Community

The intro…

Welcome to the blog! It’s been a whirlwind few weeks here as life continues to take steps back towards normality.

First casual Wednesday X-Wing returned, then I went to a local store tournament and then we had a 2 week holiday and all of these things have simultaneously made things feel more like life was in the ‘before times’ and made it feel busy and full with weeks flying by in the blink of an eye.

In Wales the rules have changed again recently and social distancing is now a thing of the past. Is there light at the end of this tunnel? Maybe.

Our local group is starting to pick up again with numbers increasing week on week as we start to approach pre-covid attendance. On top of that we’ve had our first in-person tournament which sold out in just a few hours. It went so well that Firestorm decided to go ahead with monthly tournaments and the second one (coming up at the end of August) also sold out within a day. Wow!

TWICE!

Given that not all gaming systems have had this level of player support since play has opened back up, I’m so glad that our local group has not only stuck out the 18 month enforced hiatus but appears to be going from strength to strength. I know it’s not the case everywhere which makes me appreciate it all the more.

This week I’m not going to batrep (JARGON ALERT!!) any recent games (even though I’ve managed to play a few). Instead I’ve got a post that has been several weeks (or months even?) in the making but given some recent events and the general return of in person play seems to be the right time to post about.

The main bit part 1… groundwork

Ok, time to get down to the nitty gritty of what I want to talk about. It’s technically the least X-Wing-y bit of X-Wing but it’s also what I consider to be the most essential once you get past the initial ‘cool space ships stage’ (actually, do we ever get past that stage?! Anyway…).

community is a group of living things sharing the same environment. They usually have shared interests. In human communities, people have some of the same beliefs and needs, and this affects the identity of the group and the people in it. Although communities are formed around personal similarities in interests, every individual is divergent in their own ways, which is the main reason for social diversity in a community.

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community

Yep, you can tell when one of my posts is going to be light on actual pew-pew content when I start breaking out the quotes.

Yes, today I’m going to talk about community. Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about it before WAAAY back when (spoiler, I did about 18 months ago, it’s here if you want to read it) but in light of what the last 15 or so months have looked like I think it’s worth revisiting.

Belonging is a fundamental need for us as people. Now, I’m certainly not qualified to go into things in depth but when you’re married to a qualified youth work tutor you pick up on some things along the way.

One of them (that, again, I’ve mentioned before) is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Pretty, colourful picture!

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation which states that five categories of human needs dictate an individual’s behavior. Those needs are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/a-guide-to-the-5-levels-of-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs#what-is-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs

What I find interesting is that once you move up from the basic needs at the bottom (physiological and safety), the very next need is belonging and love. As human beings we are built for connection, we’re wired for it. Some more than others*, sure, but all the same we all crave that link to other people on some level.

*at least that’s how it seems sometimes but there are many other factors to consider. It’s also worth looking up The 5 Love Languages by Dr Gary Chapman. It changed how I view a lot of my relationships with other people.

And so this is why we end up in community, often without even really consciously doing so. Something connects us to other people, somehow. Whether it’s being family, what football club we support or, as in the case for most those reading (but I can’t assume all!), little plastic space ships and dice and all the other things that go with the game we love.

The main bit part 2 – local community

So let’s talk about what community looks like in real life terms. That’s not as simple a sentence as you might assume because in practice it looks different for everyone.

I am involved in a few communities. I’m sure that while I can’t say that everyone is (because I can’t know everyone’s particular set of circumstances), I would say that most are.

First and foremost is my family. There’s my immediate family (my wife and children) and also then my extended family (parents, grandparents, cousins, nephews nieces and the like). What binds us together is that we are related. Pretty obvious that one.

Pretty normal family?

No matter what else is going on in my life, what interests I have or how far I live from them, we are forever tied by the fact that we have blood (or marriage) in common. I won’t go into what that does or doesn’t entitle us to because everyone’s family is different with many and varied thoughts and ideals leading to very different states of relationship.

There’s my neighbours. Again, I have different levels of relationship with different people. Some I know well enough to have a long chat with, others I don’t even know their name. Some I can approach for help, others I’ve never even seen. What links us is simply geography – the fact that we live close to each other.

