I am releasing previews from the upcoming Humans of Magic book, leading up to its release. Here is an interview with Gerry Thompson that I hope you will enjoy.
Who is Gerry Thompson?
- Platinum Level Pro
- 2 Pro Tour Top 8s (including 1 win); 10 Grand Prix Top 8s (including 2 wins)
- Regular Star City Games contributor
- One of the nicest guys in Magic today 🙂
This interview was recorded in October 2016.
I reached out to Gerry after he revealed his ongoing struggles with depression on Reddit. We ended up talking in length about the topic. Despite it being as far away from Magic talk as you can get, Gerry’s love for the game shone through in deeply touching ways. I walked away from the conversation with some new insights, and am honored to share it with the Magic community.
James: Gerry, man. How’s it going?
Gerry: Not too bad, James. How are you?
James: I am doing excellent. I am very excited to have you today on the show to talk about a bunch of things.
Gerry: Me too. You’re asking the hard-hitting questions, which I like.
James: [Laughs] I hope so. But whereabouts are you tonight? Are you on the East Coast?
Gerry: I am on the East Coast. I currently live in Roanoke, Virginia. I just woke up from a nap, so I’m feeling pretty good.
James: Is it normal for you to have naps in the evenings?
Gerry: This is kind of a recent thing. Before I would be a lot more busy, and now there’s not a lot for me to do this weekend. So I’m not go-go-go or anything. But I woke up kind of early. Just sleeping from 4:00 am to 10:00 am. So it’s not like I’m really getting a full night’s rest or anything. But then afternoon hits me and yeah—I need an hour and a half.
James: Is it unusual for you to not have a tournament on a weekend, for a change? Are you going out there to a tournament literally every weekend, or every other weekend?
Gerry: Well, different people handle it differently. For me, I’m in the town where Star City Games is located. And a lot of the other people that play as much Magic as me that live here go to Open Series events. They go to Grand Prix. They go to Pro Tours when they’re qualified. I think we play a little bit more Magic than the average Pro player, who is mostly just doing Grand Prix and Pro Tours. So yeah, most of the time, there is a tournament every single weekend. This is a point for me where I went pretty hard for the first six months of the year—when I moved back—and that was great. Just got my mind off stuff and gave me something to focus on and everything. And now I’m scaling it back a little bit. There is Eternal Weekend this weekend, which I’m sure you would be attending if you were here, but—
James: Yeah, absolutely. Wish I could. Are you going to be doing that?
Gerry: I’m not, actually. I sold most of my Legacy cards a while ago. And I could get a deck, but I don’t have Vintage stuff either. It’s a tournament with prizes, and the prizes are good, but it’s not really working towards any of my goals. So I’m just going to sit this one out.
James: That’s fair. You mentioned that you just moved there. It’s been six months? Or has it been since the beginning of the calendar year?
Gerry: I moved just in January. There was an Open in Cincinnati during New Year’s. I think I just ended up here on January third. I flew from Seattle to the Open and then rode back with some Roanoke guys.
James: You were in Seattle before that. That was working with Wizards, is that right?
Gerry: Yeah, I moved there for Wizards and then ended up living there, but I was still just around in Seattle.
James: The reason why I reached out to you is because you recently wrote a very interesting piece on Reddit. It’s unlike a lot of the Magic writing I’ve seen. It was a response to someone else’s article. So just for a full context—I’m wondering if you could set that up. Take the listeners through what was going through your mind as you were writing that. Or what led to that. And also just a bit of recap so that I can—I could recap it for you, but I don’t want to represent you unfairly. Just go into that piece of writing and what lead to that.
