By Jen White
It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night, and instead of tearing up the town, some Ryerson students are choosing to stay indoors.
This particular Friday is an exciting night for the Association of Ryerson Role-Players and Gamers (ARRG): it’s tournament night in the Student Campus Centre with special guest Steve Tassie, a game designer and Ryerson theatre graduate.
“I’ve been a gamer pretty much all of my life,” Tassie says. About 10 years ago, he produced his first board game, Za, which was about being a pizza delivery guy. Tassie made it with a friend and his very small company, Howling Falcon Cross-Dimensional Trading Company. “We did it all ourselves,” Tassie says.
“We did the artwork, we did the design of the game, we printed it on the best quality paper we could afford, which was almost nothing, and sold it at conventions and clubs like (ARRG). “It was a lot of fun, and people in the industry who played it, liked it. But we had no business sense whatsoever, and couldn’t really get (that) stuff down.” Then five years ago, Tassie designed his first B-movie card game, entitled Grave Robbers from Outer Space.
“Having learned from my previous errors, I had a professional publisher put up the money and do all the hard work,” he says. “The designing is the fun work; the hard work is finding people that buy it,” he says jokingly. Since then, Tassie has been producing one to two games every year. “It’s not a hard job, but it takes time to get it right,” he says. He has created six titles in all, with two more currently in development.
Sitting across from Tassie at one of four gaming tables in SCC115 is Brandon Marsh, head of ARRG. He was first introduced to gaming in high school, and has been playing ever since. While the Ryerson gaming club has been around for at least 12 years, if not longer, the club had collapsed by the time this image arts student arrived at Ryerson last year. Marsh wanted to revive it to meet people and have regular gamers to play with.
“I had to go through all the paperwork, and get all the signatures and everything to renew the club,” he says. “Since it had (died) out, everything had to be re-done.” The club is all about games, from role-playing games, to board and card games, to mini-war games. ARRG holds regular gaming nights throughout the week for individual games, as well as events like this particular one where there are many games and people are able to try out different things.
The group has discussed different events, such as pub nights and ladies’ nights. “I like the idea because it defeats the stereotype and introduces a friendly atmosphere where you don’t have to be concerned about being around a bunch of guys,” Marsh says. While gaming has traditionally been dubbed a male-dominated culture, Tassie contends that social dynamics have been changing in the past 10 to 15 years. “More women are coming out of the game closet, so to speak,” he says.
The biggest influence, he claims, is the gaming company White Wolf. “They write role-playing games with a very romantic, gothic sort of feel,” he says. “I would say that they more than any other company are responsible for bringing women into the gaming industry, for which we’re all eternally grateful!” Along with being male, there are many other attributes of the gaming stereotype. “Gamers stereotypically are geeks, nerds, (with) poor social skills, poor hygiene, that sort of thing. And honestly, there are lots of those people,” Tassie says. “But there are very intelligent, interesting individuals with great personalities (and) social lives outside of (gaming).”
Popular culture is at a point in time where gamers are embracing this stereotype. “It’s cool to be a nerd now,” says Marsh. Tassie agrees. “The word ‘geek’ has really sort of been brought back to us. The same way that a lot of homosexuals have taken back ‘queer’ and ‘fag’ — you know, words that were used to hurt them. A lot of geeks are taking back the word ‘geek’ and are wearing it with pride.” Marsh gives an example from Penny Arcade, an online comic strip, where one of the characters talks to a group of geeks, reassuring them that once they are out in the real world, they will be running things. “You finally realize that once you come out of high school with all your gaming friends, that now you can be the cool people and that all the people that tried to put you down are going to be working for you,” he says.
“I want to spend my time with interesting people, and there are lots of them who are interested in gaming,” Tassie says. “Most of the really interesting people I know are geeks — self-labelled geeks. And while a lot of geeks don’t have social skills, a lot of them also do.
It’s a stereotype that we are slowly but surely tearing down.”