I figured out I was a geek and a gamer somewhere around the age of 6. Someone in the school district decided it was a good idea to put first graders in front of a keyboard and teach Basic programming. It was love at first sight: the clatter of keys, the use of a tape cassette player to save programs, a million scrolling lines of “I love my mom” … simple and fun. Even more fun when you could load up simple ASCII games from the cassettes and practice typing or shoot critters with the spacebar. However, in those days combining the love of things that went beep with being a female was a recipe for social disaster, which pretty much describes my formative years in a nutshell.
Growing up a gamer I heard more than once the clichés about “birds of a feather” and “like calls to like,” but most of what I found was boys that didn’t appreciate being beaten in Tetris. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I found my particular gaggle of gaming geeks and went from being a lone gamer in the wind to a part of a community. So this is us, where we came from, where we are and a glimpse into our plans for world domination (we’re always on the lookout for new minions).
In the summer of 1993 I started college and enrolled in an archery class at the school. It made sense that if I was required to take PE credits for graduation that I choose a class that didn’t require running or gym shorts. Like most gamers my legs haven’t seen the light of day in years, and I didn’t want to blind anyone. Not to mention archery is generally on the gamer list of cool things, as demonstrated by any fantasy game where there will be at least one range-based class that uses a bow.
It was there that I first met Jay, a CS major who aspired to write videogames when he graduated and participated in a medieval combat group every Thursday night. Strangely he didn’t freak out when I asked if I could come and see what they did. He actually seemed rather pleased to have a recruit. It only took attending one practice to see why. The practical reason for new blood was that they were looking to increase their combat community – more folks on the field was more fun – but I also discovered that new recruits were seen as good cannon fodder since we weren’t smart enough to run away and still a little too scared of being hit to hit back. I have to admit in years later that I partook in newbie baiting, but how else does a newbie learn when to hold position and when to scatter?
So that’s where it started, once a week falling over in the grass and getting exercise without thinking about it. Likely that’s where it would have ended except for two things: the sense of community that made me want to spend more time with these gamers, and Julie, Jay’s wife (she says she wants to be referred to as Her Royal Highness Supreme Goddess of Everything, but I refuse to type that more than once). Julie was, and still is, the gamer equivalent of a cruise social director and a none too secret Solitaire addict. She not only supported her husband’s love of games, but played them with him and opened their home for LAN parties, board gaming night and bi-weekly tabletop RPGs.
My first visit I arrived to find a house full of gamers (shockingly the women outnumbered the men) sprawled on college-grade furniture, comfortable if not the same color it had been when new. I don’t specifically recall which games were played that night, but the flavor of the games were the same each week: Arkham Horror, Talisman, Magic: The Gathering, Falcon 3.0, X-Wing, Wing Commander and just about anything else that would run on the two-computer LAN, created by punching a hole through a wall and running a network cable. One night a week turned into three as tabletop RPGs picked up on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Fantasy Hero and Champions the games of choice.
With the release of the PlayStation, our little group of gamers made the jump into the console world, which most of us had visited before, particularly as Jay had a job with a local videogame company called SingleTrac. We played the first copies of Warhawk and Twisted Metal on blue box PlayStations and competitive Tetris and Battle Arena Toshinden any time there was a few minutes between other activities. It was an ideal way to spend our hours, and even better when there was money to be made doing it!
As the years slipped by, children were born and the makeup of the group changed, as friends moved away and others moved in. We watched many gamers who gave up their gaming as they moved into the responsibilities and stresses of “real life” and made the decision that we weren’t going to do that. It might be necessary to modulate our gaming activities, but we weren’t going to give up our community or our games. We refocused on meeting once to twice a week, and children were taught to sleep regardless of whose house they were visiting, and not to eat the dice (though one father did fish a D6 out of a diaper) or the Magic cards, and the gaming went on.
It’s been nearly 15 years since that first summer, and in that time I think I’ve skipped maybe a handful of game nights. Our gaming group is larger now than it ever has been, filled with friends and family and gamer aspirations. Jay still works for a gaming company and started his own independent gaming company, Rampant Games. Other members of the group, Jacob and John in particular, have also gotten into game writing, and most of us blog up a storm. The opportunities created by the internet and advances in multiplayer games have increased the number of nights we’re together again, and we’ve played everything from StarCraft to EverQuest and most recently City of Heroes, where every Tuesday we patrol the streets of Paragon City and bring safety to the unwashed masses.
Three day weekends are often dedicated to trying new tabletop systems or the latest console game: Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution and old school, head-to-head Tetris and Final Fantasy XII top the list of favorites. Saturdays are tabletop nights with Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and Mage in the current load, and including at least one friend playing via his laptop from three states away. Birthdays are a chance for the exchanging of gaming gifts and recently creating game-based cakes.
The children who once ate dice are now gamers in their own rights, and can be heard running their own D&D games or joining in the guitar mashing madness. Their schoolmates think they’re weird. They all know they’re gamers, like their parents before them, and like, hopefully, their children to come.
Technically no one can say what the future holds, but we have some good ideas. I will be marrying my gamer sweetheart, Bryan, in the spring. We’ve been gaming together for the last 12 years and are currently debating whether we want the Wii or an Xbox 360 on our wedding registry. The PS3 is out of the question unless it gets a better line up of games, much as we like Rock Band.
John is crafting plans for world domination, which requires minions and a machine with lots of buttons and levers. Kelly claims the position of head minion, and the rest of us are the staff. We figure world domination should be simple as compared to planning a raid or running a task force. Now we just have to figure out which mobs to camp.
Other than that the plans are business as usual. Fifteen years is a good start, but there are games we’ve not played, worlds we’ve not conquered, extreme guitar songs we’ve not mastered and cakes we’ve not baked. We figure another 40 years or so and we’ll all be committed to the same rest home where we will demand a fully networked game room where we can sit around in our comfy rockers with large print RPG manuals and roll for initiative while gumming our Cheetos and Mountain Dew. Shouldn’t every gamer have it so good?
Jana Stocks is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.