A Gaming Group Of One's Own
Gamers in search of a group may sometimes feel like Christians in ancient Rome; you have to speak in code and be careful who you talk to, or before you know it you might be standing in the Coliseum being stared down by lions with a severe case of the munchies. No matter what, it's likely that you'll have to do some work, especially in areas where the hobby is less common, and many people have no idea where they should even start.
Everyone experiences a big move at some time or another in their life, and knows all about the stresses of finding a new house, school, and job and getting settled in a new community with different people. When gamers move, I think we have an extra set of stressors when it comes to finding a new gaming group. People with more "normal" (and I use the term loosely) interests are lucky; they can just drive out to the golf course, transfer to the local Boy Scout troupe, or find a new room of the house in which to make their model airplanes. Gamers in search of a group may sometimes feel like Christians in ancient Rome; you have to speak in code and be careful who you talk to, or before you know it you might be standing in the Coliseum being stared down by lions with a severe case of the munchies. No matter what, it's likely that you'll have to do some work, especially in areas where the hobby is less common, and many people have no idea where they should even start.
I feel as though lately I've gained a lot of real-life experience in this area; when I entered college last fall, I was suddenly groupless and desperate in a place where gamers are unusually hard to come by. I'm a success story, fortunately; after searching for ages, I found two groups of wonderful gamers to play with. Because of this, and because a number of people have emailed me asking for my advice on this subject, I now present basically everything I know about how to find a gaming group in your area. (You can read my story in italics, after the advice.)
Wherever you may be, your first action should be to check the Yellow Pages for game stores in your area. In my experience, most decent-sized towns will have a game store or collectible card joint of some sort. If you're really lucky, the store will have a gamer database of some sort or weekly games you can join. If not, they might at least be able to put you in touch with GMs and players in the area. If there's no specific game place nearby, check out bookstores that sell role-playing materials and see if they have any knowledge or connections. Small, independent stores are your best bet, but chains like Barnes & Noble might be helpful, too. What happened to me: St. Olaf is in a small town, so checking the phone book revealed that there were no game stores in the immediate area. I spent an afternoon wandering through downtown, checking out used bookstores, and found that there was NOWHERE in town that sold RPGs or CCGs. Ouch. I kept looking...
Actually, when it comes to some of you I just lied about what your first action should be...sorry! (c: If you are on a high school or college campus, that should be your second action; your first action should be to get in touch with any gaming and/or science fiction clubs at your school. Many schools have something like this, especially larger ones, and if they do it's almost always a surefire line on a gaming group. Find out when meetings are. Get on their mailing list. Get to know the officers and members. Here's hoping you don't have to look any further than this. What happened to me: I went to the annual St. Olaf activities fair, made a beeline for the Games Club table, and asked the president if he knew of any gaming groups on campus. He said he didn't, but that other members might. I put my name on the mailing list, wrote a note next to it saying I was looking for other role-players, and promised to come to the first meeting. I kept looking...
As always, when your real-life channels have failed you, go to the Internet! There are a large number of online gamer databases full of people in the same boat as you. Get your name entered and do a search for other groupless people in your area. Effie Rover
No game store, no Games Club, no Internet help, no hope? No way. When all else fails, join the Society for Creative Anachronism! I'm not kidding! I got involved in the SCA
Still stuck? When even that fails, do something outrageous: Be open about being a gamer. I firmly believe that there are more gamers in this world than any of us ever know about, all of whom want to meet other gamers as badly as we do; all it takes is a little encouragement. So who cares what people think? Carry sourcebooks around with you, or work on campaigns and characters in a public place. Don't mumble something about "playing games with my friends" when people ask you what you like to do for fun. Hold your head up high, say "I am a gamer!", and see who answers back. You very well might be surprised. What happened to me: My GURPS campaign possibilities had stalled and I was going through gaming withdrawal. In one of those crazy 2 am fits of desperation, I fired off a somewhat pathos-filled email to the Games Club detailing my seemingly never-ending search for a group. And lo and behold, someone finally replied! He'd just begun a Mage campaign and said I'd be welcome to join. And when I went to the first session, I discovered that this gaming group consisted of people I had eaten lunch with a few weeks before! I'm a success story, but I can only dream about how much easier it all would have been if I hadn't been afraid and just talked about gaming whenever I got the chance.
This list is meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive. If none of these options work for you, there are plenty of other creative ways out there to find a gaming group. But if you take one overall precept away from this column, it should be this: Finding a gaming group is all about networking. The more people you make connections with, the greater the chance that one of them will lead you to the perfect group. In my case, even the angles that didn't pan out introduced me to some other gaming enthusiasts and just generally interesting people. Who knows, maybe those connections and friendships will come in handy someday for something other than gaming. That means getting to know people, being nice, and talking to anyone you can who even remotely seems to have the characteristics of a gamer. Take some of that good ol' teamwork I hope you've learned in roleplaying and apply it to the real world. Your gaming prospects, and your social life, will be all the better for it.