Disclaimer – not my actual neighbours

As a family we regularly attend and are pretty involved in church and so we have a community there. My kids have grown up there, knowing other adults and children and we have a shared belief system which binds us together. Our church is very family oriented and I have lots of friends there around my age who I’ve known since my late teens (a long time ago now…) and whose children I have seen grow up.

Then there’s work. People that I see or speak to on a pretty regular basis regarding things to do with my job. I see some more than others although, by the nature of my job I don’t see people very often at all. That said, I have developed relationships with co-workers (mainly over the phone) as we help each other out in what we’re trying to do day to day.

Then there’s X-Wing. My hobby. The thing that I picked up and thought ‘yeah, that looks cool’ and has since sucked me in hook, line and sinker.

Photo from the ‘before’ times when you could stand by people without a mask on!

We gather with people who would otherwise be complete strangers and spend time doing the thing that we all enjoy, what brings us together.

But then as this happens and you spend time together, relationships are built and you get to know more about each other and generally become a part, however small to begin with, of each other’s lives.

I’ve already established why this is important for us as human beings but why is this important for X-Wing? Well, there are two main reasons as I see it.

Firstly (and most obviously), because to play the game you need someone to play against. While there are potential options for single player/campaign X-Wing, far and away the most popular way to play is against other people.

Secondly, all FLGS’s (JARGON ALERT!!) will sell product, it’s their primary source of income. Most (but not all mind you!) will also be host locations for gaming groups relating to the products they sell. I mean, why not? They sell the stuff and if they can get people to buy more of it by giving them space and opportunity to use it right there then it makes complete sense. It’s a win-win. The store sells more product to a loyal customer base and encourages the customers with tournaments, prizes, etc. The customers get a place to enjoy their game/hobby and meet with other people into the game as well as having extra product on-hand if they want or need it.

It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship.

Errmmm… kind of?

And from this stems the local gaming community. A bunch of people who, more than likely, would never have even met were it not for the game you play and the place you play it.

These communities grow strong. How do I know that? Well, from personal experience. Our local store group chat, while quieter over the last year or so, is still pinging regularly as people discuss lists or new releases. But whatever the topic of conversation, the crucial thing is that most (if, sadly, not all) are still engaging in it in some way or another.

In the first week back of in person play after covid, I think nearly ALL of us forgot at least one component that we needed to play and each of us started rooting around in our cases to see whether we could help out. The culture of the community is to help out an enable others to participate, despite the fact that we play what is, at it’s core, a single player (i.e. not team) game pitted against others in an adversarial way.

Unfortunately the other evidence of strong communities comes from rather more unfortunate events.

A little while ago IQ Games of Huddersfield made this announcement:

Like many gaming stores it was forced to turn purely to website orders and click & collect when the pandemic hit but seemingly hasn’t been able to sustain it’s business and so has been forced to close. The owners lose their business, the players lose their local store and play venue.

Sad times.

Immediately from the back of announcement I saw a slew of messages and posts by players that were directly affected by the closure and also some that weren’t. Encouragements to spend your money at your local store, players based at IQ rallying local players to stick together, players based at other stores nearby offering names of places in the region for locations they could play. This one from Stuart Blucke especially caught my attention:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/xwingukirl/posts/3934162496696461

Sadly this isn’t the first store to go in this way and unfortunately it’s unlikely to be the last. It really makes me appreciate just how fortunate I am to live so close (less than 15 minute drive) from my store and how I’d be affected if the same thing happened here. As a community who want to continue we must really resolve to get behind our local stores.

The main bit part 3 – the wider community

Ok, back story time!

Waaaay back in 2018 Cai I had just jumped into the release of 2.0 with both feet. Christmas was approaching and while, yes, there were X-Wing items on the Christmas list, my wife and I were also trying to incorporate experiences into our kids gifts so that it wasn’t just about opening boxes on the day but about having things to look forward to and to have opportunities to make memories together.

I thought it would be cool to see if we could go to a big tournament with Cai and I found that tickets had just been released for the 2019 UK System Open in Milton Keynes. I booked tickets and a hotel room and we printed a voucher to give to him on the day.

He opened it up and from Christmas Day until the event itself (in April I think?!) not a week went by where we didn’t think about what list we would take or where we might have dinner.

Yep, it was Pizza Hut.

