The desolate brown plains of Shandalar was a place where boys got to go and their little sisters dreamt of entering.

To be honest, I didn’t know its name until today, when I Googled “magic the gathering computer game old.” But what a vivid place it’s held in my imagination! The pixelated Magic cards, the repetitive landscape of rendered trees, the furious sound of a clicking mouse; Shandalar was unmistakably a place of great importance.

Once, my brother and cousins finally conceded to teach me how to play. The tutorial’s rules flew fast and thick like an overwhelming barrage of neon pop-up ads. They kept asking me, “Do you get it?” while leaning on my computer chair and over my shoulder. I said yes because they got annoyed when I said no. Then the tutorial ended. Of course, I had no idea how to play and they kicked me off the computer within minutes. The diagnosis: I was too dumb to ever learn.

It wasn’t the first time I was left out. I was a victim of the unplugged N64 controller; I even unplugged a few controllers myself in my own adolescent lifetime. My hours of watching those stupid brown plains from afar had taught me one thing: It was better to exclude than be excluded.

Clio Chang is a reporter-researcher at the New Republic.