Originally published at: https://pbg.geektherapy.com/2018/08/15/my-testemonial/
So I’m a guy who loves sports, technology, video games, and many other “manly” things. Without going into too much detail I was a guy who didn’t have it easy growing up and had to learn a lot on my own. Because of that, a few things come along with this kind of baggage. First, as you get older you realize you have a lot of holes in your thinking and behavior that you have to figure out. Second, those things are hard to figure out when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Growing up I was really into sports, you could say I was a jock in some ways. I played sports and lived that kind of life. I looked down on “nerds” and “Geeks”. It didn’t help that I thought my sister was a “geek” and we didn’t see eye to eye much when I was younger. We hung out with different types of people and did different types of things. I didn’t like her friends much and she didn’t like my friends much. Needless to say, our friends didn’t click with each other either.
So I lived most of my young life with this stereotype that “geeks” and “nerds” are fun to watch on TV but were not my type of people. As I got older and began working with youth and in social services, I was broken down slowly. It started when I worked at this group home and the staff would play Pokémon with the youth each night. This was a huge success for the staff and I knew if I wanted to be successful with any of these youth I needed to jump on board. So, I used this angle as a crutch and started playing with these really young “at risk” youth. This was, in fact, a success with them and it bought me a lot of compliance at that time. This was really early on in my career as a social worker, however, it was a pivotal moment in my transition. From that point on I began starting to enjoy the game and became much more invested in playing with the guys at work. We would have tournaments and go out and buy new cards with the guys when they got their allowances. I was full on “nerding out” with these kids at work and it was awesome.
From there it sort of opened my eyes as I viewed some of the other staff that I really liked a little differently. I knew them before I knew they were pokémon players and really liked them. I had no idea they were pokémon players and when I found out it blew my mind that people like me would play these games. Yes I know, young and dumb. Hey, I was a sheltered nieve young man. Just keep reading…
From there I ended up moving closer to home and I was around my sister a bit more. This is around the time I really started to value the relationship I had with my sister. I started having nieces and nephews and she had married a guy that was much like her in a lot of ways. He was really into some really nerdy games. Because I wanted something to relate to my sister with and I knew she was not gifted with athletic abilities I knew it was on me to come her way. Her husband introduced me to Heroclix. This was so outside of my comfort zone it was insane. I had now jumped into a world of figurines and ability cards. This game had crazy boards and so many different types of characters. it was really in depth and some of the “weirdest” people played these games. Never the less I gave this a fair shake and started playing with my brother in law only, for quite a while. This was a lot to take in for me as I have never played anything like this in my life.
After a while, he started asking me if I would be interested in playing with his group of friends who also play this game. As you can imagine I was terrified and very reluctant. However, I said yes because I actually enjoyed this game and the more I played it the better I got. The next phase of this adventure is aquiring more HeroClix of my own to make my own teams so I can play with other people. This is where I was introduced to my first game store. He took me to Wildthings games and helped me to buy my first few packs of Heroclix. I was so dumb at the time and had no idea that there were stores like this. Not only that I was super uncomfortable because for the first time I felt like I was the weirdo outsider that had no idea what I was doing. This was probably the 2nd biggest breakthrough for me.
As time goes on I kept playing that game and loving it, but then I also started getting really into video games, comics, and eventually I bought my own and very first tabletop game. Now when I say tabletop game I don’t mean I have never owned a board game or anything like that. My wife and I have games like Monopoly or Scrabble. You know things like that. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a game that you don’t buy at a Walmart, Fred Meyer, or Target.
So, moving forward a few years, it was my the week of my birthday. This happens to be the same week of my sisters birthday as we are only 1 year and 4 days apart in age. We were in Portland Oregon at the rose festival and my sister really wanted to go to Guardian games. She had never been there and of course, I had never been there. We were with our biological dad and he wanted to take us to do something for our birthday. I was happy hanging out at the rose festival and never really wanted to go to this game store. Again I’m not super comfortable there and I feel like an outsider. Why would I want to do this? Well, I didn’t want to be a poor sport and complain so I agreed and we all went to this game store. When we get there my sister is like a kid in a candy store. I’m looking around and am blown away by all the crazy stuff they have on the walls, the number of people playing games in the back of the store, and the walls lined to the ceiling with board games. So many games that I have no clue what they are. I might as well have been dropped off in Japan at this point because I have no idea what I’m looking at, what people are saying, or understanding what the heck is going on.
While we are looking around my dad pulls us in and says “hey go ahead and spend about $100 each, it’s on me.” Keep in mind I’m about 28 years old and my dad has brought me to the game store for the first time and says get whatever you want, here is your budget. At first, I was annoyed because I could use this money for something better than this, but again I didn’t want to be a poor sport so I just want with it and I didn’t want to be an ungrateful person as my dad was doing something really generous and awesome. so I looked around for a while and obviously looked clueless. This really nice guy comes over and asked me if I was looking for something. Naturally, I said I have no clue what I’m looking for so I asked him for some suggestions. He asked me what kind of games I would like, which I didn’t know, so he pointed me towards some easy to learn and pick up games that were really picking up steam and catching on with a lot of people. The first game he mentioned to me was Star Realms by White Wizard Games. He told me a little about it and it sounded pretty cool. He did mention some other games as well, but at this point, I was pretty hooked into this Star Realms game. This game was only about 15 bucks so I snatched it up. Turns out this is one of my favorite games ever and I have been buying expansions for it as often as I can. But, I digress. He went on to show me a few other games which I ended up getting. This turned out to be a really cool experience because my sister and I were able to bond in a new way and she led me towards some cool stuff I would not have ever ventured towards on my own.
