Back to School Tips for Gamers

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 3, 2013

Going to college was an opportunity for me, as a gaming and comic book nerd, to try and reinvent myself. I could be one of the cool kids if I wanted to be; after all no one knew me so I could try to pass myself off as anything I wanted. Good in theory, but I quickly realized that I’m a gamer and that I couldn’t change or hide that fact. Instead I took my first steps as a gaming ambassador. I shared my love of games – board games, card games and role-playing games – with all of the new people I met while I was away at school. The key was to ease people into it gaming and let them discover for themselves just how much fun gaming can be.

Games as ice breakers

When I was ready to begin my college education, I chose a school in a different city then the one I grew up in. This meant that I was forced to make new friends. Fortunately I lived in a dormitory during my first year at school and was thrust into close quarters with a lot of other students in the same boat. For some people making new friends can be difficult; especially making friends with members of the opposite sex. In my experience board games and role-playing games can help bring strangers together in a relaxed and fun way.

During my first few weeks at school a lot of people spent a lot of time partying. But once they ran out of money and realized they needed to study, they looked for other ways to have fun that weren’t as expensive or time consuming – boards games to the rescue! Board games allowed people to take a quick study break for an hour or less to socialize with their fellow students and have fun in the process.

Party games that allowed for 6 or more players were usually the most popular, but 4 player strategy games certainly had their place as well. In my experience it was a good idea to have a variety of games at the ready. Since I was the one who owned most of the games I got to know almost everyone in my dorm (guys and girls) in a very short period of time.

Once word got out that I was the games guy people would often ask if they could borrow my games. This can be a double edged sword. I was glad to see so many people interested in sharing my hobby, but I was worried about what would happen to my games so I compromised. I did lend my games out but I always asked if I could play a game or two with whomever was borrowing it. This let me meet more people and it let me judge the way in which they’d treat my property. By the year’s end all my games got destroyed or lost too many pieces to be played again, but I felt this was a fair trade given the friendships and social interactions that came from the gaming experiences.

Gamers are gamers are gamers

Playing a board game in the dorm’s common room is one thing, but playing a full on D&D adventures in the common room is an entirely different beast. Most RPGs are not the kind of thing you can just show up for, drop in, sit down, and play. And if this does happen the new players often don’t get it or don’t see the appeal. The result is ridicule. For this reason I usually played D&D behind closed doors with other like-minded gamers.

The challenge I faced at a new school in a new town was finding other role-playing gamers. Today it’s just a matter of going online and looking for a nearby gaming store that runs a public-play program like D&D Encounters. The internet was in its infancy when I was a student so I was forced to more mundane means of finding players. Had there been a gaming shop near my school that would have been my first stop, but I was in a small town with no such outlet. Instead I advertised. What I mean is that I often carried my gaming books with me or read them in plain view of other students.

When we had people over to our room to play games or hang out (my room was one of the only ones with a TV) I made sure my gaming books were easily spotted on the shelf. I even had D&D posters on the wall among all the other movie, sports, rock & roll and classic art posters. By showing off my gaming stuff other gamers would inevitably say something. It took less than a month to find five other gamers and start playing the D&D Bloodstone campaign.

Once word got out that there was a regular Wednesday night D&D game happening in our dorm we found that we became the heart of the campus RPG community. People who wanted to play D&D would either join our group or ask for our help to find enough folks to start their own game. We ended up helping other gamers start groups that played RIFTS, Star Trek RPG, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire the Masquerade and of course D&D.

Don’t forget who your friends are

When I went away to school I made a lot of new friends, many of them gamers. Most of the guys I played with in high school did the same at their respective schools. The result was that my original gaming group split up for many years. After we all completed our studies and moved back home we didn’t immediately get back to gaming together. It was a strange situation because some of the guys wanted to get back together and game like we did when we were in high school. Others were in new groups and didn’t want to leave them.

