Friday, March 12, 2010

A lost hobby

It was interesting to revisit Tasmania recently and see how much and how little had changed. It also reminded me of how much I miss pen and paper and tabletop gaming. Not over Skype or using IRC or anything like that - but actually face to face, around a table.

This was mainly triggered by seeing the finest collection of ADnD 2e that I have personally witnessed in a long, long time. It was also the first time that I ever saw a Birthright boxset in the wild - rather than mocking me from the shelf in Birchalls in 1996. This collection was all in the hands of someone who I knew was an old LAN hand, but had no idea was into RPGs. And apparently they still play. It made for a nice sideline to the conversation which up until then had been dominated by our respective wive's baby talk.

It was also triggered by walking through an arcade in Launceston - vaguely remembering that there was a store there that I wanted to check out that wasn't open the last time I visited, and then discovering that it's a goddamn LARP supply store. In Launceston. With no less than 3 different sign up sheets for LARP organisations around the town. And that's a city and surrounds of only 100k or so still. If that isn't the sign that somewhere has a serious gaming population I don't know what it.

But desite that store exisiting and there being so many groups, there is no more Electric Adventures/Legends, no more Robot Boy, no more comics stores - indeed Birchalls seems to be the only retailer that stocks any of the actual gaming products anymore. So what had once been at least an apparently thriving town for tabletop gaming now appears fairly desolate. Similarly with Hobart, where there was once Ellison Hawker/Area 52, Electric Adventures and Just Games (was that it's name?) - there is now only Area 52. Not to say that these stores don't have a fairly impressive range of miniatures, rulebooks, RPGs and more. But Birchalls in Launceston lacks on thing - tables.

I remember when Legends occupied a large corner in Launceston, with the whole ground floor being it's retail area and upstairs were tables and terrain galore. It was the focal point for the games community - a place where you could have games, watch games, meet other gamers, have notices put up and arrangements made. Area 52 in Hobart still fills this role with it's Battle Bunker, where even early on a Sunday morning I was still able to run into people I know having (or attempting to have) games. For most of us though, the internet does the organising now. In Melbourne I found gaming groups online as there is no "Friendly Local Gaming Store" - sure Mindgames has a notice board, but most people don't look at it that much, and there are so many people who never even go into the store - instead choosing to shop online. Local also has a completely different definition here - having to commute nearly half an hour (by car) to get to your gaming venue is a different story to when most people live within a few blocks of each other (or at the very least a few suburbs).

It's also very difficult to find a good group. It turns out that years of playing together through university and beyond and slowly adding and subtracting people from the group means that everyone interacted and got along well. It wouldn't have worked if they didn't. We all generally agreed on the type of games that we liked and weren't afraid to give and receive feedback. The groups I've spoken to and played with over here - they've been fairly varied. Some were excellent and introduced me to new games, styles and ideas, but the timing and location of their sessions were just a little too difficult. Others I gave up on after e-mails or phone calls made it clear that it just wouldn't work.

As such, most of my gaming since I moved to Melbourne has been done via Skype or various chat programs. But this lacks a lot - it's hard to game when everyone has a computer in front of them and is probably browsing their RSS feeds and e-mail. It's harder still because everyone is talking over everyone else because there's not the non-verbal cues and communication.

Also - you feel like a bit of a dick sitting in a room with a headset on talking in character. Especially if your wife is on her laptop next to you. Most of all I miss the social aspects of gaming - having regular get togethers with friends and acquaintances, or open invite days at Area 52 to play card or board games. In fact, most of my socialisation came during these game sessions - because that was when you could guarantee you'd have your friends together in one place.

Because really, when you get down to it a copy of a RPG is really a social device as much as it is a game. It's there to bring people to a table around it. Those people will just as often talk more about everything else than they will about the game. For me, gaming was my version of going out for drinks with friends. And I realised that it'd been more than a year since I'd played an RPG. I hadn't played a wargame since I lived in Hobart. And the only reason I'd played some card/board games in the past year was because SDnet Aussies had a geek-together in Melbourne for the Star Trek reboot.

But despite all of this, I don't want to cut the cord with gaming. I remember just how much fun it is and want to get back into it. But it's all about finding the people, the time and the place.

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