Origins 2010: 35 Years of Gamers, LARPs, and Guys in Chainmail
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Some people have highly social jobs. They spend their days selling new cars or waiting tables or making sick people feel better. Meanwhile, I generally spend my days staring at a computer screen…or taking notes in a dark movie theater…or sitting quietly with my nose buried in a book. But one part of my job actually requires me to interact with other people. As a game reviewer, I usually have to convince other people to play new games with me (which, admittedly, isn’t always all that easy). And, once a year, I find myself mixing with gamers of all shapes and sizes at the Game Manufacturers Association’s annual Origins Game Fair.

Celebrating its 35th anniversary at this year’s fair, Origins isn’t an obscure little event, where a handful of gaming geeks huddle in some dark corner somewhere to play Dungeons and Dragons. It takes up all of the massive Greater Columbus Convention Center—starting with the four exhibit halls, taking over the ballrooms of the attached Hyatt Regency, and spilling out into the surrounding conference rooms and hallways. Wherever you turn, there are people playing some sort of game.

There’s no shortage of stuff to do at Origins, either. The event guide offers more than 200 pages of seminars, role-playing games, tournaments, and a whole lot more. There’s something for every kind of gamer here—of all ages, shapes, sizes, and loyalties. There are family events, adult events, and even a few events for the board game widows who find themselves wandering around the event. While their husbands are off battling outer-space pirates, gamers’ wives can practice their yoga, learn to crochet, or work on their scrapbooking.

Origins is so massive, in fact, that, to newbies—and even to those of us who attend every year—it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Though I’ve been going for years, I still tend to forget what it’s like. I remember the vast exhibition all filled with game companies. I remember the tables set up in hallways and meeting rooms. But I always forget the way that stepping inside the convention center during Origins feels like stepping into an alternate universe.

I have the whole thing down to a science—right down to my giant messenger bag, which I use for carrying paperwork and boxes of games, as well as the survival essentials (notebook, pens, business cards, bottled water). I always park in the same place, too. The attached garage may cost more, but it’s out of the oppressive June heat, and it’s nearby—so I can make trips back to the car to unload and unwind, if needed. But it isn’t until the elevator doors open that I really remember what I’m in for. That’s when I meet up with the costumed warriors—the gamers dressed as everything from soldiers and pirates to elves and medieval princesses (one year, as the elevator door opened, I was greeted by a 300-pound man in full chainmail). And there I am, in my usually inconspicuous jeans and white T-shirt, suddenly feeling very conspicuous indeed.

Granted, I’ve never been especially hard-core when it comes to gaming—which is why I tend to stay near the exhibit hall. I generally leave the LARPs (live action role-playing games) and the tournaments to the paying customers—though I did sit in on a LARP last year, while some of my friends took part, and I have to admit that I found it highly amusing.

As always, I once again began my Origins by checking in, collecting my press badge and my goody bag, and taking a seat in the media room to go through it all. My bag was filled with information—a program, an event guide, some last-minute reminders—and I took a minute or two to flip through everything (and to grab a few more press releases from the media room before heading out to brave the crowds

For me, the fun comes in wandering through row after row of exhibits, exploring the year’s new games and meeting the people who design them. I’m always interested to see which of my old favorites have returned with new games—and I’m eager to stop by to the new booths to check out the latest games.

Each year, I meet loads of new game designers, most of whom are happy to take a few minutes to run through their games. This year, due to a tight schedule, my time at Origins was extremely limited. But although this year’s visit was more of a brisk march than a leisurely stroll, I still managed to take in plenty of great new releases. I got a quick demo of the movie-themed strategy game, Flat Acting. I learned a little bit about Triplica. And I tried (unsuccessfully, mind you) to drown out the noise of the crowd long enough to learn how to play Rowboat and Cabo. I even got a cool T-shirt while chatting about France (and my favorite game guinea pig—my nephew, Nathan) with the gang at the Bezzerwizzer booth. I loaded my bag with new games—which I look forward to sharing with all of you in the coming weeks.

But it wasn’t all about the new companies. I also took a few minutes to visit the Looney Labs booth—both to learn about their upcoming games and simply to tell them to keep up the great work. While I was there, one of the ever-present Guys in White Lab Coats directed me to “follow the flowers” on the convention center floor to the Looney Labs demo area. And after I’d made it through the entire exhibit hall, I decided to do just that.

In the exhibit hall, you can learn about all of the exhibitors’ new games. You can buy games and costumes and even LARP-gaming weapons. You can sit down at one of the tables for an impromptu game of whatever you feel like playing with whoever’s nearby. You can even paint a variety of different miniatures. For me, it’s where the business happens. But the real fun takes place outside the exhibition hall. At Looney’s Lab, there were people playing Treehouse using giant pyramid pieces. There were tables full of impromptu games of various kinds of Fluxx (including a demo version of the upcoming Pirate Fluxx). And there was a raucous round of Andy vs. Everybody, pitting a long table full of loyal Looney fans against Looney godfather Andy Looney. At any time, Andy may have had 20 or more different Looney games simultaneously in play—yet the former NASA techie still held his own. Meanwhile, I got the lowdown from the friendly, traffic-directing Guy in the Purple Lab Coat, complimented Looney co-creator Kristin Looney on the correct spelling of her name, and generally enjoyed the sheer Looney-ness of it all. Then, just as a bevy of Fluxxsters, young and old, were gathering for the next Monty Python Fluxx tournament, I decided that it was time to move on.

I made another quick pass through the exhibit hall, rushing to stop by as many booths as possible before my time (and my energy) ran out. Then, nearly bumping into a slender young woman dressed as Catwoman at the door, I made my retreat, stopping for a rejuvenating cup of coffee before making my way back out of the city, reflecting on another year of Origins as I drove.

Really, there are no words to explain an event like Origins to those who’ve never been there. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. At Origins, you meet a wide variety of people—and mythical creatures. You can run around pretending to be an alien pirate, and no one would think twice. You can play a new card game with a Jedi master. You can have coffee friends with a medieval warrior. You can beat a fairy at Fluxx.

In the words of Graham Chapman’s King Arthur, “It is a silly place.” But it’s a pretty magical one, too. If you love games (or chainmail), you’ll want to start planning now for next year’s Origins.

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