We recently celebrated our 3rd WA ObSec Masters the weekend of the 18th and 19th of November and I promise I will do a write up of the actual event later today (OK probably tomorrow, the photos take a while to edit), but before I do, I wanted to share an experience from the Saturday when I met a young guy Isaac, his mum Leonie, uncle Tony and friend Will and what toy soldiers can mean to people. (Isaac and his mum have given me permission to share this).
We often get spectators coming in and we encourage it, we ask spectators not to interrupt games but otherwise the more the merrier. When a spectator walks in I will either greet them by name if they are a regular player or go and introduce myself, point out M, welcome them and see if I can help in any way. When Isaac and his family arrived I was busy and didn’t see them come in so it was after they had made a lap of the room that I made it over to say hello.
They say you should never judge a book by its cover but to some extent I did. Having seen Isaac across the room I wondered whether Isaac was autistic with developmental delays. It was a non judgemental observation and one that would not have affected my interaction with Isaac except that when a spectator comes in I normally try to be bright and bubbly and make conversation in an effort to make them feel welcome and in this situation I would allow Isaac to lead that interaction and I would follow his lead. I headed over to say hello to his mum and uncle as Isaac and Will wandered around.
I spoke with Leonie and Tony about our events, how we aim to be inclusive, how great our players are, they are non judgemental and everyone in the room is equal (admittedly that means that once the regular players get to know new players they are equally likely to give the new guy a ribbing but it is never done with malice, instead it is done with friendship and good humour), I spoke about the diversity of our players. Obviously we lack a little in the way of gender diversity but as far as men go we have a huge spectrum of guys in the room. Our players range from early (even pre) teens through to older adults, we have students and guys wide range of occupations, there are single guys, those with partners, married guys, fathers, GLBT (well obviously not the L given we didn’t have any female players at Masters but GBT didn’t look right), guys with ASD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, PTSD, cancer warriors, the list goes on, and they are all really good role models. We also spoke about our events next year, First Blood is a friendly intro event, great for newer players or players who are feeling a bit concerned about attending their first tournament (or vets who just want to get some games in), spoke about our other events and M came over as Leonie was telling me that Isaac had recently entered armies on parade at GW. Then Isaac wandered over.
I want to describe Isaac as I first saw him, again I am describing Isaac with the utmost respect but I feel that if I don’t describe him as I first saw him I can’t come close to describing the transformation I witnessed. Isaac is a sixteen year old with a soft, gentle face, he was hunched over so he wasn’t at his full height, I almost felt as if he was willing people not to see him, his head was bowed but when I saw his eyes it felt like there was a light behind them that hadn’t been turned on. M and I introduced ourselves to Isaac and we shook his hand and he whispered his greetings to us. I literally could feel the discomfort radiating from Isaac and I would have given him some space so he didn’t feel overwhelmed. Whether M didn’t notice Isaac’s apparent discomfort or just chose to respond differently to how I would respond I don’t know, but where I would have given Isaac space M didn’t and wow did M make the better choice.
Armies on Parade
All it took was M to say ‘hey mate, what army did you paint for Armies on Parade?’ And a complete transformation happened in front of us. Isaac stood up straight and I literally saw a light switch on for him. The light behind his eyes that had been dimmed or switched off when I first saw him was suddenly shining bright, his eyes were sparkling and the boy that seemed lost within his shell was suddenly fizzing with energy and excitement. The same boy who had mumbled his hello and had tried to be invisible now walked over to the tables with M to check out other armies similar to his, he was asking questions almost confidently and he was a different person. After spending some time taking Isaac around the room M came back to chat with Isaac’s family and I again and Isaac continued to walk around the tables and chat with the players. It was amazing, this boy who had been trying to make himself invisible was now almost confidently approaching players and tables, asking questions about armies and he was a participant in life. I’m going to be honest, even remembering this transformation weeks later still moves me.
