It’s all GEEK to me ...

2012-04-07 00:00

IF you are a regular patron of Pietermaritzburg’s shopping centres, then you’re probably thinking that geeks have become an endangered species.

No longer do they sit around on Saturday mornings and trade Magic: The Gathering cards in Cascades Centre. Gone are the days of LANs (local area networks) at The Hive in Scottsville Mall.

But if you know where to look, you will realise that there are more computer-literate card-players in the city than it seems.

Before you can look for a geek, however, you have to know what they do. Magic : The Gathering is a trading card game that is set in a fantasy world similar to that of Dungeons and Dragons. Like other fantasy games, Magic has caused some people to express concern about its underlying messages.

“There were complaints,” said Coleen Cook, the manager of BookWorld where the tournaments took place. “Some people say that it’s evil. I can’t see that it’s evil — it’s reading, it’s communication.”

Due to the complaints, the Magic card tournaments had to move from Cascades Centre.

The Cascades group now plays at a crèche on Griffin Street on Sunday mornings. Another group of players have also started meeting at Player vs Player Digital Arena (PVP) in Hayfields Mall on Friday nights.

According to Brendon Holder from PVP, Friday night Magic events take place internationally in other cities. PVP plans on increasing the number of players in Pietermaritzburg. Holder also hopes to inform the parents of his younger customers that there is nothing evil about Magic by talking to them about it.

“This is a very bad name for a harmless game,” he said.

“I explain to them that it’s like a combination of poker and chess.”

Holder said the card sales have been good, and that PVP were sold out on the first day that they stocked them. A lot of old players have been getting back into the game lately and increasing sales, said Cook.

“Since November we’ve been doing really well with it,” she said.

Cook doesn’t play the game herself, but she believes that it is a social outlet for the players and that it is probably “fascinating”. Holder, who plays Magic, feels that the game is also about self-expression.

“You can completely customise your deck to suit your personality and style,” he said “Then you’ll find yourself beating someone who has played the game for three years.”

Magic cards are sold randomly in a variety of different packs.

A booster pack of 15 cards at BookWorld costs R49, while some larger packs of cards can cost up to R452. Holder said that some customers have ordered whole boxes of cards from PVP.

The fact that the cards are sealed and sold randomly causes people to question whether winning the game depends on skill or luck.

Although Holder stated that it was probably a bit of both, he felt that skill is slightly more important.

“You still need to use your poker face because the other person doesn’t know what cards you have,” he explained.

Holder hopes that PVP will provide a safe venue for those who want to play the game. He said that there are toilet facilities very close to the shop and that nearby restaurants will deliver food to the players, so they don’t have to walk around the centre between games.

However, Sam Hawes, a gamer and casual Magic player, said that some people still have reservations about the tournaments.

“I myself have tried getting my friends involved in Magic: The Gathering and have had some luck, but most of them have stopped playing due to the tournaments being frequented by some ‘odd guys’ and they feel rather wary of attending on their own,” Hawes said.

So even though local Magic players are alive and kicking, it seems there are some hurdles to be overcome before they will be able to play in peace.

THE information age has made life easier for people in many ways, but it has also given people a lot of confusing acronyms to remember.

If you know or love a geek, you will probably have heard quite a lot of acronyms like LAN. But it is only once you have observed this phenomenon firsthand you will really understand what it means.

A local area network (LAN) is basically code for when a group of people connect their computers so they can play games together or share files. LANs usually last for at least 24 hours. Few or none of these hours are spent sleeping.

Legend’s LAN is a social gaming event at Linwood Club, near Linpark High School. It takes place on the first weekend of every month, starting at 5 pm on the Friday and ending at 10 am on the Sunday. People can play a variety of games, from Call of Duty to Guitar Hero.

“We play any games that are current and that the guys are playing at the moment,” said Jolene Underwood, organiser of the event.

The event began as a small family venture — Underwood’s husband and son loved gaming, so they began to LAN with about eight to 12 people.

Over three years, the numbers have grown, with the highest number of attendees being 74. And even though gaming is thought to be a male-dominated field, Underwood said a fair handful of female gamers can be found at each event.

Sam Hawes, a regular attendee of Legend’s LAN, said that she has rarely experienced any problems as a female gamer.

Hawes said: “Most of the guys that do attend LANs are so shocked by the presence of girls, they tend to avoid us. Though having said that, once you have been a few times they tend to treat you as ‘one of the guys’, which is fantastic.”

However, she has experienced some problems when playing online multiplayer games outside of LANs. She believes this is because most of the games are targeted at male audiences and have masculine themes, so the players do not expect women to play them too.

“But they tend to be isolated incidents. And once they see that you play just as well as — if not better than — them, they tend to relax. Or leave the game.”

The organisers of Legend’s LAN are always happy to welcome new players.

Entrance to the event is R100, but if a person brings three new people to the event, they get in for free.

Player vs Player Digital Arena (PVP) also has 20 machines for people to play a variety of games in-store.

When a person pays to participate in the weekly Magic tournaments on Fridays, they are also given a free half-hour session to play computer games.

NOWADAYS, most people don’t play board games. It’s easier to sit in front of the TV than roll dice and tally points. With the sudden drop in board games’ popularity, one of the most renowned role-playing games seems to have been all but forgotten.

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy role-playing board game that has been played globally for over 30 years.

Although D&D is extremely popular, some people find it hard to grasp.

The fact that the players use 20-sided dice proves just how difficult this game can seem.

There have to be at least three players for the game to work. They need to use pens, paper and their imaginations to create a fantasy setting. One member of the group, the Dungeon Master, narrates a storyline in a fictional world while the other players take on the personas of various characters and work together to overcome an assortment of challenges. Character types include fighters, thieves, sorcerers and bards.

Emile Rampaul, a Pietermaritzburg resident who has played D&D for four years, believes that the game stimulates the mind and allows people to socialise. He also feels that the game is not too hard to understand as long as you have basic mathematical skills.

Rampaul said: “It’s quite easy to get a hang of. All you need is a pencil and paper.”

Rampaul said there are no stores in Pietermaritzburg that sell D&D books or merchandise. Due to the lack of stores in the city, most players have to travel to Durban to buy the latest rule books, dice or other supplies.

But even Durban stocks are slowly growing smaller. Nicci Franks, manager of Destiny Books in Durban, has stopped selling D&D merchandise due to high prices of the books, low demand and the rise of online stores.

Players usually have several meetings in order to complete one adventure, which forms part of a larger campaign. Most of the people who play D&D in Pietermaritzburg just meet at each other’s houses. Brendon Holder of Player vs. Player Digital Arena (PVP) said that the store definitely would host D&D events if enough people expressed an interest.

It seems that the demand is mainly for the trading card game Magic: The Gathering. Franks said she still sells Magic cards as she knows that they are definitely what her customers want. “D&D was always a bit of a ghostly thing,” Franks explained.

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