When the weekend finally arrived it was, well, just incredible. I won’t go into detail since I’ve covered it in a past blog here but I was blown away by the sheer scale of the event (well over 500 people), the friendliness of my opponents and organisers and the kindness and generosity of people in general. More than any other single game or event, this tournament shaped my view of the X-Wing community and of the scale of the game as a whole. I had now seen a snapshot of what our local community could be, inspired by what I’d seen of other groups.

Beyond the fun of the actual weekend though, my eyes had been opened to a wider community that I had no idea existed up to this point (except the odd bit I’d seen on Facebook). I wanted to know more.

I joined new groups, read blogs, subscribed to podcasts, checked out the FFG forums (may they rest in peace!), eventually ventured into Reddit and generally got more ‘into’ the game by getting involved (i.e. spending more time) in the stuff around the game. Know what I mean? Eventually, this led to the birth of the blog.

It was fun and exciting and interesting. I loved seeing people asking for input on lists or posting pictures of their custom painted models.

I don’t’ know why I hadn’t really considered that there must have been gaming groups both small and large up and down the country (or across the world for that matter, more on that in a minute) but as I said before, my eyes were now opened and I was genuinely surprised at the frequency and attendance levels of events.

I’d become aware of a much wider community than before and I was somewhat curious to see what that would look like.

Fast forward 2 years and the hundreds of posts that I have seen go by in various groups about tournaments (online and, more recently, in person) are proof that as well as community within local groups, there is a strong sense of community between groups. And whether it’s local-ish people like the Firestorm Womp Rats (Cardiff) or Vagabonds (Bristol) or those slightly further afield like Tin Squadron (Cornwall), Dark Star (Plymouth) or 186th Squadron (literally anywhere!), I’ve developed friendships with people from all over and I know I would feel welcomed if I was to turn up to an event at any of these places (and more).

And that’s freaking awesome.

The main bit part 4 – global community

Looking back the quote/definition of community above you’ll notice that it makes no reference whatsoever to location, only environment.

Interesting.

I feel that one of the major things that the pandemic has shown us (that’s the larger, collective ‘us’, not just me and my 3rd person self) is that our communities need no longer be limited or restricted to people in our immediate local vicinity.

Because the internet is very much a thing.

Generic internet-ish picture alert!

For all it’s faults (and there are many bad, dark places out there), the internet has really broadened the horizons of community, in my opinion more than any other major development before it.

I’m not going to spend ages talking about technological developments (because that’s not what you’re here for!) but needless to say, the possibility of video calling your mate/mum/distant relative/boss/customer or playing a game against a friend or total stranger across time zones and at no additional cost to whatever your normal broadband subscription/mobile phone data plan costs, while a total pipe dream to 18 year old me, is something we now take for granted.

I still remember being 15 years old and arranging to dial in to my mate’s modem once we figured out how to play multi-player Doom over a phone line. And I don’t just remember it happening, I remember how it made me feel. Exhilarated, terrified, excited, ecstatic. Little did I know how easy or how commonplace what we were doing would become in the years to follow.

X-Box live? Don’t need it mate. Pass the 56k modem please!

But for all my new interactions with people from all over the world through Facebook or Reddit, before March 2020 I had never played X-Wing online. Sure, I’d downloaded Vassal (it’s free, so why not?!) and loaded it up, taken one look at the interface and closed it down again* but that’s exactly as far as I’d got.

*once I’d watched some YouTube tutorials and someone showed me how it worked, it was much less intimidating. Also, it’s been updated significantly and continues to be so it’s really not bad at all!

When the pandemic hit, in person play was suddenly off the table (excuse the pun!) and while I did have a choice as to whether or not I’d go down the online play rabbit hole, if I wanted to keep blogging (and I did), then I’d need to be staying current with what’s happening in the game and, I guess, playing it somehow.

Well, didn’t that pan out well! The next 15 months saw me play against people from Norway, Poland, Australia, Germany, Canada, the USA and the Netherlands as well as podcast hosts, twitch streamers, bloggers, a system open winner and (alarmingly!) the reigning world champion.

But no matter what the country, timezone or reputation, the most incredible part was that I had the honour of getting to spend 90 minutes or so chatting with and playing against some amazing people from all over the world. People I would NEVER have connected with if I hadn’t opted to be involved in online play.

