A couple of interesting things have happened over the last few weeks. Some gaming related, some not. Overall, they speak to the humanity of our hobby, and the nature of those who take interest in our world…
There is a young man who comes to the Bracebridge Tabletop Gaming Community almost every week. He is polite, quiet and good-natured. I can’t spot whether he is in a bad mood or having an off day. He is from the Young Ones’ Table, and since starting high school last fall (making him around fourteen or fifteen years old), he has not only maintained his membership in spite of that dynamic shift in his daily life, but he has met and encouraged new young ones to come out to the community, which is very cool.
Watching those new faces come in and wondering who will stick around and who will fade away for whatever reason is always a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. As I stated in previous Mad Adventurer pieces, we want to grow, but not too much. We want people to enjoy and further spread our hobby to those who would love it, and to those who sometimes need it in their lives. Tucker in some ways, is that person.
I work with his father. We build stuff. Boat houses, homes and cottages decks and docks. Welcome to Muskoka. I was asking him the other day how Tuck was enjoying high school. I know it can be hard depending on who you are and who is around you regularly. Children can be cruel, and some people just get targets painted on them for whatever reason, deserved or not.
He said that Tuck is doing well, but that it is not his nature to elaborate. A frustration for his father, as he is a relatively open sort, who wishes that Tuck would open up a bit here and there, just to make sure he really is doing OK. Then he remembered that it was in fact, game night that evening.
He said suddenly that it really was a good thing that we were doing over at the Centre. He told me that while Tucker has his friends and social life outside of school, family and the BTGC, that the community was the only organised social activity his son attended. I think it eases his father’s mind to know this, because he was an active athlete in his youth, who attended a steady schedule of practices and games and such. It can be hard for a parent to relate to their child if they are not cut from the cloth you are used to.
I thanked him profusely and said that I was glad Tucker was still so enthusiastic after all of this time. He was one of the original Young Ones, attending RPG night all the way back to our Game On days, before the BTGC was born.
Everyone is different, and life can be cruel in general. I live in a town, not a city. Bracebridge has around sixteen thousand souls, and our neighbouring towns of Gravenhurst and Huntsville have a little more and less of their own. Outlying townships have far less.
Certain hobbies and interests have a far smaller representation here. It’s easy to find indoor and outdoor sports organisations, as our identity is so ingrained with those industries. Hunting and fishing, boating and camping, hockey and soccer and baseball, oh my. You can learn fencing and martial arts, or find an archery club with a small amount of effort.
All three of our major towns have active, if struggling arts communities. From visual arts and the written word, to drama to music, it doesn’t take anybody interested that long to find someone who is of that world. I myself am returning to the community theatre stage in less than a month to portray a middle-aged Vaudeville performer reuniting with his brother to relive the good ol’ days.
Yet as we whittle through the different pastimes, it becomes harder and harder to find others who get excited about the same things you do. I know there are remote controlled vehicle enthusiasts in the area. Some for R/C boats and trucks, some for planes and drones and helicopters. I know that there are quilting clubs and scrapbooking organisations, but I couldn’t tell you where to find them.
It’s easy enough to throw a rock and hit someone who plays hockey or a musical instrument (usually guitar), but it in a small town, the per capita chance of hitting a hobby gamer is far less. And some of us need to find each other.
For some of us, gaming and role-playing games are a sanctuary of identity. It’s what we love and strive for, invest our money, time and headspace into. Whether it’s new X-Wing ships or Firefly TBG expansions, massive tomes for D&D or model paints for our new World War Two wargame armies, we are devoting a significant amount of ourselves into this hobby, the same way that other people invest a piece of themselves into organised sports or ballet.
This hobby is where we feel like we belong to something that other people just don’t get. Our community is such a small segment of all of the hobbies and interests out there, and that makes it a precious thing, and a misunderstood thing as well. Just like anything else, we have those with a casual interest all the way to fanatics and fanboys. And when we come together, many of our differences are cast aside, unless someone asks a question about which edition is better, then all bets are off.
The point is, I’m glad that we are here for kids like Tucker. And adults. We’ve always had our share of grown ups looking for an escape from the everyday as well. For whom politics and sports and camping just aren’t quite enough. Those of us who would rather read the Dragonlance Chronicles than Pierre Trudeau’s memoirs.
To that end, I’m glad my son has started to attend game night. He will be twelve this year, and while we game at home as a family, I have always been reluctant to bring him to the Centre. It’s a long evening, and he is quite young compared to the rest of our membership. I was worried that he wouldn’t last from five to nine, and want to go home.
So I resisted. Let’s face it though, I was also selfish. Game night at the centre is an escape for me, and I was nervous about giving up a piece of that. Being able to do something so separate from the rest of my daily life is a precious and wonderful retreat, and I was selfish in my desire to keep that pure.
I think I am also a little scared. Scared that my son would reject a hobby that I have so dearly loved for so many years. Nervous that he would think it was silly and pointless. He likes board and card games well enough, but RPGs are such a deeper part of that world for me. So many of my friendships both old and new have been forged over that table filled with books and funny shaped dice. What if my son couldn’t get that? What if we couldn’t share that?
As a father, that is a fearsome prospect. Right now however, I think my son needs this in his life. He’s that kid at school. He’s the clumsy one. Not coordinated or interested in sports. He’s the one who enjoys learning, and gets upset when his classmates disrupt the class. He’s a reader. Not because they make him read, but because he wants to. At recess, on the bus. Other kids don’t get that.
He doesn’t want to grow up. At an age where the mind starts to change and begins noticing the differences in the genders and starts to turn over thoughts otherwise never fully understood, my son is rejecting them. He feels that when his few tenuous friends begin joking about body parts and the opposite sex that they are being inappropriate, and he wants nothing to do with it.
And he doesn’t have a lot of friends. And he lacks a best friend. And as his father I worry. I remember what it was like to be the outsider. In my world, I still am because of my interests. Theatre, music, gaming. Most of my social circles are a part of those things, but at work and in the public eye, I’m something else. When you’re not into the usual things, there is always a distance between you and others in the world of casual conversation.
My son has always been a little older than his age. I don’t think he belongs to the realm of the “old souls,” but he is an educated, well spoken lad, and in our world, that makes him “other.”
So bringing him to game night is what he needs. To relate to others with his interests. To see that there is a social plane where he is safe to express his ideas, to engage in discussions and arguments that don’t devolve into ridicule and insult.
I remember what it’s like to be on the outside. I remember the price exacted in an adolescent world for being who you are. He’s lonely without a partner in crime, a best friend he can share anything with. I had that, and it made a huge difference. Guys like Chris Brown, Shawn Crawford and Richard Brown. The guys who were the Yin to my Yang. Allies and compatriots.
I hope my son meets someone like that soon. I can be his father, his dad and dungeon master. I can be his port in a storm, and game night can be all of those things for him that they have always been for me. I know that he’ll grow and change and get interested in things other than gaming. I hope he does.
And hopefully game night can continue to give him the sense of belonging he and so many other people need and seek out there in the wild.