“Gaming without a good group of players is like playing in a ‘Magic’ tournament without nonbasic lands. You won’t have fun and you’ll probably be a loser.”
That’s why Joshua Fireman, LSA freshman and avid gamer, is thankful to be in Ann Arbor.
“Ann Arbor lets me feel more open about playing ‘Magic’ and ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ and other activities such as that,” he said. “You feel like less of a nerd when you’re doing it at college because you no longer feel like you’re the only one.”
Fireman is just one of the many Ann Arborites who identify with the elite class of “gamers.” Gaming is a term with a broad definition, extending through video games, board games, card games, figurine games and role-playing games. With so many games to choose from, gamers often struggle to stick to just one.
Fireman, for example, is currently involved with “Dungeons & Dragons,” “Magic: the Gathering” and “World of Warcraft,” to name a few. He has also been through passing phases of “Pokémon,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Digimon” and several other card game franchises. “Magic” is particularly dear to Fireman’s heart because it’s how he got his start as a gamer at a very young age.
“My dad actually got me into it," Fireman explained. "He started playing a little bit after it came out. And he needed a play partner, and his four- or five year-old son was a good play partner."
For those seeking opponents or partners — whether in games like “Magic,” “Warhammer,” “D&D,” video games or even board games — there’s no better place to go in Ann Arbor than Get Your Game On, the gaming and comic store that sits unassumingly at 709 Packard Street, just off the State Street intersection.
The store is a veritable gamer’s paradise. The walls are covered with graffiti-esque murals of Mario and Megaman as well as posters of characters and settings from magical worlds. The shelves contain every imaginable object of the gaming world, from the latest PlayStation 3 releases to the rulebooks to the latest edition of “Dungeons & Dragons” (which, according to several annoyed gamers, is just becoming another version of “World of Warcraft,” except on paper). Unsurprisingly, the store has turned into somewhat of a central hub for gamers who go there to hang out.
Each day of the week the store offers different events and competitions that end up having a consistent turnout. “Magic” competition days have been the most popular, and the store offers a variety of different tournaments for the classic card game. The store also offers “Warhammer” events that are constantly growing. As an additional effort, the store is strongly pushing board game competitions. On Thursday and Sunday nights, anyone can come in and either demo a game from the store or bring one of their own.
This whole culture might seem strange at first, but one need only look at the games themselves to see why they evoke so much devotion from their players. The games that succeed the most are those that immerse gamers in new fantastical worlds while intellectually challenging the players. “Magic” has created numerous fantasy settings from which the content of the cards is derived, and “Dungeons & Dragons” features worlds full of the things its name suggests. But don’t confuse this emergence into imaginary realms with escapism. These games are merely another outlet for the imagination. After all, who wouldn’t want to take a few hours each day to shoot down demons with a crossbow?
Even so, the fantasy and the strategy don’t make up the entire appeal of gaming.
“I enjoy role-playing, but I think the social aspect of it is why I like it,” Fireman said in reference to his “D&D” habits.
Likewise, the store and its many events provide more than just a place for gamers to play. They serve a much greater purpose: bringing gamers together.
“A lot of what we carry is more social,” said Alex Horvath, owner of Get Your Game On. “Our big tournaments, our board games, things like that. I think there’s an inherent need in human nature for that social aspect.”
Gaming in Ann Arbor is, due in large part to Horvath, truly a social event. His store has become an important meeting place for local gamers. Most of the local groups who play “Magic,” “D&D” or one of many other games meet at the store as strangers and leave as close friends. Horvath is especially proud of the connections made in the store.
“We do build an extensive community, and there are certainly plenty of friendships that have come out of it,” he said. “We really try to make it a welcoming place for both new customers and new players of the games.”
Horvath is committed to maintaining this environment for gamers, and he makes a personal effort to see that the store remains conflict-free.
“I remember noticing one particular player — you know, a little older, maybe college-age, maybe mid-twenties — really trash-talking a younger kid,” said Horvath, before doing an astonishingly accurate nerd-bully impression: “ ‘Augh, that’s the worst deck I’ve ever seen. What are you doing? That’s awful. You’re stupid.’ ”
That didn't sit well with Horvath.
“I didn’t stand for it,” he said. “I literally kicked him out of the store and told him he couldn’t come back.”
This focus on building a healthy community, along with the many scheduled events and always-open table space that let people play together, makes Get Your Game On the epitome of what gaming is all about: having fun socializing. But with more magic and elves.
To those who have an interest in gaming but fear that they might not fit within a group of nerd caricatures, there’s no reason to fear. Get Your Game On attracts a far more diverse clientèle than one can imagine.
“To be honest, I was probably expecting more of the stereotype when I opened the store: the glasses, the pocket protector, the really introverted non-social,” said Horvath. “But that’s not what we get. We get very much mainstream.”
Horvath attributes the trend of more mainstream customers to the fact that his products and the town of Ann Arbor both appeal to the same demographic.
“In general, a lot of the stuff that we carry here requires thought. It requires a deal of intellect and thinking and I think that attracts all kinds of people,” said Horvath. “Ann Arbor is really good for that. It’s a very intellectual community.”
Whether it’s gaming strategy and problem-solving, the socially and community-oriented environment or the fantasy worlds and imagination that come with these games, there’s something about gaming that makes it hard to resist. So stop trying. Get out your battle-axe, rally up some friends, roll the dice and have yourself a good time.
As they say in the nerd world: Gamers unite!