If there’s anything humans really love, it’s games. From physical sports to video games, Monopoly to Angry Birds, people of all ages participate in games. But usually a gaming community centers around card and tabletop games played in person; well-known games include Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars X-Wing. In Manhattan, Village Geek fosters groups of gamers in a family- and newcomer-friendly environment so that everyone can find a hobby that they love.
Discover MHK with Dené is a weekly radio segment on Wildcat 91.9 in which host Dené Dryden shares stories from the Manhattan, Kansas area featuring local events, organizations, entrepreneurs, and cultures specific to the Flint Hills region. New episodes air on Fridays during the noon hour on 91.9 FM.
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Jed Litwiller: We always ask ourselves the question “Is this building community?” Whatever, whatever decision we have to make, is it — in the long run — is it going to build community? We try to be the store that grandma is going to feel comfortable — that everybody, really, any type of person can feel comfortable in.
(Sound of dice rolling on a table)
Dene Dryden (over contemporary music): Every person has played a game of some sort. From hide-and-seek on the school playground to Candy Crush on your phone, games of all types are prevalent in American culture. Communities form around multiplayer, ongoing activities like tabletop games, but game shops and people who play Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering have a stigma of being exclusive. The folks at Village Geek want to change that. This is Discover MHK with Dené.
Dryden (over gentle music): While Village Geek has a retail location in Manhattan just off Poyntz, the original store popped up in McPherson, Kansas just about seven years ago. Three friends, Titus, Richard, and Jed, enjoyed playing board games together. They followed Jed’s dream of opening a game store, and while Titus and Richard provided the business management knowledge, Jed says his education background plays a role in how he operates the business.
Litwiller: That’s one of the things I love; what I try to stay focused on is the educational aspect of gaming. So I love teaching families and kids, you know, how to play new games, and I love seeing that lightbulb turn on, you know, when somebody gets excited about a game that they’ve played for the first time.
Dryden: When they wanted to expand outside of McPherson, Jed Litwiller recalled a moment that was a little like destiny.
Litwiller: We were actually looking at different cities, some other cities, and in the middle of all this, we got a message from some Manhattan people, and they were like, “Hey, have you guys ever thought about opening a store in Manhattan?” and we hadn’t even told them that we were planning on opening a second store somewhere. And so it was kind of — you know, almost felt like a — kind of a cheesy way of saying it, but I guess like divine appointment. Sort of felt like it was kind of meant to be.
Dryden: In line with the store’s mission statement, “Community Through Games,” Trace Campbell, one of the Manhattan store’s employees, says they try to make Village Geek a family friendly environment.
Campbell: We are a family store. So we like to have — we try to make it a bright, clean environment, so it’s not like, you know, a man cave or anything. ‘Cause there’s a stigma with people who play board games or get into card games of like, we’re all nerds that smell bad and blah, blah, blah.
Campbell: Exactly. What we do to make sure everyone is involved and not just nerds or people who identify as such — like families with children, women and just anybody.
Dryden: Another Village Geek employee, Sterling Oliver, said he wasn’t in a gaming community before coming to K-State, as his small town didn’t have a gaming store. Here, however, he’s noticed something different.
Oliver: Something I have noticed from people who’ve come through is that we get a lot of children, a lot of families who wouldn’t have normally gotten involved before, especially with like our Dungeons & Dragons nights. I have noticed a huge influx of younger people coming in wanting to learn about games and getting excited about these games. So I think that we have helped, helped usher in a new generation into the gaming community and hopefully provide a calm place for people to be able to learn without a lot of stress.
Dryden: But because Village Geek also serves coffee, sometimes people outside the gaming bubble stop in.
Oliver: A few times a week I see somebody, just like, “Yeah, I just wanted to swing by, grab a cup of coffee on my way to work or way back home,” or something. As I’m getting their drink ready or something, I’ll see them looking around at the games we have and being like, “Oh wow, I didn’t know they made a game out of this,” or like, “This seems super cool,” because most people are just exposed to, like, Monopoly and Sorry! and stuff like that. So they get to kind of see some of the more obscure games to them.
Dryden: Many groups gather at Village Geek to play card games and dice-based tabletop games. Long tables help because of the large setup of some games, like Star Wars Legion, which Jacob Allen plays.
Allen: It’s a combination of a miniatures game with a card game with a dice game. Little bit of elements of all three mixed in. You have the units, abilities, stats, whatever on cards, so instead of having to look up in a rulebook somewhere what certain units do, it’s pretty nice and easy on the cards. The dice game aspect is when a unit is attacking or defending, you roll dice to determine the outcome of this attack or defense.
Dryden: Star Wars Legion is a fairly new game, only about a year and a half old. Andrew Kahn shared why he started playing Legion.
Kahn: I started with the other version, which is the X-Wing miniatures game, but I was also interested more in ground combat. I wanted to do Warhammer, and this was just significantly cheaper and easier to get into. So that’s pretty much how I got started — I saw them playing and was like “Hey, can I do?” and then we did.
Dryden: Andrew said Facebook is helpful for those wanting to find a gaming community, or just stopping by Village Geek on game nights can expose people to new games.
Kahn: Village Geek has a calendar that has designated nights, so like tonight is Legion night. So you’re like “Oh, what’s Legion?” Well, you come down, you see what we’re about. Usually we’ll have someone spare so that they can set up like a quick trial game, see if it’s something you’d be interested in. We try to be a pretty inviting community.
Dryden: It’s that tenet of in-person interaction and community that Jed says keeps people interested in games like Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars Legion.
Litwiller (over gentle music): I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “I want to play games, but I don’t want to sit in front of a screen.” I mean, they’re like, “I sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day at work; the last thing I want to do when I come home is grab a controller.” I think as we continue going that direction, I think there’s going to be more and more people who discover the joy of tabletop gaming and how satisfying it is to sit down with a bunch of friends, you know, face-to-face, across the table.
Dryden: People rally around community, entertainment, and belonging in many ways. For some, gaming is how friendships are fostered and new ideas are formed. This has been Discover MHK with Dené.