Where do you game?
Growing up, I was fortunate to live in houses with a fair amount of space. A great amount of space actually. There was room for everyone and yet we were constantly being sent to play outside! Many, many moons later, after having lived in much smaller spaces, I find myself living in a large house again. And yes, when the weather permits, I send my kids outside; probably just as constantly as well, if you ask them.
While I always encourage everyone to have a diverse set of interests, including outdoor activities, certain games just have to be played a certain way and in this case indoors is almost always the best. Tabletop games require, well, a table to be played on, or at the very least a stable-ish flat surface. Despite this essential requirement, finding a good spot to play can only be as hard as you are willing to make it!
A place where people live
For the younger ones among us or for those who started playing in their teens, home has often been the place where one gathers with their friends or family to play. Depending on whose house you play at, the environment might vary drastically. When I was growing up in Switzerland, we were lucky to have a basement with a rec-room of sorts. I had to share it with my two brothers, one had a drum set and the other a miniature train table that occupied a third of the space. We did share a common passion for Lego, which was omnipresent in our childhood (and that of our kids). Eventually, we refurbished the whole room so that we would have a TV corner and the old kitchen table to game at. The drum set was still there but the train set had be put away. It took my oldest brother many years before he resumed building that train set, in his own basement, with his kids. Come to think of it, in a similar fashion as I am doing with playing tabletop RPGs with my own children, I guess.
No matter where you play, interruption is not an option!
Since I shared the room with my brothers, it was not always available for our gaming sessions. No one in my family wanted to know anything about the Dark Eye, Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia or Dungeons & Dragons. I played with my friends, some I had gone to school with, others I met doing after-school sports. Our group consisted of 5 kids with different backgrounds and hence, this made for various environments to play our games. My best friend growing up lived with his parents and two siblings in a large house as well. His mother and sister used to ride horses and they had a guest room next to the stable. It all sounds super fancy but it was actually a small affair, with two stalls on the stable side and one room on the other. It was filled with large bottles for the cider they used to make from the apples growing in the garden. The room had a large circular table, ideal for tabletop role-playing. It was, however, hardly ever heated so in the fall, we’d sometimes have to roll dice while wearing our coats. It was a small trade off for having access to a room where we were left alone.
Another friend lived in the middle of our village. His parents ran the local school. It was an old, large building with four classrooms and a gym on the ground floor. They lived in the apartment on the 1st floor. Only kids of grades 1 and 2 went there. For grades 3 & 4, one had to go to the next village, a few kilometres up the road. We were not allowed to use the classrooms but the small gym had a stage that also served as a meeting room for the village officials. If it was available, we were allowed to play there, which was great. The last two members of the group lived in another village. It wasn’t very far by bike so we often rode together, picking each other up as we made our way through the vineyard roads. The kitchen was always the space we’d use at their homes. Ultimately, it didn’t matter where our sessions took place, as long as we could indulge in our favourite hobby.
Nowadays, just like back then, when you play at home, the space needed to play tabletop games is likely to serve another purpose the rest of the time. This can become a bit of an issue, especially when you cannot have a dedicated room. Before I moved back to the Netherlands over 20 years ago, I lived in a 1 and a half room apartment in Switzerland. Moving to a house seemed like such a huge change as far as having so much more room for only two people. Fast forward a few years and with a family of four, our Dutch house felt a lot smaller. As with anything, you adjust and figure out how life works with the space you have.
It’s a lot like going on a holiday by car: whatever the size of the vehicle and the number of passengers travelling with you, the trunk is going to get completely packed! But it always works out, and that’s the most important thing after all. As long as you clear it in time for supper, playing on the kitchen table works just as well as having an 800 square foot basement made to look like a castle great hall or the Prancing Pony. Of course a dedicated game room is an amazing thing to have and everyone will set it up in their own way, depending on what it needs to provide and what activities to facilitate.
In our house, the rec-room is a multi-purpose space!
A dedicated place
Since moving to Canada, the amount of living space we have been enjoying has been one of the biggest changes to how we live as a family. The idea of having a rec-room again for the first time since I was 17 was refreshing. Yet, I had no intention to turn it into a theme park either! As a family where everyone likes to be versatile and adaptable, we wanted it to be a place for all of us. We needed a room where we could store and play our board games and tabletop RPGs but also where we could watch a movie, play, work on the family computer, just hang out, craft paper dice, sew, paint miniatures or build Lego. As it turns out, it has now, on top of all that, become our room of choice during heavy snow storms, when the power goes out for a few hours or sometimes a couple of days. It features a propane fireplace that keeps us warm while we sit around the table and play. Board games and TTRPGs are a wonderful way to keep busy in general, but during a power outage, they become essential!
Despite having a dedicated place to indulge in tabletop games, we often play shorter games in the kitchen, such as card games or family favourites like Ticket to Ride, Shadows Amsterdam or 5-minute Dungeon. And that’s the real key to enjoying the tabletop hobby, in all its forms. It is a social activity, one that is often spontaneous or, in the case of role-playing games, requires planning, and needs to take place on a regular basis. Regardless of the type you prefer or play more often, all you need is a place that feels comfortable and inviting. That can be anywhere, regardless of your living space.
For many gamers who play in person with people outside of their direct family or social bubble, public places like game & comic book stores, libraries, community rooms or pubs & cafés are great venues for weekly, bi-monthly or monthly play sessions. Unfortunately, playing as we used to nowadays has become more of a challenge because of the pandemic. And while its severity and extent vary all over the globe, I do hope that you respect the regulations in place wherever you may be, that you do the right thing and look after your fellow players. There are many places that strive to provide solutions while making sure physical distancing and/or face mask measures are followed. This is definitely easier to accommodate for role-playing games than for boardgames but space might be more limited than under normal circumstances. Just visit your local stores and see what the situation is like and what feels safe and comfortable for you. If you’re searching for a way to make your point clear at your place of work or help your local game store, feel free to download the sign I have created to that effect.
The virtual tabletop
The other option to playing in person has been around for a while. It seems that for some, it has now, because of physical distancing measures, even replaced in-person gaming altogether. I would like to discuss the online play topic further but, at this point, I feel I need to know more about it. Mainly, I need to try it for myself. I strive to write about what I know based on my own experiences and, to be honest, I am not willing to voice an opinion about playing remotely via apps like Roll 20, Zoom, Discord or any other video conferencing and tabletop gaming app combination. Once I do get a chance to try it, I might love it, or I could simply not get over having to give up in-person interaction which, for me, is at the heart of the hobby.
Whichever way you play, it helps to feel at home and be at ease with whatever setup you are comfortable with.
To each his own
Right now, I am fortunate to be able to indulge in Dungeons and Dragons, Tales from the Loop and other games with my kids. We’re working on convincing (or was that tricking?) my wife into joining us in our adventures. At this point, it would still be my advice: play with your family or close friends. Stick to a social bubble that ensures everyone’s safety. If you go and play in a public space set up for that purpose, follow the regulations in place, they have been put there for your safety and that of others.
I do understand that for many, the online option is by far less stressful, complicated and much easier. If you have been playing that way for a long time or just because of the pandemic, I’d love to hear about it! Send me a message and share your experiences!
Whichever way you have decided or managed to play lately, I do hope that you are still enjoying the simple pleasures that come with gathering around a table, be it virtual, in the kitchen, in the basement, out on the deck or at your favourite store!
Be safe and take care!
Wouter F. Goedkoop is a multi-faceted designer, artist and storyteller who, after living across Europe decided to find his home in Nova Scotia where he lives with his wife and kids. He helps people and companies connect with their audience in meaningful ways by telling relevant and impactful stories.