It started Saturday. After a four hour rally against the hate legislation that passed in order to redefine marriage as only between man and woman and restricting adoption rights on November 4 (a rally which saw us marching down the middle of Michigan Avenue in Chicago–with police support, I might add), I grabbed a bite to eat and headed to a gaming meeting to which I’d been invited by the Wordsmythe of Elements of Meaning.
During the evening I learned five new tabletop games: Bang!, Red Dragon Inn (I, naturally, played Zot the Wizard who has a rabbit familiar named Pooky–in essence, a psychotic and alcoholic Vorpal Bunny), Ca$h and Gun$ (with the Yakuza expansion), Zombie Fluxx, and Family Business. The entire evening was very social, saw many stories being shared, personalities being displayed, and left me feeling quite comfortable in a brand new atmosphere among a room full of strangers. While I tend to lean on the side of extroversion (who’da thunk?), even a room full of complete strangers who all know each other can be off-putting when written down on a piece of paper (or typed in the forum for Gamers with Jobs).
Games are not quite like a party or other manner of social gathering, however. This is a (for the most part) friendly competition, in which you as a person exist as the person behind the cards, figurines, or other gaming paraphenalia. What is being presented is a distilled form of yourself, and yet remains very telling. Wordsmythe requested people read the flavor text in Red Dragon Inn and I already knew that I’d have to set Once Upon a Time in front of him at some point to read his reaction to the ludic and literary structures therein present. One chap was wearing a shirt that read, “I heart shotgun zombie,” in pictogram; the same gentleman who brought Zombies!!! and its expansions to the group and discussed his experiences with the Left 4 Dead demo. I immediately knew I could ask him my college gaming group’s entrance question and receive a decent answer, “The zombie apocalypse has occurred; you have one weapon. What is it?”
We ended the evening playing Rock Band (I learned to play the drums, and my already hoarse-from-protesting throat attempted the vocals with mild success) and discussing both Dungeons and Dragons and the old Sierra and SCUMM adventure games. For a stereotypically anti-social demographic, we seemed to get along rather well and were very socially adaptable people.
Fast forward to Sunday evening, where I headed to Guthrie’s Tavern. I was not aware of this pub before last night, but it has a whole cabinet full of games which the patrons could play. Heading to the back room, I met a prearranged (via Gay Gamer) group. Watching a game of Space Munchkin, I met a whole other group of people and shook hands with upwards of ten people by the evening’s end. This evening saw me learn two more new games: the German board game Hexentanz (translated Witches’ Dance, based off Walpurgisnacht) and Spank the Monkey, which is full of inuendo, as you would expect, but has a very literal interpretation of its presentation (you win the game by spanking an actual fictional monkey).
There was a group at another table playing multiplayer Mario Kart DS, another playing Munckin (default), and then I was presented with an invitation to a Dungeons and Dragons group. Anyone who’s gamed long enough can probably attest to the wonders of what happened to me this weekend. I met a dozen and a half people at least, and was never placed in a socially awkward situation–instead finding fast friends and comfortable discussion, chatter, banter, and laughter among a group of people to whom I had no previous connection beyond very superficial internet contact.
Then it dawned on my Sunday evening, as I rested my still aching muscles from the previous day’s march: everywhere I have lived I have encountered this group of people. People who may have rather different personalities, backgrounds, and might never have met outside of this one hobby and/or passion. As soon as I stepped on Wabash’s campus, I was presented with friends who played a slew of games, ranging from video to card to pen and paper to role playing to drinking to many others (a selection of four of us sans heads are pictured above). Within the span of a month we became close-knit friends and then branched out and accepted other gamers on campus, sometimes forming together and often conversing. Everyone in that group also happened to either become a theater major or minor by our graduation (many with no previous plan to do so; we theater folk are infectious, I warn you).
Because my family often moved, there was no close connection with the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Instead, family friends were always fellow gamers. I’ve known a wide array of people just because there is no one demographic that flocks to games. The definition of game is so broad and encompasses so many different styles that it is little wonder it attracts such a broad sample of people. Even looking among the blogosphere, it is astonishing to realize how much diversity there actually is within the community (if not the games themselves).
Even my single player experiences these days are shared via phone with a quick call to Cap’n Perkins and (as this Sunday saw) two hour conversations about Fallout 3 alone. That’s not to mention describing and conversing about these experiences in forums, blogs, Twitter, and instant messengers.
So, here’s to you, gaming community, for providing a great social lubricant.