Fitting in to the Local Scene
So here’s a topic that’s somewhat… I’m not sure… not really controversial, but something that should be written with care. Not just because there might be people from my local group(s) reading this, but because it’s tricky to write a definitive guide on how to interact with us geeks, especially when every scene is going to vary.
And I’m not just talking about a variety of different people and social circles from location to location – people will even be different depending on the game you’re playing or if you’re hanging out beyond the games. This won’t be a definitive guide, but it will offer suggestions to people who are interested in expanding their gaming circle beyond just their friends and family.
A little back story – I wrote this over 3 years ago when I was newish to the Windsor, Ontario scene and the Hordebloods were just a small force beginning to hit the fields of battle. This was also my first foray into public gaming as attempts to get in to another city’s 40k scene were met with cold shoulders. I’m currently transitioning to the Kitchener/Waterloo region and once again experiencing those awkward, “I don’t know anybody” feelings. This presents an opportunity to rewrite and add the polish this kind of article deserves.
Judge a book by its cover
At my previous store, they have gaming days for Warmachine / Hordes, Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. Each group has similarities and differences, but overall they’re a great group of people. The two owners are friendly guys and certainly foster a positive atmosphere. I believe that you can tell a lot about a store from the people who work there. I’ve interacted (to varying degrees) with a number of stores and their staff over the years. At the new one, all the gaming groups tend to show up all at once. The card gamers keep to themselves, but the miniature wargamers seem to get along, no matter the system. The shopkeepers tend to stick to themselves though.
The places where I’m comfortable talking with the staff are also the places where I or another customer might join a conversation and where I would enjoy spending some time – both chatting and gaming. It’s not just good business to provide a friendly atmosphere, it encourages people to return and actually get involved in gaming events.
When I’m in a store with less friendly staff, the atmosphere also seems to suffer. So yes, I think you can tell a lot about the scene by the staff at the stores.
Just hang out
When you find an inviting store, just start spending some time there. You don’t have to get too involved right away, in fact getting too involved and talking too much can be seen as pushy when you’re new. Hang out, introduce yourself, ask questions and make comments here and there. Over time, your interactions with the others should increase.
This phase is really telling about the kind of scene that’s available to you and how friendly they are. A closed group of gamers won’t be too inviting or talkative to outsiders. This is where I’ve had a ton of luck as both my old and current scene is full of people who were more than happy to invite another gamer into their fold and make him feel welcome.
I’m actually not sure what to suggest to someone trying to find a club to play at when the people are unfriendly. On one hand, you want to game. On the other, you might not have fun. (Keep in mind, there could be a social awkwardness factor.) When I tried to get into a 40k scene ages ago, I was attempting to talk to a shop owner about some upcoming events… there weren’t any other customers in the store but it was like pulling teeth. In the end, I turned away from public play and just gamed with friends. (This created a level of trepidation when I was entering the Warmachine crowd.) It probably comes down to patience and more testing of waters.
When I moved my last city and started getting involved at the local store, I showed up, watched and chatted here and there. I was lucky enough to find an awesome store and a friendly group of gamers who are extremely inviting of others. It started out with a few of the guys, and as I chatted with them, others joined in or began having their own conversations with me. Conversation still comes more naturally between the others, (they’ve been gaming together for a long time now) but I’m comfortable talking with most of the people too.
Jump ahead and I’m one of them. We’re all pals and conversations are natural. When I had an idea I might be coming to this new city, I found the local Warmachine Facebook group, introduced myself and started lurking, posting the occasional article, offering advice here and there, asking questions, complimenting works, etc. I may not really know the people too well yet and vice versa, but I don’t have a problem showing up and conversing.
You’re all there for the same reason
|“Would you like to play a game?”|
You’re gamers. Chat while you play games to get to know people. Talk about the system, or other things you hear people talking about. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for a game – that’s why they brought their army. More often than not, new blood means new experiences for them and you might actually find people going out of their way to play you.
Also don’t be offended if they’ve already got arranged games setup. You’ll get your turn, it’s not not uncommon for people to make sure they’ve got games lined up before coming out. Watch people play and chat. If you just leave because nobody’s free to game, you won’t get to know anyone.
Don’t be afraid to ask for names… repeatedly
Yeahhh… I’m terrible with names. Like, really bad. It can feel is embarrassing to ask for the name of people you’ve asked a few times… but you’re just going to have to suck it up and ask. If you’re like me, it’ll just take time and eventually you will be able to remember who people are. Those you interact with less might still get the embarrassing “What was your name again, we don’t talk that much?” months down the road. If you feel really awkward, quietly ask other people. Thanks to Facebook, you might also be able to look their faces/names up later.
