Monday, 30 June 2014

How I spend my time

So when i'm not playing games, i'm watching games. Well actually i'm officiating at games.
I've been involved in roller derby since 2008, and have spent many weekend since then in leisure centres and sports halls up and down the UK, and Ireland, bathed in an orange glow and holding up various numbers of fingers.

This was my view on Saturday. I was score tracking, which is probably my favourite officiating role.  I truly love roller derby, I found it at a point in my life when I was feeling lost and alone. It gave me a family of women who accepted me just as I was, and encouraged me to do and be better It helped me to make friends with people I might not have run into otherwise, and go to places and give me things to do during a period of my life when I felt hopeless.

I have given actual skating a good go, but my (considerable) weight and general lack of fitness holds me back. But then, i'm happy enough officiating and being part of my league without having to get into the politics of team selection. 

There's rarely a weekend when I couldn't be officiating although the past couple of years I've not done much as shift working has meant that I simply wasn't available. With a new job, I'm back in the mix!

I have spent the past 20 years in predominantly male environments, so it's rather nice that my hobby lets me socialise with women. It's a different dynamic, and I think its helping me to become more rounded. 


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Geeky accessories

I enjoy dressing up a bit, and what better way to display my love of all things geeky and gamey through this awesome space invader necklace!

I got it off Etsy, and am really pleased with it. It's bigger than it looks in the photo on the Etsy shop, but i rather like the chunkiness of it. I also like the story behind it, that it was just a rock found on a beach which had naturally formed into this nostalgic shape.  I think i'm going to end up wearing this a lot!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Step back in time

So last Friday was games night. It's not every Friday, but happens maybe every two or three weeks. This Friday there were just three of us, and we went a bit old school. 3rd Edition Talisman.

I was playing the goblin fanatic. A rather cheery looking chap with a massive ball (and chain). 

He was rather fun to play, and had a decent special power. The character card is different from the 4th edition, and although the artwork for the character isn't anywhere nice as nice as the 4th edition, I like that there is room on the card to put all your stat cones and experience cones. 

Here's a rather shiny view of the board. It's very similar to 4th edition, although i prefer the artwork on the board in the 3rd. It played well apart from the ending which on of my friends whizzed through in about 3 minutes and was rather anti-climactic! I didn't time it, but i think it was also a much shorter game than 4th edition.

I liked that there was no fate, i tend to forget to use it in 4th edition anyway, but disliked the lack of female characters. The artwork on the box has NO female characters at all.

It's become a bit of a running joke with my friends, but where possible I insist on playing female characters. I'm perfectly happy to role-play a man, but these games just don't have many female characters so I like to make sure i use them!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Social media, social me?

So another post inspired by a vlog, but also inspired by something I was thinking about the other day. I was twittering away, messaging someone that I realised I have been connecting with, via the net, for twenty years. Has social media made me more social?

I starting using BBS's and playing games on-line in the mid 90's, I was pretty active on-line and went to the occasional spod meet (as we called them), which was considered to be pretty daring... "You're going to meet people off the internet? They might be serial killers!", of course none of them ever turned out to be serial killers, mostly just students the same age as myself, who were into the same kinds of things as myself.

I started a blog in the late 90's, which I kept fairly regularly for ten years. Only stopping when a partner got upset about the possibility of being mentioned even obliquely in it. I played Everquest and joined a guild, I was an early adopter of Facebook (back when you had to be a student!), I toyed with Myspace and am now active on twitter, instagram, pinterest and am back blogging again.

One of the things that made me hop on board BBs's and usenet back in the 90's was that it allowed me to express myself via the written word.

A lot of people might find it hard to believe that I am shy, but it's something I've never quite managed to overcome. I'm pretty good at hiding it, and usually seem to end up in jobs where I have to be "on" and perform in front of people in stressful settings and present myself as calm, unflappable and approachable. In many ways, having areas in which I could, and can, write down or express myself in ways that don't involve verbalising has given me the confidence to go out and do those jobs.

In some ways though, looking back at my blog from the 90's is a very painful experience. The outlet which allowed me to function in social situations with people shows me as someone who was very angry with the world, and frustrated and bitter. I think it was the only outlet I had for those feelings, and sharing them like that validated them in a way.