With technology our world is smaller than ever and if you’ve got the time and equipment (and a little patience), getting involved in online X-Wing is well worth it in my opinion.

Did I put the song in your head?

Then there’s the social media side of things. Between Facebook, Messenger, Reddit and Discord I’d guess that I’m in roughly 20 groups/chats/servers where discussions on lists, cards, tactics and results are regularly posted or updated. That’s not to say I’m always actively involved in all of that, in fact I mostly just observe or ‘like’, but it’s all interesting content. It’s information going into the X-Wing part of my brain.

I do want to quickly mention the not so good side of the community here. As with anywhere on the internet, it’s really easy to misunderstand or be misunderstood. It’s also far too easy to type out an ill-worded or poorly thought through post or comment which, while might be just a throw-away line for you, can ruin someone’s day (or mood at least) and inflame a situation rather than resolve it.

As easy as it might be to disagree with some faceless person you’ve never met (and aren’t likely to) and tell them just how wrong you think they are, we have to remember that by doing so, we might be inadvertently discouraging someone new who was thinking about asking a question from getting involved for fear of being flamed. We should also remember that this is a game of plastic spaceships and lasers and dice and really, given time to cool off if we’ve been wronged somehow (like cheated against or wrongfully accused of cheating or bending the rules), how much does it actually matter? We are, after all, playing a game for fun, aren’t we?

We should all ask ourselves – is this me?

I know how easy it is to get carried away. I have, in the past, been notified of my very polite, laid back and mild mannered son being banned from Xbox Live for 24 hours because he reacted to being wound up by his opponent after losing a game of Rocket League online. He didn’t swear or anything but it got reported and he got a ban. It gave us the opportunity to talk about it and how it’s unlikely you’d say it person so it’s not acceptable to say online either and to learn from it. To his credit, he has.

I’m not saying we don’t call out cheating or question certain rules or how they’re implemented. I’m just saying that we have the conversations like rational, reasonable people and if we don’t like the outcome then we just agree to disagree where possible and move on with our lives. Making someone else feel bad about it isn’t likely to do much of anything except cause more problems.

The main bit part 5 – playing your part…

‘What do you mean, play MY part?’ Ah well, this is the beautiful thing you see. Being in a community is a two-way thing, whether you intend it to be or not.

Now some people will, by their nature, be pro-active. Let’s take Facebook groups as an example. There will be people whose names seem more familiar than others because they instigate new posts or comment regularly. They have something to ask or something to contribute in some way. This is great because it’s a conversation starter. It gets things moving. Without these people, groups are pretty pointless because nothing gets posted.

Conversely you may just be a bit like me who normally silently stalks chat groups or checks out the comments on a thread without actually responding or contributing directly. Well let me tell you, you are still involved, simply by consuming the content. I think of it like going to a meeting at work where, even though you didn’t actually say anything, you were still present and heard what was being said.

Both types of people are important in a community.

The same goes for your local group. Not everyone will be organising tournaments or getting T-shirts printed. In fact, it would most likely be total chaos if they did. Think about what you want your local group to look like and what action you could take to get to that place. Maybe there’s someone who has an idea but is too shy to suggest it. Perhaps there hasn’t been a tournament for a while because your normal TO is too busy. Communication brings these things to the fore and effective communication is borne out of good relationship. And when people are released into a role that they enjoy and suits them, the whole community benefits from it.

I’ve heard Gold Squadron Podcast be asked several times in their ‘question of the week’ segment about how to build up a local community so clearly it’s something that people are struggling with. There are of course practical things you can do (create Facebook groups with ‘your local area and/or store name’ and ‘X-Wing’ in the name, make posters for the store advertising which nights you play, print flyers and ask the store to give them out with X-Wing models that are sold just to name a couple) but getting someone to take a look and keeping them interested needs more than that.

It needs genuine attention and intentional thought. Has a new player turned up? Don’t stomp all over them with your top tier meta list. Someone’s kid has come this week? Speak to them as an equal, don’t ignore them or be condescending. A newbie brings a list he made this week? Talk about the game afterwards and about what worked well and what didn’t or what could be changed.

If people in a community don’t feel valued or appreciated or that they’d be missed if they didn’t show up, chances are they’ll stop showing up. And that’s a loss for all of us.