Gerry: Sure. So as you mentioned, it was a rebuttal to an article that Matt Sperling posted on his blog. It was not written by him, but it was written by another professional Magic player. I know who that person is now, but I did not know at the time of the writing. And I read it a week before I posted my thing and just kind of let it go. But I definitely saw myself in various parts of what they wrote about it. Basically about the grind and how everything blurs together and it’s just like, “What are we doing here?” And it definitely takes a toll on you—all the traveling. And at times being a professional Magic player is not all that rewarding because you’re just grinding Grand Prix and stuff. And part of it—which I don’t think it was explicitly mentioned in the article—but one of the things that I always felt kind of strange was just how quickly you’re forgotten. You can win a tournament one week and the next weekend there’s already another tournament someone else won. And they just forget you. And you see someone a month later and they’re just like, “Yeah dude, I don’t remember anything that you’ve accomplished this year.” People forget very quickly, so in that sense it’s just not very rewarding and that kind of adds to it. And I’ve definitely felt like that at various points in my career. For me personally it was—well, depression kind of leads to a lot of that, where just everything is kind of dulled. All of your victories are dulled, and then the negative stuff just hits you a little bit harder. You just dwell on the negative. But it was like yeah, I definitely relate to this. I see where this person is coming from. But at the same time, it’s like me six or eight years ago. Since then, I’ve just learned to be happy with what I do have and figure out the good parts. And why I keep doing it. For me, once my focus shifted a little bit, it wasn’t so much like, “Oh, I want to win all these tournaments and be revered as a professional Magic player.” It was, “No, I really like my writing gig,” which I started doing basically to just help pay my bills. But it just got to a point where people actually want to read my stuff—because it helped them. I would get messages from people: “Dude, you wrote about this deck with this thing, with the sideboarding guide. But you explained this thing that I hadn’t really thought about, and that helped me win this tournament.” And it’s just like, man! I am kind of making a difference. And then the more I went to tournaments—especially when the Open Series blew up from 2010 to 2011—I just found myself signing cards and play mats. And I was more of a real celebrity. It felt that way. That’s weird, because when I started playing Magic in the early 2000’s, there was no social media. These people were not very approachable. I remember people like Antonino De Rosa, for example. I’m just going to throw him under the bus—he was kind of a jerk. And if you were a random dude and you tried to go up and talk to these dudes, they’d be like, “Dude, leave us alone. You’re not part of the cool kids. You can’t talk to us.” And now you go up to pro players and they’re happy to talk to you. You have a better insight on who they are because you get to follow them on social media. The pros and the random people are far more connected than they used to be a decade and a half ago. And that’s definitely better for Magic. But yeah, it just got to the point where I’m signing stuff. I’m hanging out with people, and they’re taking selfies with me, and it just blew my mind. And that is part of my job now. And I don’t want to say that I only do it because it’s part of my job. I genuinely like the people, which is another reason why I think that we’re here. But between me shifting into this teacher role, and this person—I could be this person where part of my job on the weekend, or part of my goal—not even necessarily part of my job—was to just brighten people’s days. I want people to go to Magic tournaments and then go home and be like, “Man that was a great weekend! I want to do this again.” I want Magic to be a thing that is just all inclusive; super fun for everyone. They enjoy their time. And if part of what they want to get out of going to tournaments is seeing their favorite pros, and talking to them—maybe becoming friends with them and stuff like that—it’s just like, “Hell yeah, I want to be a part of that.” My focus shifted to that stuff instead of the tournaments themselves. And yeah, I still want to join these tournaments and crush a bunch of people and win, and all that stuff. But it’s not everything. And if you are trying to get that out of Magic—just that part—you might be disappointed. And reading that article, it was like, “I kind of get where this person is coming from. That was me a few years ago. I definitely get that.” Then after that, I was at home. I decided not to go to a tournament. The Pro Tour just happened. I was not feeling great because of depression and all that jazz. And then Friday, 9:00 pm, I watched a—are you familiar with Super Smash Brothers at all? Like, Super Smash Brothers Melee?
James: Yeah, I watched that documentary about it.
