Jeffrey D. Allers
Summer is approaching, which means that Berlin, like most other European metropolises, will be swarming with tourists again. Unlike many cities, however, Berlin’s wide sidewalks and vast public spaces absorb visitors quite well, so that the boost in population is not at all unpleasant for year-round residents.
Many of the visitors—especially those from my homeland—are only here for a very brief stay, booking a night or two in a centrally located hotel or hostel in order to allow just enough time for the whirlwind tour of the city’s important sites. This is, of course, part of a larger “speed tour” through Europe, because one never knows if one will ever make it back to the Old World again. Books published recently, such as those that list the “100 Places to See Before You Die” only compound the pressure.
When I was studying architecture many years ago, I reluctantly passed up the opportunity to take part in the Rome studio semester. Those who went came back with tales of Euro-rail excursions through multiple lands, and photo albums and sketchbooks filled with images of the most important buildings from our history classes. I admit that I was jealous of them.
Looking back now, of course, I have had a much better deal. Living in Europe for most of the past 18 years, I have been able to spread out my trips, taking one region at a time. Instead of having the pressure of having to catch the next train to another distant location, I’ve always given myself time to linger and explore. Otherwise, I fear that, despite my education, all the grand cathedrals would have started to look the same to me.
Thanks to my more relaxed approach, I’ve also had experiences that go beyond the excellent recommendations of my Lonely Planet guidebooks. There was, for example, the time my wife and I were swept away by a pair of “giants” and accompanying musicians to arrive at a secluded, neighborhood festival in the backstreets of Barcelona, complete with large vats of paella. There was the spontaneous trip with a young Italian couple we had just met in Paris, cruising through the French countryside with the top down in their convertible. And I will never forget the evening that I sat near a 2,000 year old Roman bridge at sunset, while a saxophonist played under one of its arches, taking full advantage of the unique acoustics.
As an architect, I do marvel at the historic buildings and places we visit, but I am not overwhelmed at having to tour them at a breakneck pace. And, because I spend time in the culture, I am able to see them as part of their rich context.
I’m finding that I have the same feelings towards playing games. When I first heard about the Gathering of Friends and other weeklong gaming events, for example, I admit that I was jealous. What could be better than playing just about every new game—and most every classic—for a whole week together with game designers, publishers, and commentators who I normally only know through the internet? I devoured any reports that emerged as soon as they were posted, and poured over photos of the games played and people in attendance.
Looking back now, however, I’m probably much happier pacing myself, enjoying the weekly game nights when they come, while having the opportunity to deepen the relationships with the gamers I get to see on a regular basis.
In fact, I am not so sure that I would enjoy a weeklong marathon of board games, no matter who the opponents. Just as I’ve enjoyed having time between European excursions, allowing time to reflect on the cultural experiences, I also appreciate a game much more after I’ve had time to ponder it in between sessions.
There are plenty of other people who have complained about the “insider” nature of the Gathering of Friends, that it is invitation-only and that what goes on is either over-publicized or too secretive—or both (as in, “I played an awesome prototype today, but I’m not allowed to write about it”).
From what I can see, however, the Gathering is a wonderful event, and I am grateful for the way it supports our hobby. And if they somehow granted me a one-day pass, I know I would enjoy the experience. I’d jump at the chance just to meet Alan Moon himself, although I probably would not know what to say, other than, “Would you please sign my copy of ‘Wongar’?”
I’m not jealous, anymore, though, as I have all the gaming goodness I can handle: at my own weekly gatherings, and everyone is invited.