Walking up two flights of stairs, above a Korean grocery store. On the left, a Korean travel agency that never seems to shut. On the right - a long, brightly lit room full of tables, people everywhere.
Tonight it's busier than usual. There's a cute blonde girl in a polka-dot rockabilly outfit sending a text on her smartphone. A guy sporting a purple beanie and black dreadlocks hoists a large green case onto a table. There's a half-dozen or so Asian international kids in hipster clothing and sticker-covered laptops taking up another two tables. The room is a mess of Bright and Loud, floppy haircuts, chipped nailpolish, laughter, yelling.
No, it's not a cafeteria scene from Glee.
It's a bloody games store. Like, a Dungeons & Dragons-type game store. The walls are lined with Warhammer figurine boxes, various RPG rulebooks and posters advertising 'Magic: The Gathering' card... stuff. Cute Rockabilly Girl has Magic cards. Purple Beanie Guy sets up his Warhammer figurines. The Asian kids are playing old-school D&D.
This ain't the geeks I remember.
Why is the ratio of male-to-female roughly equal? Why is there a small, friendly, gay Asian guy behind the counter instead of a fat grumpy white dude? Why does everyone seem socialised and showered? Where's the characteristic lack of personal hygiene and self-confidence?
My little gaming group finds table and we set up. Yes folks, I game - in the 'make stuff up, throw dice' kind of way. The last time I did this properly was well over 10 years ago, at university (holy crap that makes me feel old). Back then I was often the only female in the Really Geeky Section of a games store and it was weird, stinky, fun for the socially awkward.
Now, it appears that Geek really is the new Frickin' Awesome. Yes, Wired magazine has been telling us this for years and the popularity of shows such as Big Bang Theory and the unnatural cultural fascination with teenage vampires were clear indicators. However, I didn't really believe it until now.
It's one thing to see Bigfoot's footprints. It's another to have him gawking right at you, breathing on your face (and about to tear it off).
So should I be embarrassed about my return to gaming? Or is this a part of life smacking the big 'Reboot' button and showing me an unfamiliar-yet-strangely-pleasant alternate universe? The people I game with are bloody terrific - all are employed and/or studying (the youngest is in his first year of university, the oldest are the GM and myself) all have an absurd sense of humour and are notably intelligent - but not intimidatingly so.
I mean, the GM wears gold Doc Martens and The Other Lady Gamer crochets monsters.
The game itself is very different from what I'd been used to, and loads of fun. Between the strategic moves and 'pew-pew' fighting, there's been drunken intergalactic karaoke and spontaneous use of dwarf bread pancakes as protective headgear.
You could say I'm regressing. You could say, 'it's all made up, there's no winner, what's the point'?
But... maybe the point is just to have fun, for now.