Or maybe that's just nonsense.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Friday night is games night!

Friday night is games night! Well, not every Friday, but usually every other Friday. Fresh from UK Games expo with a small Munchkin haul, there was only one game to be played - Munchkin!

I had bought the deluxe version, as I really wanted the board. Now the reason for this is two-fold. 1) Maths is not my strong point, and this is really the easiest way to keep track of what level everyone is at and 2) that visual representation of the score is a way to pull non-gamers into the game.

Munchkin is a very silly game, any game where part of the rules explicitly state the resolving disputes by loud arguments is a part of the game has got to be fun!

One of my gaming group had bought Munchkin Zombies, and I had Star Munchkin, so we mixed them up together. After all, who wouldn't want to be a cyborg zombie?

We had three games in a row, one of Star Munchkin, one of Zombie and Star and then a final one of just Zombie. All were a great deal of fun, with plenty of backstabbing and bartering and arguing over the rules! We had 4 players for the first game, and then three for the rest. Each game took around 30-45 minutes, so a fairly quick game and perfect after a long week at work.

Well, i say long week, I believe it was the first five day week i've had to do in my new job. When is the next bank holiday??

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A clever and geeky beginning

Yesterday I wrote, in an aside, about how I had spent a lot of time being laughed at. Oddly enough though, most of this has been as an adult.

As a kid in primary school I was definitely very geeky. I was in chess club, and spent as much time as a could on the school computer. In fact during a school week away at an out door pursuits centre, I spent the entire week trying to beat Suburban Fox. I never did beat that, but did win Granny's Garden though. Good times!

I had a Commodore 64 at home, and I guess i must have been around 7 or 8 as my best friend at the time had a Speccy. My best friend moved away when i was approximately 9 or 10, and I know I had it before then so 7 or 8 seems like a good bet (Incidentally I would love to find out whatever happened to my friend, she was called Louisa Mackenzie and her mum taught me the piano. I know she had two older sisters and a brother, but trying to find old female friends is really difficult) I was programming on it from a fairly early age, and in typical me fashion I was correcting the listings in the books I had.

I was clever, and I knew it. I was sure that I would pass the 11+ and go to grammar school, and even at the age of 10 I knew that I would be going to university. This was in the early 80's when it was not so commonplace as now. Neither of my parents went to university, and in fact the only person I vaguely knew who had was my dad's best friend from school who was offered an unconditional place at, I think, Cambridge. I'm pretty sure my dad's friend became a teacher, which puzzled me a little as a child, as my mother was a teacher and she didn't have a degree. Anyway, I digress. 

i was as arrogant a little pig at 10 as one could wish.

All that changed when I went to secondary school. I did, of course, pass the 11+ exam and actually got into a private school which was part of the foundation of grammar schools in Birmingham. When I attended I was in for a massive shock. I was no longer the cleverest person in the school, I wasn't the cleverest person in my year. In fact I wasn't even the smartest in my form. I was actually the least intelligent in my form, and that was severe blow to my ego at the age of 11!

Still, it's probably for the best, as it meant I was a fairly good-natured teenager, and willing to share my time and what talents I had with others. It also gave me a feeling that I wasn't good enough, which manifested itself in my being unwilling to do things because of that feeling. Something which persists today. 

I really have digressed now! I spent most of my lunchtimes on the school computers, mostly gaming, and also practicing for the school quiz team. I was pretty happy, and I had friends. I was geeky, but no-one ever really made me feel bad about it as everyone there was intelligent and mostly focusing on exams and doing well enough to get into their university of choice. My best friend for many years was just as geeky as I and was into Star Trek (STOS and TNG) and went to Space Camp. We are still friends today, only our programme of choice now seems to be stargate!

It was competitive and hard work, I was exhausted by the end of sixth form. I was ready for university and excited about studying computer science. I went from a fairly nurturing environment where being clever was a given, and being interested in school or university was the norm, to an environment where looks and where you spent your free time seemed to be more important.

