Gaming in a Public Place

edited August 2008 in Story Games
We're going to be doing this soon since we've got small kids who distract. We're talking about a coffee house, not the local gaming shop (which I don't really consider very public). And we're talking Burning Wheel, so no boxes of minis to really "give us away." Still, I'm kinda feeling anxious, and I know it's 'cause, deep down, I'm embarrassed to be seen gaming outside of the comfort of home.

I was walking in the mall yesterday and saw a group of men sitting around with laptops and musical score sheets at a table. It was interesting to look over and realize how "normal" and "acceptable" it was: people, sitting together, working on something.

I suppose if I had looked over and seen people playing poker or jenga I would've thought, "Gee, why not play at home?" and "Hey, looks like fun."

So yeah, kinda strange. Students studying together? Fine! People talking? Fine! People working on a computer program together? Fine! Lone guy gaming on a laptop (multiplay or not)? Fine!

People playing cards? Hmm....maybe...depends on the shop/setting, right? People playing dominos? Hmm, could be OK, maybe in a coffee shop (usually ones that supply them, right)?

You see where I'm going with this? It's a strange line, and I can follow it up and down. An actor memorizing his lines silently? Fine. Out loud? No... Two people telling each other a story? Fine! Etc.

So there's my thoughts. I was wondering if any of you had stories to tell about gaming in public places.

--Ken

Comments

  • edited August 2008
    Posted By: Z-DogI was wondering if any of you had stories to tell about gaming in public places.
    Just that I do it from time to time with no problem. My house is pretty comfortable in general, so I tend to do most of my gaming there, but from time to time I want to be in a public place to game (w/o minis and stuff, mind you: that's too much setup to carry around and kep track of) just to, I dunno, be around other lifeforms. In this tri-college area, the local coffee houses are great for that: I can game at one table, the next table over there's some sort of Christian discussion group, in back of them are three people talking about some sort of science report, to my left there's a book club.

    Drinks and snacks are right there, and there's no worries about cleanup. I just make sure we don't raise our voices too much.

    In general, I have no problem playing in public places as long as you aren't being a mooch (sitting in a restaurant for 4 hours and only getting sodas), or being obnoxious.

    The chain Pantera Bread is another public place which would make for good gaming, although I haven't done so yet. It's almost a perfect blend of restaurant and cafe-style atmosphere.

    -Andy
  • edited August 2008
    I don't think I've ever played an rpg in a public place (although I have plenty of friends who have, particularly larpers who would play at bars), but I've definitely played board games in public places. I've played, amongst others, Kill Dr. Lucky, Save Dr. Lucky, and The Great Brain Robbery, and, honestly, that last one doesn't look all that different from an RPG with minis (depending of course on how elaborate your terrains and minis are).

    So we'll be in the Tim Horton's eating our doughnuts, drinking our coffee, while at the same time rolling dice, moving figures around the board, playing out our cards. And people definitely looked over, I mean, there's a die rolling across the table, we're making noise, and doing something slightly unusual, but if anyone said anything to us it was generally of the that looks like fun what's it called variety.

    Also, I live in Canada, your townage may vary.

    EDIT: I mention this because it sounds like you would have put The Great Brain Robbery on the side of the line you call people don't do this in public. And yet, when I do, nobody cared. Heck, cards are something we constantly play in coffee shops.
  • April (mein wifen) and I have played RPGs in public together repeatedly.
    Posted By: AndyThe chainPantera Breadis another public place which would make for good gaming, although I haven't done so yet. It's almost a perfect blend of restaurant and cafe-style atmosphere.
    In my experience, for the combination of gaming and high-priced sandwiches, it can't be beat. We played DnD 3.X there a few weeks ago, though without minis (they don't fit in her purse or my laptop bag).

    We've also played at a local coffee shop several times.

    Fair disclosure: my hair is a lovely purple, so what we're doing might be quite a bit less remarkable to others around us as a result, and I obviously have a diminished anxiety response to being stared at.
  • I try to tell gamers that we should organize a Play in Public day, and half the time they look at me like I'm retarded... because half the time, when I tell them, we're in a game store. How can I convince them succinctly that a store with a giant cardboard cutout of a Space Marine in the window isn't really a part of public space?
  • Posted By: misubaI try to tell gamers that we should organize a Play in Public day, and half the time they look at me like I'm retarded... because half the time, when I tell them, we're in a game store. How can I convince them succinctly that a store with a giant cardboard cutout of a Space Marine in the window isn't really a part of public space?
    Off the top of my head, some questions to motivate discussion might be...