What ended up happening was that my core gaming group grew apart. What we didn’t realize at first was that our weekly gaming session was the glue that held us together. Without it we just didn’t make the time to see each other and life-long friendships began deteriorating. It took the tragedy of a funereal to bring us all back together a few years after college. As part of our healing process we decided to start gaming again. That was almost 15 years ago and we’ve gamed almost every week since then. Our group has some of the guys who played together in high school as well as a few new gamers we met while away at school.

Forever a gamer

For all the gamers out there starting at a new school this week, I encourage you to become a gaming ambassador. Don’t stop gaming just because you’re at school. Games are fun. They provide a reason for people who might not otherwise spend time together to hang out and have fun.

In my experience being the guy who knows all the great games made me quite popular. When other students needed a cheap night in they often asked me to recommend a game. For those students who really liked to party, I was often asked to recommend drinking games or help tweak some of my favourite board games into drinking games (if you’re going to do this please drink responsibly). Some might see the gamer as a socially awkward nerd but I found as I introduced new people to games it helped give me confidence and certainly help my communication skills. So if you’re a gamer going back to school embrace that part of you and don’t be a afraid to proudly exclaim that you play games.

Did you play games when you were at college? Were you a closet gamer or were you loud and proud? Were you a gaming ambassador teaching the ignorant masses your favourite games? How many people still play games (RPG or board games) with people they met at college? Tell us about your college gaming experiences.

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1 Joe September 3, 2013 at 10:35 am

Awesome post. Took me back to the marathon 10 hour sessions we’d have playing the old d6 Star Wars game Saturday nights into Sunday morning back in school. So much fun.

Another place to look is school clubs. While there may not be a “Gaming club” on campus (depending on campus size), there will likely be a Science Fiction club, or a Fantasy club, or a Doctor Who club, or an Anime club, or maybe even a historical re-enactment club. There’s a lot of overlap in the Venn diagrams between those groups and gamers, so you’re likely to find some roleplayers in those organizations.

Also, if it’s a big campus, there’s a decent chance that you’ll find LARPers around. Maybe you won’t find the foam-sword/boffer types running around campus, but when I was at UMass (a school of more than 20,000), I literally ran into a Vampire LARP one Saturday night walking through the campus center, and within a week I was connected to the 30 or so gamers in that group. Look for cloaks, fancy dress, and any other out-of-the-ordinary costumes, and you’re likely to find some gamers.

My FLGS, Modern Myths in Northampton, MA, is fortunate enough to be in the middle of a 5-college collective (UMass, Smith, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire), and all of those schools have sci-fi/fantasy clubs that are full of gamers. It’s always great to be running an Encounters table and have freshman (or, for the all-women colleges, “first year”) players show up at the table. They feel like the sort of folks that D&D Encounters was designed for.

Oh, and also watch out for big events (either on the internet or just on cheaply-drawn fliers around campus). I know that nearby Hampshire College here in western Massachusetts does an event called “Death Fest” where hundreds of gamers from all over New England play at lots of different tables (I think they use 3.5 D&D rules), and the survivors move on to fewer & fewer tables later in the night. It’s more along the lines of Lair Assault with the player death counts, but everyone I’ve ever met who’s participated has absolutely LOVED it, and for many that was the first game in a long roleplaying career.

Also, while you’re at college, enjoy the opportunities that you have. As a 35-year-old gamer in the real world, I find myself having difficulty coordinating my players schedules and work needs to find free time to game. In college, you could just drink a red bull, skip sleeping for the night, and be a little groggy in chem class the next morning. That kind of opportunity will never present itself again, so take advantage of it while you can, college gamers.

2 College America September 3, 2013 at 2:48 pm

LOVE this post. Making friends at a new school is one of the most daunting things about the beginning of the school year. I feel like what you’ve suggested here is applicable across a variety of niche interests, not just gaming. And ABSOLUTELY take advantage of the time you have in school. You aren’t able to appreciate how much free time you had in college until you’re graduated and real life kicks in.

3 Tim September 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm

As I am starting my first year at the University of Toronto, I will remember this advice as I reach out to find and play with other gamers and roleplayers. Thanks for the awesome encouragement!

4 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm

If you’re looking for gamers in Toronto I can help (as I am in Toronto as well). Email me ameron at dungeonsmaster dot com

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