I made a few friends on my course, but the girls who were on my corridor in the Halls were nothing like me. I couldn't relate to them at all (apart from my oldest friend, who had the room next to me - i was quite co-dependant on her!) and they couldn't understand my desire to be in the 24hr spod lab. I survived the first year though. 

The second year was different, I shared a flat with my oldest friend, a friend of hers and two random strangers the university placed us with. One was repeating his second year, and was pretty quite and nice enough. The other though took a dislike to me. He was, I suppose, pretty good looking (although not my type) and was used to having girls fall on their knees in front of him. Not me. He took exception to this, and spent most of that year bullying me. Constantly making references to my height (I am very short) and weight (I was about 8 stone, not exactly overweight), not just verbally, but actually scrawling them in the lifts in our block of flats, breaking my things which were left in the kitchen, and generally making my life a misery. I ended up spending my free time in the 24hr spod lab, only this time it wasn't a short walk inside the Halls, it was a good 20 minute on campus itself. Walking at night through Salford was certainly an experience, but it seemed like the safer option to being in my flat.

Anyway, fast forward 20 years or so, and I've spent most of my life working in IT pretty happily. Living the geeky dream, and working with people who understand it when you enthuse about playing Repton as a kid. The rest of the world though, whilst some of the things that I enjoyed as a kid are now considered mainstream (the internet for one!), the reaction that I get off the average person in the street is not great.

I've kind of lost the topic now with all this rambling...maybe it's a post for another day about geekiness today.


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

There be Dragons

I was watching David Hewlett's vid about playing D & D, It's funny, because I was very much the same as a kid. I loved fantasy and always wanted to play, but didn't know anyone who had the same interests. I too ended up playing and programming on my C64 (which I still have!), but it wasn't really the same.

Fast forward 30 years and I got the opportunity with my gaming group for some role playing action.

A rather blurry shot of the first role playing game (not D & D) that I tried with my group. As you can see it includes the all important pizza! I enjoyed coming up with my character and working out her stats. It should be noted that I always play as a woman. I'm typically the only female at our game nights, and have spent the past twenty years working in predominantly male environments and where possible I insist on playing female characters in our games. Now this might seem an aside, but actually I think it's quite important.

Turns out that when I had to improvise what my character said and did in this world, I was useless! I felt very self-conscious, and totally lost. It was as if I was dumped into a world that I knew nothing about, but should do and I struggled with it. I'm naturally quite shy, and when put on the spot I clammed up. It was an uncomfortable experience. Possibly if there had been other women in the group I might have felt less freaked out by it. This campaign ran for quite a few months and I honestly began to dread going, but didn't want to let my friends down by dropping out. I was rather glad when circumstances changed and our GM wasn't really able to run the game on a regular basis anymore.

I didn't let this put me off though. My group's next venture was into the world of Warhammer.

Here you can see another map, this time on wipe-clean grid paper. with various figures, snacks (of course!) and also my lovely Chessex aquerple dice, and at the top of the picture one of the many big books of Warhammer. Now, it turns out that most of my group were very familiar with the Warhammer world and I was not. They are more of a sword bent, and whilst I enjoy that, I tend to drift towards laser. that said, even without knowing the world I still enjoyed making up my character. 

Yet again though, even in a different and more structured world, I struggled with with role playing. It's not a lack of imagination, I'm perfectly capable of making up stories in my head, but having to verbalise them in front of others is just something that I find intimidating when it's out of the realm of my personal experience. It's not something i'm comfortable doing anyway, although I can do it and do it well. 

[As another aside, during the board games expo two different people told me I should think about doing stand-up. I really cannot imagine anything worse. I've had people laughing at me my whole life, and the thought frankly terrifies me]

I do wonder what the experience would be like if I were gaming with women, or if it was in an environment that was perhaps more tolerant of my shortcomings,  but I think it's probably not something that I'm going to explore again in the near future.

Still, I do have all those dice though...

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

And so it begins

This past weekend I attended the UK Games Expo. Now, I do like to game, but have never attended before and wasn't really sure what to expect. I went along with some of my gaming buddies, and I was glad about this as it was heaving and I felt overwhelmed! The expo organisers said that there were 6000 ticket holders and 10000 turnstile (not sure what that means) but on the Saturday it was impossible to move in some of the halls.