Gerry: Yeah, so that was a thing that I watched a little bit after I left Wizards [of the Coast]. I was like, “Oh, you know, I’m not playing great because I’m super rusty.” And then I watched that documentary one of the weekends where I went to a tournament. I just got hyped up, man. I was just—I started caring a lot more. Before, it was just that you take it one match at a time. You can’t be thinking about what record you need to make Top 8, or how many points you need for this and that. For me, I felt that it was much better for me if I just separated the emotion from all of it, and just played a little bit more robotic. Just focused on playing well in individual spots. Not so much the types of goals that would make me happy or anything—just one match at a time, super slow. And then I watched this Super Smash Brothers documentary, which is on YouTube. It’s four and a half hours. It’s nine episodes, thirty minutes each. And I don’t know why. It connected with me. And I showed it to other people and they haven’t had necessarily the same response as me. But for me, I just loved it. I just got super hyped up. And it’s this thing that’s about the people of the game. The people who, during their era, were the best. It has a pretty big impact on me, and I just love it. I wish that stuff existed for Magic. But recently on [Team] Red Bull, there’s this dude named Leffen. They did a six-part mini-series on him, very much in the same vein. And he was banned from his local community because he’s kind of an asshole. And then he got unbanned. Started playing a lot more and became known as the Godslayer. There were these five guys, or five “Gods,” that win every single Smash tournament. No one can beat them. And he’s the guy that beats them. You could just say there’s a sixth “God.” But no, it’s just much better to call him the Godslayer. And he might just be the best player in the world. Who knows? But then he had some visa issues. They won’t let him leave the country because he was getting paid by an American e-sports organization. He couldn’t play for a while. And it’s just this documentary that’s about him. He goes to a couple of tournaments in Canada. He’s out of practice because he can’t play. He’s the best of the best, right? So he does kind of get inside his own head, loses, goes back to his house. He takes a nap, wakes up, and has an e-mail that says his visa has been approved. And well, it’s on now. And then it’s a hype thing where it’s his comeback. I was just like, “Okay, this makes me feel a lot of things.” And the very last thing I want to do is just stay home this weekend and not game. So, I just booked a flight to Providence, last minute. [Laughs] Thankfully got everything worked out. Got some flights pretty cheap. Landed, drive to Greensborough, which is two hours away in the middle of the night, to catch my 6:00 am flight. And I got there. My flight was delayed. Got rebooked on a different airline, but I had a couple of hours to kill in the airport. And for whatever reason, this article popped up in my mind. I was like, “I’m going to write a reply to that.” So I’m sleep deprived. I’m already making weird decisions. And it’s not like I just came up with all that stuff off the top of my head or anything. I spent an hour and a half writing 1,500 words, which for me is pretty good. I definitely don’t write my articles at that kind of clip, But yeah, this is all stuff that I thought about. And I tried to write a book in 2010 about this stuff. And it was basically just about how I had to deal with a bunch of stuff in my life. And I still am where I am, mostly because of hard work and perseverance and all that happy uplifting stuff. But it was just the natural counterpoint to the article that this person wrote. I posted my writing, hands shaking, as I’m hovering over the “send” button. Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to let all these people into my actual life, and my feelings, and all that stuff? Because I’ve been burned before. So, my natural—
James: We all have.
Gerry: Yeah, my natural instinct is just like, “Nah, don’t do it man! Don’t do it! Just be surface level stuff.” But no, I hit “send” and it made my weekend. It was great. The response that I got was truly phenomenal.
James: Yeah. I looked at some of the comments there. People coming in saying they had met you somewhere and recounting their stories, which was great. I can see what you’re saying is that it is a reaction to the previous writing that someone did, which makes your piece more of a cautionary tale. You said at the end, “Don’t do this.” It’s very hard to make it as a professional player. But then you’re also very frank and realistic about—if you do decide to do this, this is what it’s like. And here is the good and the bad. That really touched a lot of people, including myself.
Gerry: I’m glad to hear that. That was kind of the point of it. I love Magic. I want it to succeed. I want people to be happy doing this, and I want someone out there to say, “I think I’m good enough. I think I can do this.” I want them to do it. You only get so many chances in life to do the thing that you actively want and just go for it. If you actually think you can do it, do it. But it’s not easy and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It is going to be tough, but there are people going through similar things. I made an off-handed comment where I say this is stuff that I go through with Magic. But this is just life stuff, really. “Okay, I have this job which I love. I’m pretty passionate about it, too. But, look! There are downsides.” That is going to be the same with probably anything in life. And if you can find something that’s all upside, by all means continue doing that. But yeah, it is doable. But I don’t want to be overly negative or overly positive. It is definitely somewhere in the middle.
James: Do you find, though, that Magic players—whether they come up to you, or people you interact with, or people you hear about—do you think that Magic players are unrealistic about this kind of thing? Because to me, the parallel is a few years back, when there was the online poker boom. People thought, “I should just quit school and do that.” I’m not saying it’s exactly the same. But for competitive gaming, I’m wondering if part of the reason you wrote it is also because people have these unrealistic expectations of what it’s like.
