Arts and Entertainment

JackAttack An Empire of Fun

Have you ever wanted to get away from everything? Go see a movie, maybe go for a walk?

But wouldn’t it be more interesting if you could escape into a fantasy world, where the only thing holding you back was your imagination? Where you could be seven feet tall, have guns like Arnold Schwarzenegger and wield a six-foot-long broadsword?

For a growing population of gamers, this is how they spend their time away from the real world. They are role players, plunging their thoughts and time into games like Dungeons and Dragons and War Hammer.

First the players mold their characters into their mind’s eye. The adventure is then shaped by the group’s opinions and set into place by the game master who is a referee of sorts, monitoring the players and setting consequences and actions.

“It’s no different then improv acting,” says Empire Games owner Sandy Charnell, who opened the shop on the corner of Poulsbo’s Hostmark and 8th Street in November 2007.

Charnell has been involved in role playing games for more than 15 years, after a knee injury ended his sports career at South Kitsap High School.

“People who play sports enjoy it because they are successful and meet new people, and role playing is no different,” says the owner. “You would be surprised, after one day in here you will have people inviting you to more events or to grab some food. There is a real big social aspect to role playing.”

Walking into the store, that social aspect is very apparent.

You are greeted by Charnell and others as if you’re in your own house. The scattered tables are filled with men, women, and children who share a common passion; it’s no different in that regard than watching a game of blackjack or bingo, except these gamers are fighting mythical dragons and mechanical monsters, not stacked odds.

The calendar in front of the store is chalked full of events for the month — trips to Seattle, family game nights, and product testing from a local company — proving that role playing is more than just a game.

I feel the need to dispel (pun intended) the assumption that DnD players are lowlifes who live in their parents’ basements — they are just as normal as you and I and probably a little smarter. I felt overwhelmed watching the games going on.

“There is a certain level of intelligence and strategy in these games that a lot of non RP’s cannot grasp,” Charnell remarks, noting that many role playing games have been approved by Mensa, a group of the world’s top minds, who choose games that require both strategy and math. Charnell later offered to play Dvonn, (a Mensa award winner), an elegant mix of chess and checkers, requiring more thinking than most challenging crossword puzzles. After thoroughly beating Charnell, I called it beginner’s luck.

“I think he wasn’t really trying,” jokes Anna Kindelan-Taylor, a friendly Empire employee. “When he gets into a game, it’s impressive.”

I realize she wasn’t kidding as Charnell explains Puerto Rico — a complex board game in which you start from nothing and build the economic powerhouse, that is (I guess?), Puerto Rico.

Kindelan-Taylor has been involved in role playing since her grandmother introduced her to it at 8 years old. She says gaming has had only positive impacts on her life.

“I met both of my best friends through Dungeons and Dragons” says Kindelan-Taylor, adding that she’s much happier at Empire than she was at previous jobs, including one at a casino. “It was hit or miss there, people were either ecstatic or absolutely morbid when they left, but here everyone is relaxed and happy to be here.” The more time I spend at Empire, the more I realize the social aspect that takes root in the gamer’s everyday life. The mood was more of a living room than a store, people playing music and hanging out on the couch, while talking about You-Tube and movies, with role playing and card games only a portion of the atmosphere.

The players were the most refreshing part of the experience.

“The biggest part of role playing games has been the friendships I’ve made,” remarks James Beall, a recent Kingston High School graduate who’s been playing since friends introduced him to Magic four years ago. “There is nothing like getting some friends together and getting some pizza and sodas and hanging out and playing some role playing games.”

Jack Clearman, a recent graduate of Kingston High School, is a new columnist with What’s Up, bringing the 18-year-old perspective on everything from spaghetti and meatballs to Dungeons and Dragons. Look for Jack Attack the third Wednesday of each month.

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