I don't really cope very well with crowds, and have studiously avoided any cons or expos in the past because of this fear. I managed, by sticking close to a couple of my friends, and when I wasn't feeling quite so overwhelmed I even managed to get a game or too in.

Here I am, deep in thought about the next move to make in Hive. It's a chess like game, but a lot quicker to play, and you don't need a board. I think i've lost everytime! Chess was never really my game, I'm not much one for thinking ahead and planning, i'm more of a leaper and then try and figure out the solutions to any problems that crop up as a result of that. That said, It was an enjoyable game and i'd be happy to play it again.

The publisher of Hive also had another game, Army of Frogs. A similar concept, but for more than two players, and the pieces don't have their own moves.

You can't tell from this picture, but the tiles are frogs, and their backs work as handles for them. Very tactile, and well made. I can see both of these games being popular with primary-age children. The designer spoke to us about setting up tournaments in schools, and boy did I wish this had been around when I was a kid. I was in chess club in primary school, with about 3 or 4 others. It wasn't popular at all!

I was attracted to one stand which was demo-ing a game called Spy or die trying. It's theme was 1960's spying.

I didn't play this, but watched only. I'm quite happy to watch games, and still enjoy myself, but this one didn't grip me at all. I was quite disappointed as I grew up watching Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart and love the look and feel of that genre. Maybe if you got to know the game and the rules really well it would be faster and more interesting, but there seemed to be too many options which dragged things out.

Another game I attempted to play was Trains. Bought by a friend, and ran as a pick up game with a couple who were sat at a table that my gang appropriated!

Although I really enjoy Ticket To Ride, a train theme isn't the most interesting to me. It was a deck building game, but I think we must have not really understood the rules, as we all got bored of it quite quickly, and didn't finish the game. Possibly one to try again when we understand the rules.

My purchases though were the deluxe Munchin game (£18 new) and star Munchkin (£15 in the bring and buy), and I was very pleased with these. I also bought some pretty new chessex dice to replaced my chipped and cloudy aquerple ones, and a union flag d6, which will be a present.

I'm hoping to play Munchkin on Friday with my gaming group, and since one of my friends got the zombie set, we are planning a space zombie game. Should be fun!

There were a few people cosplaying at the expo, and this year was the first year that they did awards. It's not really the type of a event where you get a lot of people doing it, most are here to game, but this year they had prizes for the first time. Several Doctor Who cosplays, a Deadpool, a Stargate marine, some Star Wars ones and there were a few people who were into LARPing.

Plus Daleks, of course! I managed to get to one seminar, a Q & A session with Matt Leacock, the designer of Pandemic, Forbidden Island etc. He's coming out with a dice version of Pandemic, which sounds intriguing and a Thunderbirds game! I wanted to go to the seminar about women in gaming, but felt overwhelmed by everything on the Saturday and was playing laser tag on the Sunday. Hopefully one of those sessions was recorded and will be made available. The special guest was Chris Barrie, I didn't get to any of his seminars, but apparently he was worth going to. 

Now for the things I didn't like about the expo. Whilst the stallholders were more than happy to take my money, again and again the (mostly) young women who were giving out flyers and information about games would give one to each of my male friends and miss me out completely! I'd like to say that this was a one off, but it wasn't. Eventually I told my male companions that this was happening, and got them to watch it in action. They couldn't believe it! Every time I would be missed out.

It was strange, as although the attendees were predominantly male, there were a lot of women there. Some seemed to be there are reluctant partners, or mothers, but there were a fair few who were clearly gamers themselves. 

The air-con in the hotel couldn't cope with the amount of people on the Saturday, and neither could the hotel staff. In fact they seemed to be struggling Friday evening. I know that the expo will be at the hotel again next year, but the space the hotel has clearly isn't big enough. I would imagine the step up in price to use the NEC is prohibitive. I for one though would pay a little more for a more comfortable experience. I'm not even going to go into the smell...

I'm sure I will go again, but I would be more prepared next time. I'd probably book myself into a tourney, and would definitely pace myself better. I felt like i was going round and round and round a lot of the time. I would make time to go to the seminars that interested me, and I would try and join in games that people were playing.