Maybe it’s a sign of maturity creeping up on me after thirty-one years, but I think I’m finally starting to realise what I’ve really been looking for in my various extra-curricular endeavours. I’ve been trying out various things in the last few years; getting back into RPGs, joining the local branch of the Lions Club, playing games over Xbox Live, participating in the Cairns Youth Mentoring Scheme and Cairns Community Radio. Of the five of those there’s only one I’m doing with any regularity or long-term consistency, and that’s the radio show. I’ve stopped playing RPGs, I’m taking a break from mentoring and have just recently stepped down to Casual status in the PMS|H2O Clan, dropping out of two competitive teams in the process.
So what is radio giving me that Halo 3, mentoring, Lions Club and RPGs haven’t?
Well, I think it’s friendship. My fellow presenters on the radio show have become good mates, and I get to see them at least once a week; Vickie and I went to their place for dinner recently and we’re keen on returning the favour once they get back from a big trip. Conversely, as I wrote in that post about RPG spring cleaning a month ago, most of the gamers in Cairns have been gaming acquaintances, and those friends we’ve made have been tricky to keep in touch with. The same goes for the PMS Clan, except doubly so, as we only interact via Xbox Live and the forum (on the topic of forums, I’m finding myself more drawn to Callahan’s Saloon, a forum I’ve not been a regular of since ‘01-‘02, because I know I can find interesting discussion of a broad range of topics there).
There’s another question in all that: Why aren’t I mixing with gamers any more when I always used to? Well, a gamer’s interests seem to start and end with gaming. He or she can bore you silly on their awesome plays, their opinions on matchmaking, lag and the quality of other players, but if you try and forge a deeper connection with the gamer, you’ll have a hard time. Also, while the gamer is passionate about his or her pastime, he or she is usually unreliable on matters of organisation, even for an event centred around his or her favoured pastime (like Halo 3 clan practice or an RPG session).
Now I know full well that I’ve been that bad (well, except for the organisation bit), especially with regard to roleplaying games, but I think that gives me some insight into the root of the affliction. I my case it was the feeling that being a good gamer – no, let’s go deeper than that, that having an active and vivid imagination – was all I really had to offer; that the only way I could have to a fun social time was by making a game out of daydreaming. Thus my interest in RPGs - well, more to the point, my previous tendency to evaluate new acquaintances on whether they'd be interested in a session.
All of a sudden, that’s changed for me. I’m more confident in general social situations, that if I listen long and hard enough to a conversation I’ll find something to talk or ask about. The Cairns Amateurs was a great reinforcement for this. I had a pretty good time on the first day, but even on the rather mediocre second day, when I was feeling down about not being able to talk with anyone, I struck up a very interesting conversation about the business of financial brokering with the head of one of the major firms around town – and I know nothing about financial brokering. After, hell, maybe twenty-six years and innumerable people telling me that I’m a good kid / man and that I have nothing to worry about socially, I’m suddenly feeling as though I’m a good man and that I have nothing to worry about socially.
Vickie and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about how I’d been feeling guilty about co-opting the TV on Tuesday nights for PMS Clan practice, even though she assured me several times that she had no problem and wanted to see me standing up for my fun. I’d come to the realisation that the reason why I was still feeling guilty wasn’t because of fear of offending Vickie – it was because I wasn’t really having a great time playing Halo 3, the same way I wasn’t really having a great time running Star Wars or playing Feng Shui. We talked a bit more about the clan and how I felt as though I wasn’t really connecting with the people I was playing with, and then Vickie asked; “Are you lonely?” to which I could answered, “Kind of, yeah.” Now, Vickie wasn’t asking within the context of “Are you lonely, even with me?”, and I’m not; Vickie and I are great. But I do still want to be part of something social.
So as the communities I’ve tried being part of recently haven’t quite worked (for me, anyway), I’m going to try a kind of community with which I’ve not been involved for around seven years: A theatre group. After being nervous as crap while I was with the Pymble Players, leading me to avoid doing any real work on my part or my lines, I feel like I’m in a position where I can really learn and do a decent job. And even if I’m doing front of house or admin stuff for a while, I reckon I have better odds of making some more friends here in Cairns – I don’t have many, and rarely see those few. And I think theatre-folks, especially fellow volunteers, will have more than enough experience to be passionate about their extra-curricular activity without feeling like it’s the only thing they can talk about.
Which is, I think, what I’m looking for before I get back into mentoring. Kids can be a lot like gamers – sometimes fixated on one thing, sometimes hard to draw on their lives as a whole – and I don’t want mentoring to be my only social interaction outside Vickie and family. I also mentioned the Lions Club back at the beginning; while the Club is a volunteer activity, I never quite felt at home with the other members, all long-time local residents at least a decade older than me. While that last shouldn’t be a problem in theory (see Vickie and I), there was a sense of inertia there, that no one was in any particular hurry to get to know me, even when I turned up to help with events. Plus, the meetings felt too much like – well, like meetings, even though dinner was served. A theatre at least offers a basic activity that I’m interested in and would like to develop, as well as more opportunity for common ground with the other members.
Let me re-iterate something. I’m not abandoning RPGs or Halo 3. It’s just that I reckon I have the best odds of having a good time when I’m playing with honest-to-God mates. Thankfully, I’ve got Karlos, Hayama (although we don’t often play similar games) and, hopefully, the Cazman now for Halo 3, and RPGs can wait until that happy condition of two or three more friends curious about the pastime – or the friends I’ve made in the gaming scene being consistently available – ever eventuates.