The last point I want to make in this section is about inspiration. Yes, it sounds cheesy but it’s definitely the right word to use.

No, not THAT sort of inspiration!

Going back to the 2019 System Open, something that struck me and really stayed with me was the generosity of people. Cai (being 12 at the time and significantly shorter than he is these days) in particular was being given tokens and cards galore.

ALL the stuff we brought home
Minus the prizes. We were just GIVEN these.

We were inspired.

Things didn’t quite go to the planned timescale (i.e. the 2020 System Open) but here we finally are 18 months later with our very own tokens, templates, alt art cards and stickers to give away to people that we play against:

But even these aren’t without input from the community.

Our squad logo was designed by the incredibly talented Omar Ibrahim of Can’t Sleep Must Paint, my YT-2400 was painted by the utterly amazing Dan Lines of Nixon’s Rogues and the subsequent art of said ship was created by Dan Eicher (who has an etsy store!) , James Horne (who does various X-Wing art work) and Robby Wilson, all for free and without direct solicitation (i.e. I publicly asked, they offered!) which enabled me to create the cards above and get them printed.

At this point I feel it’s appropriate to make another specific shout out – the magnificent Jon and Michaela at Cog’O’Two.

Aside from being incredibly friendly and generous to Cai and I as we returned again and again to their stand at the UK System Open, they make the custom templates and tokens for Exile Squadron. A few weeks ago, with in person tournaments on the horizon, I got in touch and asked for prices for a few different items that we could add to the OP prize packs that the store would provide.

What response did I get?

we’ll sort all this out with no cost. It’s been a difficult 18 months with no events taking place and we’d like to show our support for up coming events with gaming groups. You know we help out where we can. 

Jon and Michaela – total legends

I KNOW I posted about this only last week but WOW! THIS is how you encourage community. THIS is how you inspire others to generosity. THIS is kindness that people will remember. I know there are some great companies producing acrylic for X-Wing out there and I’m sure they are also generous with their customers but for me, the personal connection that I have made with this couple through our community connection has had an impact on me that I will never forget.

Going back to GSP, a few weekends ago they held a fundraiser while streaming a weekend tournament and raised in excess of $10,000 for charity. That is INCREDIBLE and shows very clearly the positive impact that a community can have. Same goes for Team Jawa who held their Jawathon a few weeks back with the aim of raising $3k and managed to bring in over $8k. Just, simply amazing.

And the awesome thing is that these are definitely not the only examples of communities coming together to make a real impact, simply the first few that I thought of.

When we all decide to play our small part, we can have a bigger effect than we could ever realise.

The conclusion…?

So, what is the conclusion here?

I guess that it’s this – community is important. It’s important to us individually as a human need but it’s also important to the game. It’s what keeps people involved and prevents our beloved game from dying.

How can we foster good community?

We can be kind. Be generous. Be encouraging. Be constructive. Be inclusive. Be involved.

So I figure that a suitable way to finish this post out is with a celebration. Partly to shout out as many individuals as we can remember or identify who have gifted something to either Cai or myself in our time playing this wonderful game and partly to some inspiring of my own (well sort of, maybe more inspiration by proxy for those who made the stuff).

If there’s something in here and I haven’t mentioned you by name PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE comment and let me know! In 2019 particularly I was not great at remembering who gave us what!

Look at this stuff. Just look at it! First of all, it’s all beautiful. It’s not just beautiful to look at though. No. Each item here was first conceived as an idea in someone’s mind. Then time and effort was spent in designing and refining it. And then money, actual cold hard cash, was spent in paying someone to produce it. Just to give it away. For free.

THAT is beautiful.

And finally…

Ok, yes, I’m not quite done.

Off the back of the polls I ran a few weeks back (big thanks to everyone who completed them!)I am starting to implement some changes and updates to how I do things here.

Some of you have started to follow my Instagram account (and thank you!) but in addition to that, I’m starting a Facebook page since it will let me do a few things a little bit easier.

So I would VERY definitely appreciate it if you could give both a follow/like please!

If you’re looking to buy some gaming ‘stuff’ and don’t have a local gaming store, you can use my affiliate link for Firestorm games. They’re great!

This blog is supported by thegamingplace.co.uk
Links from cards mentioned in the post will take you to the relevant page to buy that card from their website. These links are sponsored.