Gerry: Yeah. If people were more well informed, I’m sure I would have not felt any sort of urgency to write this piece. Because if they know this stuff already, there’s no point in me writing it. What value does it bring to the table? Why would people actually want to click on this and read it? Yeah, there is the [Chris] Moneymaker effect, where you see these people and think, “Oh, this guy is getting showered with money, and he’s not very good, therefore I could do it.” Certainly, people are a bit uninformed. They either assume that it’s great and we all are rich, or it’s awful and we all just live in our moms’ basements. Again, it’s somewhere in the middle.
Gerry: And different people do different things. Luis [Scott-Vargas] is killing it. He basically has four jobs. I’m sure he is fine financially. He is basically the best at what he does. He might be the most successful professional Magic player. But he’s got his hands in a bunch of different pots, too. He’s got the Channel Fireball thing. He’s working at Dire Wolf Games. He’s doing commentary. Top-eights every Pro Tour. He’s got a lot of stuff going on. And then there are the people that only play the Grand Prix and Pro Tours. Don’t write articles but have a full-time job. There are the people that live in Roanoke and just make three pieces of content every week and go to the Opens. And for the Roanoke people, the EV [Expected Value] for Open Weekend is probably $500. Because they are hella good at Magic and there’s no Luis in these tournaments. So yeah, there are a lot of different ways that you can do this Magic stuff. You can just buy and sell cards. I know that’s what a lot of the European pros do when they come to American Grand Prix and stuff. Some of the Brazilians buy iPhones and resell them or whatever. There are a lot of things that you can do to make money and it all depends on how much money you think you need to live. I can live a pretty bland lifestyle. I don’t have to go out to eat every night. I don’t have to go see movies. Go to the bar and run $100 tabs or anything like that. I’m pretty minimalist, so I don’t have to do much. But there are other people that maybe need those things.
James: Let’s touch on one of the biggest things in the writing—because it quite honestly surprised me to read it. I don’t know if you posted this before—it sounds like maybe not—that you had been dealing with depression for most of your life. I’m thinking back to the interactions that we had online. That one random time that we met in Seattle before GP Seattle in that tournament at Mox Boarding House. Totally random story. I can’t remember if I told you. You were just very nice to people around you, and you’re holding the door open for me as I was coming up behind you. Things like that. I had no idea—and I think a lot of people have no idea—that you have been dealing with depression for a long time. Was that the first time you wrote about this, or have you wrote about it in the past?
Gerry: I can’t remember a time where I might have mentioned this out in the open. My close friends are aware—most of them.
Gerry: But yeah, there’s this stigma attached to it. Where it’s—again, people are not well informed. They don’t know that it’s a literal illness and not some sort of weakness. But whatever. Instead of necessarily trying to change how people view things—instead of just being like, “Look, this is an illness,” and trying to speak out about it and stuff—it was just like, “Well, if they’re going to think that this is a weakness, I should probably not say anything, right?” So, it is a cop out. It is definitely not for the greater good. But it’s a big part of my story. It’s a big part of who I am and the stuff that I’ve been through. So it made sense to go into the Reddit post because I wanted to be very frank and upfront and everything. And people were like, “Yeah, I’m going through this too.” A lot of people.
James: You have to be the one to educate me, but everything that I know about depression is—yes, it is in fact an illness. It’s not something that you can just decide, “I don’t want to have it anymore. I can just tell myself to be happy or positive and it just goes away.” In the article you mentioned that “you’ve been depressed for as long as you can remember.” When did you first realize this? And how did you find out about it? It’s a label, but how did you find out about this label and realize, “Hey, I’m actually going through this”?