When I ring to organise venue bookings, or insurance or something else with providers that don’t know what Warhammer is, or I’m explaining to friends or work colleagues what ObSec does I generally say, ‘it’s like a great big game of chess, only its on a much bigger scale and uses dice, it’s grown men playing with toy soldiers’ they say ‘ohhhhhh’ and give a nervous laugh. I’m proud of running events for grown men (and women) to play with toy soldiers. Fun is really important! I’m proud that M and I can provide events that bring some joy to our players’ world. I’m big on fun, laughter, joy and play so I love that we do this even though often people outside of this community really don’t understand that this is a ‘thing’ (I’ve lost count of how many times over the last 2+ years I’ve heard ‘I didn’t even know that was a thing!’).
Not just Toy Soldiers
On that Saturday I was reminded that this is so much more than grown men playing toy soldiers. The men in the room role model respectful behaviour towards women when they interact with me and the female players or spectators when we have them in the room, they role model being a good dad when they bring their children to visit the events, for some of our younger players who don’t have these role models at home this is really valuable, they role model how to win and lose with grace (which in a society that gives participation ribbons for everything is so important!), events offer social networks and social connection (conversation and small talk are at risk of becoming a lost art) and the list of positives that are modelled at these events goes on.
I have been moved to tears only a few times with ObSec, the first 2 were when players told me they had attempted suicide and now they were so grateful it failed because they now have a place where they fit and belong, once when so many people told us they had nominated us for the Warhammer Heroes for making a difference to the community and on that Saturday when I was privileged to watch the transformation of Isaac. Warhammer did that for Isaac! Warhammer provided the key to unlock what was hidden inside Isaac. Not by itself, Isaac’s mum Leonie must have worked exceptionally hard to find that key and to work out how to turn it. Walking into a GW store that first time was no doubt more difficult for Isaac than any of us can imagine and the boys at GW Morley; Andrew, Shane and previously Ry have made an environment when Isaac feels safe and comfortable and from what I’ve heard Andrew and Shane have gone so far above and beyond for Isaac that I am exceptionally proud to know them. There are some people that seem to think that GW is the devil incarnate, after watching Isaac’s eyes light up and hearing about Andrew and Shane being such a support to him (both of them offered to attend the Leuwin experience with Isaac – you guys are amazing!!) I am pretty sure that Leonie at least doesn’t believe that GW is evil. Leonie, I can only imagine the joy you must feel when you see your child spark with energy and excitement!
The Bigger Picture
Getting to the end of this post I am asking myself why I am posting this, will other people who didn’t get to see what I saw on that Saturday be interested in reading this? I think one of the reasons that I am sharing this is that I want to share with wives, husbands, partners, and parents that Warhammer can so much bigger than 2 mates playing a game. M and I have been together for just shy of 19 years (I was VERY young when we got together obviously!) and he has played 40k for the whole time we have been together plus years before we met. There have been times when I have cursed his hobby (generally when he is painting for an event and I don’t see him for a week or more) and up until recently I just thought it was grown men playing with toy soldiers. Funnily enough M didn’t mention the men with mental health issues or the need for role models or any of the other amazing positives that are associated with gaming (also for homeschooling parents, it’s great for math; measurement and probability, English; interpreting rules (inferring), art and design and technology to name a few curriculum links!) so if my husband isn’t sharing it with me, maybe other gamers haven’t noticed these outcomes and so haven’t shared them with the significant people in their lives! I think the people playing the game do it because they enjoy the game which is a great reason to play but I want to highlight that it is so much more than that. The players who attend events are part of something so much bigger than grown men (or women) playing with toy soldiers.
If you are a player reading this, please share it with those you love, maybe it will give them a new perspective on your hobby, (then again, maybe it won’t!) If you are a loved one reading this please know that gaming and events is so much more than I ever gave it credit for HOWEVER don’t let them use this as ammunition to convince you they need a Warhound Titan! The line between WANT and NEED seems very blurry to most of the players I have met 🙂