SIOUX CITY | Wearing a felt hat with comically large goggles and furry ears, Nolan Choquette doesn't mind looking a little ridiculous.
In fact, the unusual choice of headgear -- inspired by Teemo, a heroic badger character from the online game "League of Legends" -- gives the Bishop Heelan Catholic High School senior a shot of confidence.
Choquette needed it since he was going up against nearly a dozen rivals at a Yu-Gi-Oh! card game competition Thursday at the MIA Gaming Lounge, 1523 Geneva St.
For a $5 entry fee, Yu-Gi-Oh! contests are held every Thursday night and Saturday morning. To the victor goes a chance of winning more decks of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, store credit at the gaming lounge's retail corner or, more importantly, bragging rights in extinguishing an opponent's life points.
"I come here at least once a week," Choquette, 17, explained. "It's a lotta fun because I get to meet other people who love playing Yu-Gi-Oh! as much as I do."
Originally a Japanese animation -- or manga -- series, Yu-Gi-Oh! has been spun off into an extraordinarily complex, battle-based card game.
Simply put, each player begins a game with a set number of life points and a custom-made deck containing 40-60 cards. Individual matches -- which can last as long as an hour -- end when one player reduces his opponent's life points to zero.
A player does this by introducing monster cards -- containing illustrations of dragons, zombies, beast warriors and the like -- which can be used both offensively and defensively during the game.
"Yeah, it's really complicated to explain," said Andreas Flores. "It's even more complicated to play."
A 21-year-old Western Iowa Tech Community College student who wants to earn a degree in business management, Flores began playing Yu-Gi-Oh! when he was 12 years old.
"My older relatives played it and they got me hooked on Yu-Gi-Oh!," Flores explained.
Tyler Felix, a 17-year-old North High School senior, began collecting Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards in kindergarten before learning the rules of the game.
"I totally didn't know there was a game but I thought the cards were pretty cool," he said.
Felix, who plans on joining the U.S. Army upon graduating high school in 2014, said he'll be taking his Yu-Gi-Oh! cards if deployed to a foreign country.
"You gotta pass the time away somehow," he suggested. "Yu-Gi-Oh! is a perfect diversion."
Flores nodded his head in agreement.
"Being a Yu-Gi-Oh! player really helped me in school," he said. "The game forces you to focus all of your attention, teaches you strategies and makes you aware of details."
Even more than that, the game demands social interaction.
At least that's why Choquette enjoys Yu-Gi-Oh!
A good student who likes science and graphic design classes at school, Choquette said he spends hours playing interactive video games with strangers from around the world.
"I'm a real-life stereotype of the nerdy teenager obsessed with video games," he admitted. "At home, I can be playing with my Xbox, watching a movie and playing a video game, all at the same time and not miss a beat."
Still, Choquette enjoys the simple pleasure of playing a game with an opponent sitting on the other side of a table.
Tugging at his badger headgear, Choquette said, "I can be playing 'League of Legends' with some kid in Korea but it still doesn't match the excitement of playing cards with one of your friends."