Gerry: I can’t pinpoint a specific time or anything. It’s weird. Maybe the depression is coloring my idea of things and my memories. I have no idea. But I know that, at 13-14-15 [years old], I’m sure I felt the exact same way as I do now. Somewhere in high school I realized that this was a thing, but I don’t even think that I knew the gravity of it. I was just like, “Okay, yeah I guess this is a thing.” But maybe I thought like a lot of other people do, who are just like, “Maybe I should just stop being depressed.” And as it turns out, it doesn’t work that way. There is no cure. There are treatments. There is medication. Going to therapy helps, stuff like that. But medications are different for everyone. There are a lot of side effects. There are pros and cons, certainly, to taking them. It takes a while for you to actually figure out what works for you. Because depression affects different people differently. So, I honestly don’t know. I just know that I’ve felt this way for a long time. I don’t remember a time where the switch just flipped, and I was like, “Oh, this is like a real thing and I should try and get help for this.” Even up until recently I haven’t really done anything about it. It was maybe pride. Or I’m just like, “I’m strong. I can deal with this.” I don’t know. There wasn’t an a-ha moment. I actually went back and looked up this article. A friend of mine, Noah Weil, who also now lives in the Seattle area—I don’t know if you’ve ever met him?
James: I haven’t had the chance to meet him, no.
Gerry: Okay. He was from Minnesota also, which is where I was born, and grew up. We knew each other. We interacted a little bit. And he wrote this article on depression on Star City in 2005. And I remember reading that article. I was like, “Oh, this is a real thing and it is very powerful.”
James: What is it like? You mentioned things like, “there’s some days where you just don’t want to get out of bed.” What is it like to actually be in that sort of mindset?
Gerry: So—I am no expert, but I can tell you how this affects me. It affects everyone differently. So I don’t want to speak for anyone else.
Gerry: But for me, personally, it is—instead of you have this good experience, this positive experience—you do this fun thing, or you get rewarded somehow—instead of it being a positive, I feel like it brings me up to even. Does that make sense?
James: So, you should be feeling—I don’t know, not should be—but you would expect to feel elated or great that you went to the theme park, or you won a tournament. But instead, you just feel not unhappy. Is that the way to put it?
Gerry: Pretty much. And then give it enough time, my brain could find a way to make me feel unhappy about it. It is not about happy/unhappy, necessarily. It’s certainly not about that all the time. But yeah, it just kind of dulls everything. It dulls just the amount of positivity you get out of certain things—at least for me. And yeah, there are some days—and this has not happened a lot or anything—but there are some days where it’s just like nothing really feels like it’s worth it. Why should I bother getting out of bed, you know? It is very difficult to get motivated and actually want to do things because you don’t necessarily remember the positive reinforcement of the good feelings you had after doing those things. So there are times where I’ll sit at home and it’s like—I have whatever I want in my house. I have the Internet. I have Magic Online. I have Hearthstone. I have video games. I have books. I’ve all these things that stimulate me. And then there are just times where I just sit here because none of that stuff seems worth doing.
James: I see.
Gerry: One of the reasons I continued playing Magic…I never went to college or anything. I played Magic because I enjoyed doing it and I was good at it, you know? And I don’t necessarily like starting over. I would like to learn how to play guitar for example, but I’m not going to devote 10,000 hours to it. So I just don’t do it, right? But playing Magic for a living gave me the free time to do whatever I want, to enjoy these things that I could enjoy because I love doing them. And now I have so many video games that have been un-played, books that have been un-read, and it’s just very strange to me.
James: Does depression prevent you from taking certain actions as well? Because I can tell you that I’m not depressed. But I have those days, too, where it’s just—I don’t want to do anything. And sometimes I wonder what’s the meaning of it all. In fact, I’m starting to realize with age—you’re in your 30’s as well, right?
Gerry: Yeah, I’m 32.
James: Okay, so we’re around the same age. I realized there are some days where you kind of think, “What’s the point of it all?” And then there are other days where you feel like, “Yeah, this is good. You know, I’m going to do one-two-three-four, and carpe diem. I’m going to make the most out of the day.” I can’t speak for everybody, but for me it fluctuates. So I’m wondering if there’s any—I’m not trying to be prescriptive—but are there any sort of techniques or methods that you sort of adopted over the years, that might help you get over that? And I know that this question sounds kind of condescending, but I’m wondering if you’ve tried it? I’m genuinely curious if there’re things that you’ve done, as you’re getting older and more experienced, to try and navigate this.
