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Switching Weapons – Finding Your Zama Gamerz and The Origins Game Fair

Posted by Jim on July 6, 2011

In a fortuitous turn of events, no sooner was I given the privilege of launching this series, than I experience an event completely and utterly worth writing about!

Over the past two weeks, I spent a long-overdue vacation in my hometown of Akron, Ohio. While it was great to see family and friends again after what was almost two years of absence, it was no coincidence that my trip was timed when it was. The Origins Game Fair, a huge, five day convention of many things geek, took place in Columbus, Ohio my first weekend home. A mere 2 hours from Akron, it was too awesome NOT to attend. The military discount on registration didn’t hurt, either.

For those of you unfamiliar with Origins, it’s a celebration of all sorts of classic gaming. Trading card games, miniatures, live action role playing (LARP), tabletop role playing, it all has a place here. This was the third Origins convention that my wife and I were able to attend, and we’ll hopefully make it to many more in the future. Due to its proximity to my hometown, it’s very easy to schedule a trip home to visit family and friends with the ulterior motive of sneaking away for a weekend, to what I coined: “Nerdvana”.

How does this fit in with the military theme of my column? Glad you asked. When my wife (also active duty Army) was stationed in Camp Zama, Japan, there was a group of role players that went by the name of the Zama Gamerz. The Zama Gamerz were a troupe of role players that met regularly, played a variety of tabletop role playing games, and genuinely shared company in all things nerdy. The Origins Game Fair is also an annual meeting place for Zama Gamerz, past and present. It is a chance to rekindle friendships, relive glory days, and enjoy an epic night of role playing for old time’s sake.

Now, I was not made an honorary Zama Gamer due to my marriage, though over the years I have lovingly been christened “Gamer In-Law”. My first year at Origins, I was introduced to the long-running Game Master, a wonderfully intelligent and creative, if, I suspect, slightly sadistic at times, individual named James. James sat me down, looked me in the eye, and assured me no quarter would be drawn. It would be trial by fire, and I would earn my place in their group through rigorous role playing, not simply assimilated due to marrying one of their own. And trial by fire it was. James had deviously prepared a wonderfully epic—and equally intense—campaign set in the Middle Earth Role Playing system; our annual game is always Middle Earth. We enjoyed fellowship, played a hell of a game, and when the smoke had cleared, I was informed that I had indeed earned my place among their ranks.

As a soldier, and as a gamer, this moment still resonates with me. The Zama Gamerz are a squad. A team of service members, or family members of those who serve, who unite under a banner of mutual reverence for gaming. Role playing is not simply a pastime to the Zama Gamerz. It is true escapism and freedom. It is a highly regarded method of transcendence over the common drudgery and monotony of life. It is a vessel of fellowship. We unite as gamers. We unite as soldiers. We unite as Americans. It is this multifaceted connection and camaraderie that makes the Zama Gamerz more than simply a gaming group, and I had been welcomed into their ranks. To this day I am eternally grateful for the friends I’ve made among them, the experiences I’ve had playing with them, and the sense of belonging that comes with being in such a fellowship.

On behalf of the therapeutic effect this realm of gaming has had on me and my diagnosed post traumatic stress disorder, I strongly encourage any soldiers, even those with passing interest in gaming, to find their own Zama Gamerz. Find a group, a community, of like-minded individuals, and engage together in those activities (the legal and safe ones, of course) with one another. The experiences I’ve had role playing, both with the Zama Gamerz, and other troupes of gamers, have allowed me to find that little niche of normalcy born from games of imagination. One of my greatest challenges following my deployments has been finding that normalcy; connecting and uniting with people. A good gaming group can do wonders in accomplishing just that. And maybe, like me, you’ll be inspired to write about it, draw about it, and create. As a writer and artist myself, I truly believe that nothing heals the wounds left by destruction, better than inspired creation.

About Jim

Sergeant Jim Beverly is a Pharmacy Specialist in the U.S. Army, and, for much longer, an avid gamer. A purple heart recipient and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jim is always looking for ways to connect with his inner gamer, despite his obligations to his country. He strongly believes that the medium of gaming can be used to help servicemembers cope with adversity, post-war trauma, and strengthen relationships. His philosophy on life, the military, and being a nerd is shared in his column "Switching Weapons."

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