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.

Start small

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.

In Summary

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.

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  • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

    interesting article. I’ve never played at a store, its more games clubs in the UK with the odd store, but its just the same when joining a new club.

    • Good point. If they’re active and social online, there’s a better chance of the same in person.

  • Cedric Ballbusch

    Never discuss religion or politics. Don’t spit on the floor. If you’ve got a bottle, pass it around. Defend your host to the hilt on any issue. And remember: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Those rules will win you friends pretty much anywhere.

    P.S. Role Models was an underrated movie.

    • #PayWhereYouPlay

    • And yeah, Role Models was surprisingly good. I love throwing these photo refs into articles and seeing who gets them.

    • Thuloid

      First game I played at a store a couple months ago, my opponent had seen my facebook profile and immediately started asking me fairly involved questions about biblical scholarship. That was a little weird.

      • Well if you become a priest that sort of thing will happen 🙂

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        Facebook is to be feared.

        I do enjoy a good, solid discussion of the apocrypha though.

        • Thuloid

          Don’t we all? This guy wanted to know about the nephilim in Genesis 6, some questions about Hebrew grammar and translation (my Hebrew is crap, but better than his), some other stuff. I wanted to focus on my Morats (who did kick ass that day).

          I have two separate FB accounts, in fact–one uses my real name, so congregation members find it if they have an urge to ‘friend’ me. The other slightly modifies my name and includes what I’m actually interested in. So far that approach has been adequate.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Multiple facebook pages is probably the way to go. I, personally, militantly refuse to have on in any form. But, I am an obstinate man.

            I generally subscribe to the theory that Genesis is at least in part pulled from pre-or-proto- monotheistic traditions, and as such, makes little sense viewed through a Deuteronomist or Mosaic lens. But, I also find fragmentary hypothesis the most compelling. Anyway…what were we talking about? Gaming stores?

          • Thuloid

            I tend to agree, though there’s a lot of room in there to talk about how those early traditions are reshaped. Although it’s also more complicated than earlier/later, since some of the passages we’re talking about (Genesis 1) are in their present form probably later than some of the legal/Mosaic material.

            Way back in the late 19th century Herman Gunkel (hey, didn’t I talk about him in a blog post a while back?) asserted a connection between the tehom (deep) in Gen. 1 and Tiamat. Watery chaos stuff. Just as interesting is how the same passages talks about the sun and moon without naming either one, which makes sense if those words are also both the names of the respective deities. Anyway, yes–personally I can’t imagine how anyone would have ever found these texts comprehensible (now or back then) were they not drawing on common religious ideas. Imagine writing a wargame with only entirely new concepts, borrowing nothing. Could you even make it recognizable AS a wargame?

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            I find that lends further credence to the fragmentary hypothesis with a touch of supplementary tossed into the mix.

            The question, which is unanswerable, is to what extent older passages are culled from ‘common religious ideas’ and what, if anything, is the remains of older religious traditions that were incorporated or reworked into a ‘new’ faith.

            One imagines that there were also other oral traditions (or lost writings) that expanded on some of the concepts touched on.

            Anything unmoored from common experience or ‘tradition’ is likely to be almost incomprehensible. What is a wargame without dice, miniatures, etc.

          • Thuloid

            One doesn’t even have to imagine it. There are a couple of references within the pages of the Old Testament to books that we don’t have. There was, of course, a whole intellectual and cultural world that has since passed away, of which we only have select scraps. But then we have to surmise why these scraps were passed on, and not others.

            The relationship between that “old” and what is distinctive and “new” is therefore one of the central dynamics. Or compare Ecclesiastes (“There is nothing new under the sun”) with Isaiah (“I am about to do a new thing”).

            Aside from the names of the gods, this passage from the Code of Hammurabi could fit just fine within most of the Old Testament (or for that matter, New Testament) view: “then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.” It’s a pretty good description of the role of a pious, upright king. And then once in a while the Bible throws a sentiment so gobsmackingly weird at you that one can be certain it doesn’t fit elsewhere.

            Dave G, aren’t you thrilled this happened in your comment thread?

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            A good proportion of what has come down o us survived by mere chance. Some documents, the Torah amongst them, were chosen in final form for preservation by someone, but who and why is open to speculation.

            What we have may not represent the best or the most important of what was put down. Of course, the more copies of something, the greater the likelihood or survival and transmission. So, we can make some assumption of importance. However, to apply that to our own time means that in 3,000 years Fifty Shades of Grey will be considered the central work of our civilization…

            “Dave G, aren’t you thrilled this happened in your comment thread?” Only on HoP

          • ROFL, I’ve been glancing over some of these and thinking, “The conversations you never know will spark here.”

          • MerryVulture

            And one of the reasons I always check here first.

          • Thuloid

            Quite, although we’re talking about the 50 Shades-equivalent of a scribal elite. Makes it more likely that almost everything that was preserved would have been considered high importance–but that just tells us what a small sliver we have.

          • Bush Craft

            My crayons are too blunt to comment on this thread.

          • Thuloid

            Could be worse. There’s always the Marine Corps.

          • Bush Craft

            It’s pronounced “Marine Cult” :/

          • Thuloid

            I grew up in an Air Force family, so I prefer to think of them as “the idiots who insist on VTOL aircraft.”

          • Feel free to add me (with your party profile not your boring one).

          • Bush Craft

            Yeah ditto

  • OK I’m back from the flu! *rubs hands together* what have we here, I… ugh… so much biblical scholarship. I’m not ready for that, maybe I better just… back to bed…

    Seriously though, nice article Dave. I can appreciate too that it’s hard to talk about this stuff, but important. It’s hard for me to reply with my own experiences because my local people might see. I will say that a good fb group does help to break the ice, although Thuloid’s story shows that it can break it a bit too well sometimes.

    It’s possible to be put off by fb groups too. The Infinity Australia page was a great starting point for me when the game was first growing, but now I worry it comes off a bit snobby and hostile to other games systems. They post a lot of memes mocking 40k, and the comments can be a bit high and mighty about the supposed merits of Infinity compared with other games. I saw a new member bring this up, and instead of taking what he said at face value people just got defensive. That sort of thing is likely to make people thinking of approaching a scene think twice, sadly.

    That cartoon… I want to say Undergrads?

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      I sometimes wonder what goes through the mind of the young miniature fancier who drifts over here, reads an article about gaming, and then see the discussion tangent into some esoteric intellectual debate.

      • I’ve never wondered that before but now I can’t un-wonder.

    • Undergrads indeed.

      Before Facebook, we had a forum shared with the 40k players, but it was _really_ segregated and any crack about GW turned into a warzone. Very touchy.

  • MerryVulture

    So sorry to join the discussions so late. Dave, wonderful article. Not to unlike James, I am a bit hesitant to say too much about the local scene, as some people have thin skins. But all in all my area seems to be friendly and welcoming.

    I love the tangents we get on here at the House. I learn a bit of new perspective about so many things. I just wish, sometimes, that I could contribute more than poorly thought out attempts at humor.

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  • Howdy DaveG, I spoke with Boss Lady Loquacious on Guest Posting for the Crits Kill People blog. I tried to contact you through Facebook but that message is probably stuck in your Other folder. She suggested to leave a comment on one of your articles to setup a discussion.

    Let me know if you’re interested. Otherwise… Well damn, this is one fine article. 🙂

    • hmm, I primarily write at Wargaming Tradecraft.. maybe you messaged the HoP’s Facebook? Probably got caught in the “Other” category which most people don’t realize exist. I have my email ghosted over at my website in the bar on the right, lemme know what you’re thinking.

      • Cool. I sent you an email a moment ago.