Gerry: I know what you mean and I appreciate you trying to be very careful with your verbiage. I think a lot of people are not. But you get it. So…Pokemon Go was actually a pretty big thing, but it wasn’t for the reason that you might think. It got me out of the house and just forced me to interact with people, which is overall just a good thing and just brightens my mood. I do love people and you get out of the house, you walk around. You just get outside, get some exercise and stuff. And exercise is one of the things that is proven to help with this. It kind of mitigates things a little bit. And yeah, I would get up in the morning and instead of being like, “Oh, nothing feels worth doing,” I was like, “Oh, man, I’m three candies away from a Vinosaur or whatever.” So I was like, “Let’s go find some Bulbasaurs.” Right? And then it gets me out of the house. I come back. I feel good because I was out there. I was accomplishing some stuff. I had a lot of fun. And then, from that point, it’s easier to just do the other stuff, you know? Now that I’ve been out in the world and I’ve interacted with some people. And maybe had a run-in with a police officer that was wondering why I was on these train tracks, or whatever, right? It’s like, “Okay, I’ve interacted with these people. Everything feels a little bit easier. It’s not as difficult as it seems. Now I can go to the grocery store.” Right? But there are days…now I don’t play that game very often, probably because I got hooked into Hearthstone. But yeah, now I’ll get up and I’m certainly not going to leave for Pokemon Go because I literally got them all. What’s the point? But it’s like, “Oh, man! Should I go to the grocery store? I really don’t have a lot of stuff to eat.” And it’s like, “Well, I don’t really want to interact with people, so maybe I’ll just order a pizza.” And then I just stay in and just overall not feel great about my situation. And then there’s the self-loathing stuff, where it’s like, “God! I can’t even go outside. This is pathetic!” And that just makes it worse. Just this downwards spiral. So yeah, basically find some ways to get out, interact with people. Exercise just in general is a good thing, but if you’re playing Pokemon Go and you’re walking five miles while also interacting with people—double positive—that’s good. Yeah, there are things that help. And for all the stuff with my brain telling me, “You don’t want to go outside. You don’t want to interact with people. You don’t want to do anything,” doing the opposite of that helps a lot. So it is just about getting over that hump and that generally makes me feel a little bit better, you know?
James: There are things that work, but I think the tricky thing is that your brain also tells you, “Is it worth it?” You’re a smart guy. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the rational with the irrational. You know you should go out and just go to the grocery store and interact with people. But then you’re wondering, “Hey, my fridge is full. I don’t need to go out.” So, there’s kind of a tension in that, right?
Gerry: Yeah, absolutely!
James: Okay. And you’re very self-aware, obviously. I mean, we’re talking about it. Do you try to keep the way you feel under control? And is control the goal when it comes to this kind of thing?
Gerry: I find it weird that you bring up this question because, yeah, it’s a big part of who I am. I want to be in control.
Gerry: But no, it’s just weird that not a lot of people notice that. I don’t know if it was something for me specifically, or if it was related to depression—why you brought this up. But it is a big deal for me. And I felt like, probably as a kid, not a lot of things were in my control. And now, basically, from 21 [years old] on was when it was just—I’m on my own. And even a little bit earlier than that for sure, but it was just like, “Okay, this is it. I’m on my own.” If I want something, I need to do it because no one else is going to do it for me. That kind of thing. And I don’t know. It has been a big part of my life for sure. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t have any alcohol until I was 23. I kind of wished that I did not have alcohol past that, right? But I’m not really big on marijuana or any other sorts of drugs. I need to stay in control.
James: Well, let me put it another way. I think my question is a little bit flawed, and I think you touched on it. I mean we’re all, in the end, in control of ourselves, right? What we want to do. In the end, we are all responsible for our own actions. It’s more about, from what you’re telling me—and I’m learning this as well as we’re talking—it’s just who you are, right? And that’s fundamentally it. Is that fair?
Gerry: It is part of my identity for sure.
Gerry: But as far as the feelings thing, I can’t keep them under control, you know? That’s the thing. I can’t just tell my brain to make me feel good or whatever. That just doesn’t work. There are not days where I wake up and I want to feel like crap. It just happens. And to some degree, that is one of those things that kind of gets to me. It’s just like—I should be able to control this, or whatever. And I can control it to some degree if I get out and do these things. That kind of lessens the effects of the depression and stuff. I could get on medication for example, which I’m currently not on, and I wanted to be on for multiple years. But it’s just difficult because of that feeling of—if I start taking these pills, it might help my depression, but am I going to be me? And that’s terrifying, you know?
