by Tony Hoffart
The current monthly carnival for the RPG Bloggers Network is “growing the hobby” this month. I’ve read some great things from a lot of very smart people on the topic – but what I want to discuss is more local.
I’m very fortunate in that a block away from my apartment is a 15 year-old independent gaming club called the Society of Quintessential United Independent Gamers or SQUIGs (cute huh). It’s never been big, and the fact that it’s survived in such a small town that has no hobby stores is a testament to the generosity of the landlord for keeping the rent for the space low, and the commitment of the club president (who has been the pillar of stability) was needed to keep the club going through the manic good times and the barren bad times.
SQUIGs was where I gamed in my high-school days. It kept me feeling somewhat fulfilled when I was dirt poor and unemployed after high-school, and it kept two boxes of my gaming books stored safely away rent-free while I spent 3 years not coming down or paying membership because I was busy working.
In truth my sabbatical from SQUIG gaming was closer to 6 years. From 2003 to 2009 I would live for 3 weeks at a time in remote camps for much of the year. I kept my skills honed by participating in Exalted IRC games and later Skype IM chats. I was running games every evening online during that period. While SQUIGs was where I was initiated into the hobby and grew into it, online was where I matured.
Then my work found me a position that had me home every night. Suddenly the two hours of prime online gaming time was spent driving home and it became impossible to maintain any RPG campaigns that way. After a period of transition, I decided that if I were to continue enjoying the hobby I loved I would need to move from online back to face-to-face gaming at the old club, so I gathered up my books and hauled them down and asked a few people if they would be interested in playing some Exalted…
I don’t know what it is about Exalted but to say I was well received would be an understatement. Guys that I hadn’t played with in half a decade were calling me two days in advance to make sure things were still a-go every week. I feared for my safety if I didn’t run the thing, these people were hungry! They wanted to play but for whatever reason had not started their own games. They attacked my Exalted game with a tenacity I honestly hadn’t expected, but in hind-sight I should have because a year ago when I returned to the club the only non-wargame RPG that had been going steady for the past 2 years was a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game being ran by the club president.
Since then, I’ve stopped running Exalted; after 5 years the game doesn’t hold the same wonder that drives me to be a Storyteller. Two of my players have taken up that mantle and are doing just as well as I did in my ST’ing prime.
This winter my girlfriend (who is not a gamer) and I started inviting all my old SQUIG friends out to drinks with all our non-gamer friends. The club was fractured, but as we invited more people everyone got together and even more games were being planned. Wargamers and RPG gamers were playing together, and I even started to see old feuds between longtime members start to cool. The club, which was badly stagnant when I returned, is starting to revitalize.
I would like to believe that some of these noticeable changes I can take credit for, but I know that they’re not solely my doing. Another friend who had returned from life afar has set up shop playing World of Warcraft at the club during the day, which keeps the doors open for people dropping in. A vital thing. Also my town’s economy is going crazy at the moment while the rest of the world is recovering from a recession, so some of the old gamers that moved away are returning because of job opportunities here in town and they’re just thrilled that the club is still surviving.
I want to continue supporting my old gaming club though and see that it survives and maybe even prospers for another 15 years. What good are all my efforts to write and design new games if I lose the one thing that’s been the greatest influence on me as a gamer? With that in-mind I’ve decided to get another World of Darkness live-action-role-play happening again. Barely out of the pitch stage and people are already approaching me and my co-storyteller about the game, a very good sign. LARPs are one of the best things that happened to the hobby in the past 15 years and in my opinion have brought more female gamers into the fold than any other RPG innovation. If you have a club venue that can support one, I strongly suggest holding them.
Other things I hope to pursue for SQUIGs in the future include a bit of cross-hobby promotion. A lot of role-players are interested in hiking, 4-Wheeling and 4×4’ing (exploring), martial arts, paintball tournaments… Oh hell, gamers are interested in tons of other hobbies! To start listing them would ultimately just be an exercise in excluding the sizable portion of gamer/knitting enthusiasts! (Or whichever.) My point is, that these days gaming is no longer the fringe hobby of social pariahs. Football players enjoy World of Warcraft. Rock stars have massive Anime collections and Harley riders are just as likely to enjoy talking with you about their Elf Cleric as the next gamer. We can begin to be more than just an RPG club, we could link up with other hobby clubs to hold cross-over events!
All the possibilities actually get me really fired up. It’s a good time to be a gamer in a lot of ways and I think if we start by trying ways to invigorate the local scene… well… the future looks bright for small start ups in the industry like Nevermet Press.