Ignite Meetup: Games, Spaces and Community Places

Written by Hayley Wells

The theme for January’s Ignite meetup was Games, Spaces and Community Places, which was hosted, appropriately, by local board game shop Counter Culture Games. Before talks began, we were treated to an hour or so of relaxed gaming from the vast array of modern games available in Counter Culture’s library. Rules were explained, conversations were struck up and soon friendly connections were forming between attendees – all thanks to the power of games!

Attention turned to a different type of gaming, with our first speaker of the night: Rory Jobson, a 2D concept artist in the video games industry. A keen supporter of “grassroots” gaming, Rory reflected on how games can reward players with more than just points and high scores. By incorporating environmental details, nostalgic references and interactive elements, players are often encouraged to explore and indulge their curiosity which results in a richer, more immersive experience. Rory also likes to set a mundane scene as this can change a player’s expectations and allow for a greater emotional impact.

Rory then gave us his top 5 examples of “grassroots” games that show a range of complex narratives, each challenging the stereotype that video games are violent or lacking in emotional depth:

1) Little Party – a game about single parenthood, relationships and making guacamole
2) Lieve Oma – a non-linear story that jumps through time with memories and locations
3) Night in the Woods – dealing with mental health, coming home and the death of small town America through cute woodland creatures
4) Knights & Bikes – this sweet coming-of-age story exposes the effect that economical pressure can have on families and relationships
5) Gone Home – with a vivid sense of place and time, superb scriptwriting and prolonged mystery, Rory (and myself!) consider this to be the ultimate narrative game.
All of the above games are available to play on PC, either free or for a small cost.

Next we heard from Counter Culture Game’s co-owner Beth Crozier who, along with husband Jim, has worked hard to create a friendly and inclusive board game shop and library. Their business began by running board game nights at pubs across the city, followed by a pop-up shop upstairs at (the sadly now closed) Dark Side Comics, before finally settling into their current location on Baddow Road. Counter Culture Games has since become a popular “third space” for many in the city – that is somewhere other than home or work, in which to exist and socialise.

As many of us experienced earlier in the evening, Beth highlighted how board games can act as excellent ice breakers (especially for the shy, or socially awkward among us) with the power to bring people together. Games can also provide a calming effect for those with depression, anxiety or other mental health needs, because it gives the player something to focus on without pressure to socialise in ways they might feel unable to. As such, community interaction is at the heart of Counter Culture’s business and they plan to reach out to other community groups throughout the area.

While we may immediately imagine Monopoly or Cluedo when we think of board games, there are in fact around 2,000 new games being published each year, many of which are elegant, complex and beautifully designed. Good games balance luck and skill, reward planning and may even prioritise co-operation over competition. And with topics ranging from gardening to space travel, there is something for everyone in Counter Culture’s extensive library. Beth and Jim are even on hand to explain the rules!

An engaging Q&A followed, discussing the balance between gameplay and story, the future of board gaming, and how technology can bring the digital and physical worlds of gaming together. We ended the night with more games, good conversation, and new friends and connections.

Thanks so much to our speakers Rory and Beth, and to everyone who attended!