James: That’s the opposite of being in control, I guess.
James: It’s great that we’re talking about this because I think it’s brave. I can see now why your hands might have been shaking as you were posting the article. Now that you’ve posted it, there are people coming out and telling their stories. Do you think there’s any way—maybe this is more of a PSA, a public service announcement—but is there a way that we might be able to recognize these signs of depression in people around us? With our friends? Is there anything that we can do to potentially help them?
Gerry: You know, this is probably one of the saddest things about it—if not the saddest. You generally can’t tell. I feel like a lot of the people who are suffering from depression are very, very good at overcompensating for that when they’re around people. Robin Williams I think is the most recent case of a person who was genuinely kind. Really funny. A literal comedian, right? And no one had any idea that he was depressed. Because you get so good at hiding it. And I don’t think a lot of people know I was either. Because you see me at a tournament, and I am turned on. My entertainer persona comes out, right? I flip that switch and I become this super outgoing person when…I’m close on the introvert/extrovert line, but I’m definitely more of an introvert. And when I go to a tournament that is especially stimulating as far as dealing with people and stuff, it takes a lot out of me. But even when I am on this week-long Grand Prix or something, I am able to be my best self on day seven. It’s just, how much recharge time do I need to get after that. So I have no problem hiding it. That is just my natural state is to be this seemingly extroverted person. And I think a lot of people just do that. And it’s like, man, the people that are the people that you would probably think are least likely to be depressed might be the most likely. So it is really tough. There are going to be times where you’re just going to be like, “Man, that’s just some strange behavior for that person because…” They seem like they’re just happy all the time or whatever. And yeah, that might just be a warning sign. You never know.
James: Yeah. And certainly I think you’re shattering that stereotype—for lack of a better word—because we’re not even talking about introverted/extroverted. You are just a nice dude. I mean, I don’t know you very well. I can honestly say I’m not one of your closest friends. But when we’ve interacted—when I see your writing, or how you interact with other people—you just strike me as a very generous dude. And I’m not trying to lay hyperbole on you. This is genuinely how I feel. How do I put it? You’re the last person who I would expect to have this. And I think just by virtue of that, it actually makes me realize something. You know what I mean?
Gerry: Yeah. So, another point is…and I appreciate the kind words. I think I was raised right. I think my mother did an excellent job. A lot of who I am is just me trying to emulate her, right? So, thankfully I had a good role model and everything. But a lot of it might just be overcompensating too, where I know how shitty I feel on a day-to-day basis. And I don’t want that for anyone else. It is kind of selfish, where it’s like—I want to do good things for other people just to make myself feel better or whatever. But it is coming from a good place for sure, and I definitely try and do that. So I appreciate you noticing and everything. But yeah, that could just be another sign, right? Where it’s just—what is driving them to be such a good person, or to do all these nice things? And it might just be because they don’t want other people to go through what they do.
James: Right. That does make your life more tiring, though. You mentioned this at the very beginning. I mean, let’s be honest here. You’re a well-known, recognizable Magic player and you work for Star City, so there is a certain kind of image that you have to hold. Because quite honestly, you’re one of the faces of the game. It’s not like you chose it, but it was given to you. So does that ever get tiring—being Gerry Thompson and having to be nice to people? Do you think about that?
Gerry: I was not very nice about a decade ago. I think I was a lot more selfish. If someone misplayed against me and beat me anyway, I would just lay into them for no real reason. Maybe I thought that sort of stuff would make me happy, right? But yeah, that was not my default setting. I’m very, very good to my friends. And for the new people that I meet, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I assume that they’re an excellent person and therefore I’m going to treat them very well. And if you’re not a nice person, I’m not going to treat you very well. That is constant with me. My perspective changed and now it’s just—no one deserves to get yelled at for making a mistake or whatever. It’s just stupid, it’s childish. And now I strive to be a good person all the time, I guess. I guess I just forgot what the original question was and now I’m off on a tangent. [Laughs]
James: [Laughs] No! I think you’re touching on the right points. My fundamental question is—does it get tiring trying to…because you said part of being depressed is also wanting to make sure, selfishly, that other people feel good too. Because you might know what they may be going through. They may be having a shitty day. So, does that get tiring having to do that? Have you thought about, “Maybe today I’ll just not be nice to anybody and just worry about myself and how I’m doing in the tournament. And if someone comes up and talks to me, maybe I don’t need to say too much,” you know? Because you’re a very friendly guy when people talk to you. Does that ever come across your mind—to kind of switch gears—to try to make your mental or emotional load a little bit easier?
