel you need to do in your life. This isn’t a commentary about individuals’ actions, but about thought processes.

I see a few ways this statement is being deployed right now, and they vary in terms of their legitimacy and (relative) health:

  • People who have been around awhile doing the “I told you so” routine. These people are ostensibly convinced that the top layers of the game are laced with cheating in nearly every case. Some of them genuinely believe it; some are engaged in hot take theatre. The ramifications are the same.
  • Newer, or less connected, players stating their impressions of the scene. When the headlines one sees are primarily negative, it’s only a natural reaction to generalize to the larger case. This is the most good-faith use of the trope possible, and the one I’m going to take the least issue with today.
  • Those excusing behavior with an “everyone has skeletons” mantra or “cheating is trying” sort of manner.
  • For a few, it’s an excuse for failure. This, without saying, is self-defeating and warrants no further discussion.

It’s important to note that I’m not really interested in discussing anyone’s behavior, just the reactions being offered to stories being taken at face value. The first and third cases are eminently dangerous in their normalization of behavior that should, categorically, never be normalized. In an environment where the involvement and engagement of new participants is of both integral and urgent concern, like what the TCG currently faces, there is no greater danger. The fact that the second case exists is a failure of the community: it maybe a failure to hold cheating accountable, a failure to highlight positivity, or any other number of things. But, I’d argue that the presence of the “I told you so” folks or “well, it’s common” defenders is a driving force behind the perception that festers in the second case.

“I told you so” is of no appreciable value to discourse. Those who genuinely believe everyone is cheating are, in my view, off-base, and I’m sorry that they experience such genuine cynicism in the case. Having played at that level for a time, while there are certainly bad apples, I both resent and confidently refute the notion that the top layers are entirely stained. I do believe these people are few in number. But, as for holding the belief: I respect that right. Those who simply seek to look trendy, spinning a hot take, are engaged in muddying the waters for those seeking to eliminate actual malice, and merely make it harder while damaging the environment for everyone.

There is no worse way to excuse a wrong than by its (supposed) commonality. Even if true, everyone’s cheating doesn’t excuse anyone’s cheating. This is an issue with societal parallels, and it’s therefore unsurprising that it comes up in these circumstances, but nevertheless sad. Permitting a wrong by this justification sends the wrong message to every single person it reaches. Of all of the ways to navigate situations like this, a pass on the basis of the actions of peers is one that ought to be least accepted.

So what? If you genuinely believe everyone at the top is cheating, I’m sorry for you. If you genuinely believe a lot at the top are cheating, don’t do the game a disservice by generalizing to all: you damage those caught up, and you damage the game’s appearance to new and less-involved players. If you’re new to my writing, you may or may not be aware that new players (with a very high innate attrition rate) corresponded to most of the giant growth of the game over the last few seasons, and a drop-off now corresponds to the drop in this season’s attendances.

Some would prefer to silence the discussion of some wrongs in the name of appearances. While it might seem that my argument could be generalized in defense of such an idea, I want to clarify that my case is more nuanced. There’s a place for ridding the apple of the rot, but it should be done with care, and the words around such proceedings matter even more than most others. The consequences of generalization are considerable and indiscriminate in ways that implore caution.

Some will want to accuse me of making too much of the proceedings of a community focused around a “children’s card game.” That children’s card game makes a few people a lot more money than can be covered by that descriptor. I was one of them once. I care what happens for the sake of my friends that have various levels of stake in it. And, more importantly, the concepts at play extend so pointedly to a number of “real” problems that I think they’re worth talking about.

There is no place for cheating, or any other litany of malicious behavior. This is an idea that extends to innumerable circles.

Don’t be part of permitting it here.

Don’t let the culture consume itself in the effort of cleansing, either.

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