Crowd of people

I’ve always been socially awkward. As a small, young human, I was shy. Everyone seemed so eager to inform me of this as though I didn’t know. As though their highlighting the fact would somehow stop me from being me. We are who we are. I don’t believe in change; not really. We can pretend; we can find ways to cope, but deep down, in our cells, we are what we are.

I don’t like crowds much. Not in a panic-attack, anxious way. I feel for people like that; it must be awful. Thankfully, mine is far less worrisome. It’s more of a dislike than anything else. I don’t see the appeal. I generally don’t like all the noise and bustle and awkwardness. Who do you talk to? How do you talk to them? Why would they even want to talk to you? They’ve got their own shit going on.

Conventions are tough. Though at least there you’re sharing a common theme, so the conversation has a chance to progress beyond the stultifying and horrifying small talk about the weather, the heat, one’s journey to the event, or other such banalities that, if weaponised, could destroy entire countries. Though they bring their own dangers: the cliques.

I fucking hate cliques.

They’re everywhere. Get more than two people in a room, and a clique appears like some insidious spirit dredged up from the soup of human loathing. Navigating them feels perilous. One wrong word to the wrong person at the wrong time could lead to immortal suffering. Or at least the feeling of inadequacy and an aborted potential friendship. A gruff response.

All that said, this weekend I travel with some other humans, ten of them, all in one bus, driven by a close friend who, if existed in a fantasy novel, would be a hill dwarf, to the UK Games Expo in Birmingham. Of those ten, I don’t really know six. They are a second circle on the Venn diagram which has our DM and one of my oldest friends in the centre. If you’re not familiar, DM stands for Dungeon Master, and our two circles are the RPG groups he runs. It’s geeky as shit.

But I don’t care. I love tabletop RPGs. I loved them when they weren’t cool before fancy actors and Hollywood wankers coopted them because they became a zeitgeist trend. I loved them when you would get into physical fistfights with kids whose brains were made of porridge didn’t understand why the fuck you were throwing dice and pretending to fight goblins. Saving throws did shit against a punch to the throat.

But fuck them. I’m going to an expo with a billion geeky weirdos to play stupid games about fighting pretend goblins, flying pretend spaceships, and investigating pretend Cthulhu nightmares. There are too many people that go. The hotel vibrates with the stench of body odor come the second day. I have no idea why these geeks can’t shower before they arrive. Lynx Africa is not a magic spell against rotting armpits. It’s more akin to mustard gas.

I’ve been for the last five or so years now. I see familiar faces amongst the crowd, most I’ve never talked to, but their eyes register recognition. They don’t talk. They continue on to the room that is hosting their game, and we pass on, perhaps to see each other in the crowd the following year.

The people you meet at the table, including the game masters, are rarely the same from year to year. Yet for a four-hour session, you share something as complete strangers: you form a little bond free of cliques and together invent a story where you’re all the hero and/or the villain. You entertain, be entertained, laugh, maybe cry, and then you move on to the next session.

There is alcohol involved throughout. There is a lot of bad food. The toilets are something even the most ardent of Hellraiser Cenobites would look upon with fear and disgust.

The trade hall is the worst. It’s like a slaughterhouse, overfilled with sheep. You’re flowing against so many meat entities all to look at more dice, more miniatures, and the occasional new board game that looks awesome but you’ll never buy because you have no friends who will play it and it costs a fucking fortune. There is sometimes a young woman in a skimpy outfit trying to sell you her artwork. And a buff dude presenting his collection of swords.

Outside there are grown adults pretending to be Vikings.

Three brave people cosplay as some obscure Anime character and wander about looking lost and forlorn.

Crowds… I dislike them. But they’re also kind of cool. Especially ones full of weirdos.

I expect to get drunk, get food poisoning, catch something nasty from one of the unwashed filthmongers, and wish I had never gone. Then I’ll be back home, alone, typing away in the dark, enjoying the memories I made and the time I spent with good friends, and for a few brief moments, I’ll wish I was at one of those tables again, struggling to hear over the din, and rolling dice so I can finally kill that motherfucking space goblin.