Gerry: Sure. I’ve definitely had weekends where it takes me a little bit to get going, and be that extroverted person that people expect from me. And yeah, I can count on one hand the amount of times where I had to be like, “Look man, I’m sorry. I’m not in the mood to talk right now,” or whatever. “I just need a few minutes.” That happens very infrequently. And like I said, it does drain me, but that’s an after-the-fact thing. And I’m used to it at this point. But during the tournament it’s where I want to be. And that’s one of the reasons why I went to Providence in the last second. It was like, “Why am I home?” If I’m on my death bed, I’m not going to be like, “Man, I should have gone to Providence.” But I would be like, “Why did I not do all these things that I knew would make me feel good, or I would have a good time doing?” So when you look at it that way, it’s just like, “Hell yeah! I’m going to go to this tournament.” And if I’m at the tournament, I’m going to enjoy myself. And enjoying myself means interacting with people and hopefully that means making their day a little bit better. I kind of pay for it afterwards, where I’m just dead to the world for twelve hours and have to sleep and then get up and take a nap and whatever. But I think even if I just played the tournaments in a mask and no one had any idea who I was, I would still be exhausted after the fact. So it doesn’t drain on me. I don’t see it as a price I have to pay for being a “face of Magic” or anything like that. I genuinely enjoy it, and if I didn’t I would be someone else, you know? I wouldn’t be writing articles and doing all that sort of stuff.
James: Okay. So it’s pure enjoyment, which is great. And just talking through this with you now, it feels like Magic would be one of the reasons to get out of the house, right? To go to Providence or somewhere. Is it fair to say that it is kind of a forcing function, too? I guess it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg question. Do you think you’ve always loved Magic—or, you’ve loved Magic for a long time—but does it also help you deal with depression? Going out and interacting with the community?
Gerry: It does in such a way that if I’m at a tournament and interacting with my friends, it is very difficult for me to have depression on the forefront of my mind. I just kind of forget about it and I get to enjoy myself as much as I can. So it definitely does help. But obviously there are tournaments where you go and the travel is exhausting. In round six of Providence I realized I strongly disliked my deck and it was misbuilt, but I kind of knew that going in. It was just a throwaway tournament. But a lot of the time that happens, where it’s like, “Oh, man. I messed up and now I have to play the rest of the tournament with this crappy deck.” And you have a middling finish and maybe your friend loses playing for Top 8 and they are pretty bummed. It’s like, “Man, this weekend sucks!” But in reality you’re hanging out with your friends, you’re joking around, you create more in-jokes or things you’re going to bring up a week from now that were awesome. And you just keep on telling people the same stories and everything. And all that stuff is great, and you might say, “Oh, man. This was not our best weekend.” And then it’s like, “Man, why did I even come here?” But then I get home and I just book another flight because I know deep down that this is it. This is the thing that I want to do.
James: This is your passion, right? This is what you’re into.
Gerry: Absolutely. And I tried other games, other jobs, whatever. None of it hits me like this does.
To be continued…
The Humans of Magic book is out!
(How to WIN A FREE COPY of the book — instructions below)
12 interviews with 12 of the greatest minds in the game today. We get philosophical, personal, and deep. Get your copy on Amazon now.
After working on the book for more than a year, I am truly excited to get this thing out. It is absolutely jam-packed with content: 500+ pages, with illustrations and an exclusive foreword by Autumn Burchett.
I couldn’t be more excited to release it in written form. It would mean the world to me if you would consider picking up a copy.
How do I win a FREE COPY of the Humans of Magic book?
[Subscribe to the newsletter to win + get a special preview of the book!]