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Switching Weapons – Looking for Group

Posted by Jim on August 4, 2016

Switching Weapons

Rest assured, I have not disappeared again! I realize I may have forgotten to mention this last time, but the new incarnation of this series is going to be bi-weekly for the time being. That said, let’s go ahead and dive into this week’s topic: communities.

Gaming communities are near and dear to my heart. One of the major anxieties I had as a fresh-faced, newly-minted 18-year-old man back in 2002 when I enlisted, was the uncertainty that I’d fit it with just about anyone. Sure, I had my group of friends growing up, aging together through elementary, middle and high school, but the Army was a different animal entirely. These were guys from all corners of the country crammed together in a crucible of screaming and shooting, sans sleeping (yes, I still have a thing for alliteration). As chubby little nerd from Ohio in a unit full of athletic, motivated warriors, I was terrified I’d be a pariah. Can you imagine me, a kid who flinched when a baseball was thrown to him, standing in the same ranks as a kid from Texas who hunted since he was old enough to hold a gun, or a football player from California with biceps wider than my torso? It was terrifying.

But a strange thing happened. The football player from California turned out to be pretty cool. He helped me with my push-ups when I was struggling with my form, and I greatly improved my overall number. The sharpshooter from Texas was extremely laid-back and had a hilarious sense of humor. He coached me on marksmanship, and I qualified Expert with 37/40 targets hit; the highest in my entire company. I decided one day at chow I would bring up Dungeons and Dragons, bracing myself for the ridicule, but feeling comfortable enough after a few weeks to take that chance. Astonishingly, they mentioned they’d always been interested in the concept, but never found anyone to play with.

So, towards the end of Basic Training, I resourcefully drafted a few character sheets from scratch, organized a small one-shot story, and tore up pieces of paper with numbers on them and put them in a hat to simulate dice. One Sunday, during a period of rare downtime, we played a game. And we had a blast.

Fourteen years later, I wish I knew where they moved on to. This was before any of us had a Facebook page, when MySpace was the pinnacle of social media, and phones were still forbidden until a far later phase in training. The Texan moved on to Aberdeen Proving Grounds for his training as a mechanic, the football player continued to Fort Leonard Wood for his training as a truck driver, and I went on to Fort Sill for my artillery surveyor school. I sometimes wonder what became of my impromptu gaming group, but I remember that Sunday fondly as the day I experienced my first real, albeit small, gaming community.

A community, by definition, is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals. We were all soldiers, we all had an interest in gaming, and a goal of having fun. I carried that lesson as I moved on, taking that experience and expanding it. I searched for the gamers where I went, and found something pretty encouraging: whenever I actually looked, I always found them. From playing Dungeons and Dragons in Basic Training, to playing Magic: The Gathering with my squad-mates in my first Artillery unit, I never seemed to lack people to game with.

Then MMOs happened.

City of Heroes was my very first MMO. I adored it. One of my best friends in that Artillery unit, along with his wife, graciously allowed me to stay in their unused room so I would be spared the meager, internet-less existence in the barracks. We all played together, and still communicate to this day; though the game of choice for those two in particular has become Overwatch.

In 2004, World of Warcraft entered our lives. We were hooked. It was just like City of Heroes, but still so different and new. I played that game the rest of my tour in Germany, through my five-month school to train as a pharmacy tech, and well into my station at Fort Hood, Texas. It was there I met the guy who has become the closest friend I’ve ever had, the reason I’m moving to Atlanta when I separate. A completely random glance while passing the duty desk as I was on my way to the laundry room was enough to catch that he was playing World of Warcraft, and I decided to strike up a conversation.

Despite the fact that he was likely groaning internally at the time and wishing this kid would leave him alone so he could game in peace, he was gracious enough to humor me and we chatted for a while. We swapped usernames, got to know each other, and discovered we also shared a love for tabletop RPGs. He invited me to his house for a group that played Vampire: The Masquerade. I was introduced to his wife, his child, and his friends. I found myself instantly part of the group. We were all fast friends, and after several weeks I loved the group so much that I decided to bring my new girlfriend along to share in the joy.

Last month she and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary.

Over the years, there have been some pretty rough patches. There were deployments, there were crappy work hours, stressful travel and tragedy. But I had my community. I had my best friend, my wife, our groups, our guilds, and altogether they became our family. All because I had the nerve to as a jock from California and a sharpshooter from Texas what they thought of Dungeons and Dragons. That has, by far, been the single most important moment in teaching me how to be happy, how to find where I belong, and how to share what I love with people I care about.

So find your community. I can’t tell you how valuable they are. Trust me when I say all you have to do is look.

As long as you don’t botch that spot check.

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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