After that night I went home finally and I was really interested in the games I bought. I had no idea what I really had gotten but I wanted to sit down and figure it out in hopes that I could invite my sister over to play it or something sometime. So I sat down and tried to figure out Star Realms. As some kind of a weird noob, I was lost and didn’t understand, what later turned out to be, a super easy mechanic that any ding dong off the street should be able to grasp. For me though, this was so foreign and I had never played a deck building game before. In a desperate effort to understand the game I had just spent birthday money on, I downloaded the app online and learned how to play from the game app. Turns out this is an amazing game and I literally played this game every single day for about 2 years. I loved it so much I convinced several friends to get it and also download the app to play me online. Again this is a major turning point for me because not only was I starting to feel more comfortable in this new skin I was developing I was inviting people in to experience this new life I’m living. To my surprise, it didn’t really feel as weird as I thought it would.
From that point on I continued to buy games and frequent the game stores that were so foreign and uncomfortable for me in the past. I was able to ask questions that made me feel like I knew something and even ask questions about games that these game store clerks did not even know. When I talk about how games are transformative in people, this is exactly what I’m talking about. I was this “jockish” guy who looked down on “nerds” and “geeks” who played weird games. I didn’t fit in with these people that talked and looked a certain way. I put myself on a pedestal because I was so insecure that I didn’t want to know these type of people. Now I feel like I’m becoming one of them. Don’t get me wrong I love my sports and I play them all the time, but I also love my games and I play them all the time. I learned so much about myself as I grew into this new person and I still am learning about myself to this day. I am so much less judgmental, I learned that I am a real rule oriented guy (which has helped me in my work and personal relationships), and I discovered that I have a lot more in common with people than I thought I did. Games have taught me to look deeper into my reactions because they are coming from somewhere. When I’m playing a game and it envokes an emotion I want to know what it’s sparking and why it’s sparking. Gaming is crazy in that way. It’s a safe place where you can discover these sorts of things without really even trying. You just have to want to take the time to look into it.
As time has gone on and my love for tabletop gaming has grown I got a promotion at my work and I had met some people who do the same type of work as myself who were into games. We thought it would be a great idea to be able to work and play games. Of course, anyone in their right mind would love to play games at work and get paid for it. So, I did. I took my own experiences and put them into actions. I knew that if I could learn about myself and better myself through playing games, then why couldn’t others. Luckily I was given an opportunity to take a promotion which gave me freedom and a job that is designed to build skills in these young men. You could say it was the perfect roll for me. Get it? ha. Anyway, from there I sought out some donations from my agency and from around the world. I wanted to make a tabletop group where I could play games with youth and bring some kind of normalcy to their lives while they were locked up. My hope was that if I exposed them to something normal within the walls that when they get out they would have something or someone they could identify with. As I got deeper into this and some things changed for work I expanded this idea and realized that I can do more than that. I started listening to this great podcast called Rolling for Change. You can find this on the Geek Therapy Network. This podcast opened my eyes to all kinds of new possibilities and things I hadn’t thought of before. It was so simple but I just needed something to boost me in the right direction.
From there I continued getting some donations. I reached out to the boardgamegeek.com forums, the Facebook pages, and some publishers, just asking if they are willing to donate to my cause. As you can expect I got a fair amount of no’s or just no response at all, but I also got a lot of yes’s. I had some donations coming from all over the place. I had donations coming from overseas, from other states, and even from people in my local community. I was able to amass about 60 games through donations. It was awesome. Many of those games I played with the guys and they loved. Not all were winners or appropriate for the youth I work with but many were. Of those games we got, we got everything from small little decks of cards to full on new board games. We even got some games that were never released in the USA, and many that were in foreign languages. Those pose a special kind of challenge, but we gave them a shot.
From that point on I have been going pretty hard in pushing my groups and opening it up to as many youths as I can. I am only one man, right now, so I am limited to the amount I am legally able to work with at one time, but I’m trying to spread the group out as far as I can. I am still looking for donations as there are always games out there that we can use to teach different kinds of skills or generate amazing conversations. Just recently we were donated some cooperative games from a local church. This was an amazing gift and greatly needed, as we only had about 2 games that were cooperative.
As you can hopefully notice games have changed my life for the better. It’s turned what was once a cringe-worthy idea that I wanted nothing to do with into a real passion of mine and a real focus in my work. Games are amazing and typically much more than just games. I hope to continue my journey with games in my life and I hope I can spark the same passion and focus for many of the guys I work with.