When I was young, games were different.
Sit down, young folks, and let me tell you about it.
The only place to buy anything but scrabble in my city was a placed called Napoleon’s Military Bookshop. It sold AD&D, and only AD&D, and only about five books. All of them cost more money than I could ever afford. It also sold Talisman, and a few Palladium books. All of them cost more money than I could afford. I got the red book D&D which petered out at level 3 and then by the time I was ready for Expert, that BECMI set didn’t exist any more. To get the TMNT RPG, I got my mother to illegally photocopy every single page at her work in her lunch time.
RPGs were like trying to collect stamps. They were expensive and rare and only weird tiny shops sold them and nobody could afford them. Well, not me, anyway. I did get Talisman for my birthday but then my friend got all the supplements so we played with his set more. I hoarded the TMNT books I could find, when I could find them. They were more precious than gold and more costly. And none of it made sense; you were always sifting through the ashes. Here was an adventure for a game you’d never seen the core for; a reboot for a setting you’d never heard of, the vehicle rules for TORG, the miniatures rules for Paranoia, all without context.
I was also into board games you could find in supermarkets, but they were all too expensive as well, and vacuum sealed in plastic so I could never unlock their mysteries. I would stand in the aisles of K-Mart for hours staring at them, willing them to be mine, but they never were. I would go to libraries where they had one – ONE – board game, and find I wasn’t allowed to borrow because I didn’t live in the area. Trying to get my hands on a boardgame was like trying to get some rare Mickey Mantle baseball card, only for a sport nobody has heard of like vigaro. And then nobody wanted to play them with me much either. It was tolerated, thank goodness, by my kind family, but that’s not the same.
So I had this dream, see. I came up with a solution.
A place. A club. It would be in the centre of every city. And it would be a place to play board games and roleplaying games. It would be a big hall just lined with tables. And it would be just a yearly cost to join, or you could visit on a day rate. And – here was the amazing, unbelievable part – it would have a library. It would be stacked floor to ceiling with board games and RPGs and – ANY TIME YOU WANTED – you could take them off the shelves, read them and play them.
In a safe, quiet space, full of tables.
And maybe even play them.
With other people.
But it was a fantasy. It was in my head with “have a desert island with just me and a hundred dogs” and “win an oscar for my performance as Tanis in the epic films of the Dragonlance saga (which I would also direct)”. It was never going to happen.
To be honest, I still don’t get to play games as much as I want. But that fantasy? Ever single detail came 100% true.
And that is WEIRD AS ALL HELL. To be walking around seeing the things you dreamed of as a kid come true…it would be like finding out Batman was real. Or meeting Tad Williams. Which I’ve done on facebook. We talk often.
I’m not humble bragging. I’m troubled by this. It’s like looking at something that should be an illusion but isn’t.
I imagine, for those younger than me, this seems odd. And probably also for those older than me, or the same age. I never really grew up nerdy, see. Too poor, too isolated, too beaten. It was never my safe space. It wasn’t something I shared with others. It was something I did alone, with no people, and no tools, and no purchases, that nobody would ever understand or appreciate, and I wanted to make a thing I could do out there, with all the things I could never have, or find, or afford, with people who got it, and people who appreciated it.
Everything is insane. Black is white, up is down, and I guess I might as well win that oscar now. Also, please come to my house, I like games.