I’m always a nerd. I like comic books and trivia contests. Where normal people like doing things, I like thinking about and deconstructing those things. In short, everything I do is nerdy. There is one pastime, however, that makes me feel much, much nerdier, and secures in my mind that I am, in fact, a bona fide nerd: Gaming. Now, I don’t mean fratboy video-gaming, I mean hardcore nerd board-gaming, the kind where you’re playing a character with skills and motivations that may vary from your own.
I haven’t always been this way. I made it through high school without touching a D&D board, or even a set of Magic: The Gathering cards. There was a brief stint where I owned a couple hundred Pokémon cards, but I’d say that that’s more the result of being a preteen boy in the late 90’s than any latent nerd tendencies. At any rate, I didn’t consider myself a “gamer” when I got to college.
One of the RAs in my freshman dorm was a huge gamer. He had a ceiling-high stack of boardgames I had never heard of, and ran a weekly game night at the dorm’s front desk. I didn’t get out much freshman year, so I went to just about every one of those game nights. The first game I remember playing there was Bang!, a wild west themed card game that was fairly light on role-playing elements, but required a lot of strategy. Learning how to play took a game or two, and really understanding the strategy took a few more. We played it every single week, so I quickly became familiar with the inner workings of the game, making me a relative expert to the rotating array of newcomers that would traipse into game night as they went about having actual lives. While getting to feel like an expert is always appealing to me, I think the thing that I liked most about the game night was spending time with the other nerds that came every week. Some of them were friends, and others were people I admired quite a bit, but we all bonded over a silly card game and cheap snacks.
Every so often, someone would suggest that we try a new game, something with cards or tiles or tokens and quirky, colorful language in the instructions. While I never got into any of those games as much as Bang!, those experiences did teach me the basic grammar of gaming, allowing me to develop a kind of meta-gaming rulebook (pass the di(c)e to the next player when your turn is over, don’t discard until you’re done with your turn, etc.), which can be used in almost all situations, and makes learning new games much easier.
The next year, I befriended a hardcore gamer, an experienced D&D dungeon master who had a knack for explaining rules to people. Our school had a lodge in northern Wisconsin where teams, clubs, and classes could reserve for weekend retreats. That lodge had one of the most bizarre collections of board games I have ever seen, ranging from old classics to hilariously dated oddities. It was from that collection that my friend found RoboRally, a programming-themed racing board game (if that doesn’t sound like fun, it’s only because you’ve never played it before). I made a point of playing this game every time I went up to that lodge, which more often than not required me to teach a whole new group of people how to play, but everyone who did always enjoyed it. In fact, one of my professors loved the game so much, he ended up purchasing a vintage copy on ebay (the game is still in print, but he wanted the pewter game tokens so he could paint them) and forcing his friends to play it at his apartment.
Meanwhile, that same friend was introducing me to even more games. Settlers of Catan became an all too regular mainstay amongst a small group of friends, with us all sacrificing valuable sleep time in order to play. I also partook in a couple D&D encounters, though I never played enough to really get lost in the world. Looking back, gaming was actually a pretty big part of my life in college, but one that has been almost completely neglected since I graduated.
This is on my mind because I stayed up late last night learning how to play Munchkin, another card game with a little role-playing and a lot of strategy. I loved it, and took to the rules quickly, but was frustrated at the pace of the game because the other beginners were a little slower to pick it up. That in and of itself is bad gaming technique. I’ve had a lot of teaching-games-with-complicated-rules experience, so I should know better than to get impatient when someone has a question. I think I was thrown off because I didn’t enter into the game as the teacher, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have been an asset to the other beginners. Like I mentioned before, I have a hard-earned understanding of the basic workings of this type of game, and I know it would be unreasonable to expect everyone to have the same understanding. I honestly don’t know if I was frustrated with the pace others were learning the game, or by the lack of experience their slowness indicated, but either way, it was a shitty attitude.
If I’m ever going to get over my own fear of fairweather fandom, I have to stop being impatient with newbies. The point of the game is to have fun, and questions and answers can be every bit as fun as a smoothly-run game between experts. Moreover, the only reason I was ever able to get into games in the first place was because someone had patience enough to teach me, so I owe it to the world to pay that forward (also, you know, so I could have people to play games with). In this case, I was a little thrown off by being attuned to an etiquette nobody else was even aware of. I was taking offense that people were doing very subtle things incorrectly, from forgetting to show cards to failing to properly demarcate the end of their turn, but there was no way for them to even know that what they were doing was wrong.
I suppose one of my biggest fears of being a fairweather fan is not being aware of this type of secret etiquette. I don’t want to come off as rude or ignorant, but that’s really a stupid thing to fear when I actually am ignorant. I actually don’t know these things, so who could expect me to? My actions may be perceived as rude, but that’s simply the result of my ignorance. If it frustrates people, being angry at me isn’t going to be productive, teaching me will. Keeping that in mind makes me feel really bad for my attitude last night — I just hope I can remember that before I act like a dick next time.