You don’t know the inside jokes
There will be stuff that’ll go over your head. These people have been gaming together for a while and will make references to past games and events that you’re just not going to get. Sometimes they’ll explain these things for you, sometimes you’ll have to ask and it might be a “you had to be there” moment. It’s OK, eventually, you’ll be in the know.
A word of caution: People who appear to not get along, might actually like each other. Joining in on good-natured teasing or trashing too early might come off as offensive when you’re new. Don’t be too pushy and things will go fine.
Don’t take sides
Some people won’t actually like each other. Being new, you’ve got a clean slate, and have a chance to get along with everyone. (No guarantees that you will though) Joining sides in teasing or arguments can quickly alienate you from a lot of people in the group.
If it’s a discussion over rules, that’s different. But try to made clean points, don’t interrupt or shout. Rules discussions and book interpretations are partially affected by credibility, and you’re still building yours.
Know when to walk away
Places where the staff are off-putting and don’t make any effort to invite you in to their store, tend to have gamers with a similar attitude. Yes, they still get customers and they get gamers who’ll play there, but these groups are often very “cliquey”. (see: tight group of people who aren’t interested in inviting anyone else within their circle of trust) You may get to game with them with some forceful chatting on your end, and tournaments are usually open to everyone, but don’t be surprised if you feel like they’d prefer you just left. I’ve even heard tales of roleplaying groups (which usually need a minimum number of players to be worthwhile) inviting a couple “outsiders” (you) so their game runs smoother, but secret notes and abusive plots make it obvious they’re not trying to make friends.
If I have to work hard to get staff to talk about events at their store, I’m not going back there. (except maybe to check out their used models) If a store employee is so busy painting his models that you wait 5 minutes at the counter, before having to walk over to him and ask if you can buy something (This happened to me.) then they don’t want your business. I’ve walked into stores where staff and gamers alike will shut up and stare at you the whole time you’re there, waiting until you leave before getting back to their games.
So the question is… do you really want to spend hours of your week playing games with these people? You might not have anywhere else to play… but I’ve seen people sit through gaming events they can’t stand just because they don’t want to call it quits. Sometimes, you need to know when to walk away.
Unconventional Gaming Groups
There are other options when you’re looking for new people to play with. Stores will sometimes have boards advertising people looking for a player or two to join their group and for you to advertise your newbishness. The big one is Internet though. Facebook is a great way to seek out local gamers and nothing says you have to play at a store.
Do people find gamers on Craigslist / Kijiji? I don’t know… if it’s anything like my experience selling stuff, they’d show up and expect you to provide them with a Space Marine army so you can have a rousing game of Flames of War.
Persistence can be rewarding
|Stiffler and McLovin’ dressed up as KISS for|
Live Action Roleplaying. You’re not seeing things.
If you’re at stores that don’t seem very inviting, try to recognize the difference between “rude” and “shy”. If you’re playing with army men and dice, you’re probably already aware that some of us Geeks can have a difficult time socially, especially at younger ages. (I kid!)
I generally don’t think there’s an excuse for employees to ignore customers – they’re running a business. However there are a couple things to keep in mind:
First, is that sometimes we’re not very inviting when other people try and “invade” our hobbies. It might just take some time for people to get used to you. Spending time at the store and just hanging out can allow people to get used to you and start involving you in conversations.
Second, is that even if the atmosphere is mostly negative, other people might be in the same situation as you. There might be some friendly gamers there, who are just trying to find other people to game with, perhaps away from the store. Putting in a little time might let you find them. You could even be that guy who can help make the scene a positive one.
When you walk in to a new Local Game Store, the atmosphere of the store and friendliness of the staff will give some immediate indications of the experience you can expect to find. That’s not a hard and fast rule though, because I’ve played at stores with great gamers despite the staff mostly ignoring us. Hopefully, they’re inviting and friendly – If not, there’s still value in introducing yourself, hanging out, asking what games they play, when they play them, complimenting people on their painting and sharing stories. It can take some time before you feel comfortable, but sometimes all it takes is getting past that initial uncomfortable stage before you’re accepted as a part of the group. Just don’t push or try to get in on their jokes too early.
If you’re not having a good time or not being welcomed, you’ve still got options. Maybe there’s another store in the area? If you get along with some of the gamers, try to arrange games away from the store or on nights the rest of the group doesn’t play. Or just put up an ad somewhere that you’re looking for some players. Don’t force yourself through social anxiety to game for the sake of gaming. Paint, focus on the hobby and look for alternatives.