    -- How often do people come in here without knowing what's in here?
    -- Do you ever come here with people who don't play these games?
    -- Do you often see people shopping here while carrying bags from other types of stores, such as clothing stores?
    -- Could someone passing by outside look in and guess what we were doing? Could they see us at all?
    -- How often do you see families or couples wander in here with no specific pre-existing interest in these products?
  • Some of my best story gaming experiences have been in public places. One of my first multi-session games after returning to RPGs with the discovery of the indie scene in the early aughts was a 3 player (2 PCs, one GM) game of Charnel Gods (Sorcerer) played in a funky little coffee shop. That was quickly followed by a four player multi-session campaign of Trollbabe in the same setting. I think the space was a factor in making those two games as successful as they were, we were meeting in place that wasn't anybodies home ground, didn't have distractions outside of the game.

    Then last year, my friend Johnzo and I played several chapters worth of Beast Hunters as a lunch time game (these games are documented on some AP threads here on SG). Our play space was the food court in the building that I worked in at the time. Several times co-workers saw us playing and stopped to ask questions, and I believe once we even got a random passerby intrigued. I like these opportunities for non-confrontational advocacy.

    I also found the public play experience useful for myself in damping down feelings of "gamer shame". The less equivocal I feel about my own hobby, the more I can simply enjoy it.
  • LARPs often use public parks. When I ran a Vampire LARP we did several events in public parks, having the in-character hosts note very sternly that these were public areas and that you should not wear or do anything that would draw undue attention.

    And it didn't!
  • When I lived in a college town, we'd sometimes game at the local Hookah bar. They had huge couches in squares with a table in the middle, and you pay by the hour. It's perfect. They loved us, we were some of their best customers.
  • A few years ago, a bunch of us Maryland-Virginia-DC types met in an IKEA, ate Swedish meatballs, and used their cafeteria to play games for about 12 hours. We purchased no furniture (assembly required) but I did buy some minor items. No one looked at us funny. We also did not scream, "I HACK HIS HEAD OFF WITH MY KNIFE AND LICK THE BLOOD OFF THE FLOOR!"

    Mmm, Swedish meatballs.

    Once, running a LARP in a hotel hallway, I had to ask a player to stop screaming "FIRE!" near the elevator. There are limits to what the public will tolerate.
  • Posted By: kevin.weiserat the local Hookah bar.
    Woah. Which country do you hail from? That sounds cool (my friends have told me cool stories about the experience at /legit/ hookah bars in Venezuela, Turkey, etc; it always sounded interesting).

    -Andy
  • BTW, when I go back to Japan this October, I will be gaming at one of the traditional public venues for tabletop RPGs in Japan:

    A private room in a karaoke club.

    I will try to document the experience.

    -Andy
  • Hookah bars were a fad in the US several years back. Seattle had several until the restaurant smoking ban drove them out of business.
  • I regularly played card games at Perkins.

    I don't know how 'public' this counts as, but I regularly played D&D, full battlemap, minis, and stacks of rulebooks, in the common area of my university dorm. With other people in the room doing other stuff.
  • edited August 2008
    Well, RPGs I don't think I ever played in public, but other games, sure. Bang!, Munchkin, Uno...

    There are actually many places (bars... but I think the concept is slightly different in italy... probably pub is a closer concept) that have boardgames you can borrow for free, and play while you drink and/or eat sandwiches. So, going there and playing any rpg would not draw a second sight.

    Cards... heck, cards are MEANT to be played in bars :)
    It's absolutely, completely normal: it's what old retired people (mostly men) are supposed to do when they meet on the evenings, often with a glass of wine or whatever. Bear in mind that in italy there is practically NO culture of "card game night" and gambling is pretty rare (and casinos are very rare... like 4 in all italy). Really, cards are played in public... all the time. I've played in bars, trains, on the beach...

    I personally would have no problem playing rpgs in public, but for practical reason I'd use one without too much toys to handle (that is, no DnD or other game with minis/tokens/battlemap).
  • Andy,

    This particular Hookah bar was in Ames, Iowa, USA. It closed down a few years back and has now been replaced by an Oxygen Bar.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen_bar

    I'm not sure if it'd work as well as a place to game. The hookah bar was great, though. I wish i knew about all the games I know now, I imagine Baccanal and In A Wicked Age would be awesome there.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyLARPs often use public parks. When I ran a Vampire LARP we did several events in public parks, having the in-character hosts note very sternly that these were public areas and that you should not wear or do anything that would draw undue attention.
    I've run L5R LARPS in public parks, with 15 adults in kimonos with plastic katanas and fans, it went fine :)

    I've also played countless CCGs, and a fair number of board games, in pubs, coffee shops, and the like, without the slightest problem.

    Not sure if I've played a tabletop RPG in the front room of a public bar, though I might have, I certainly have in the back room many times.
  • Hookah bars are huge in AZ, at least in the hipper 'hoods (Tempe and Tucson each have a good variety). I can't take the noise or the smoke, though.

    My indie/story crew met at a little espresso/LAN party joint called eJoy, right around the corner from Arizona State University, for several months. No issues, plenty of room, tasty coffee, pretty coeds for distraction. I do think we were a bit more subdued than we are when we're playing in a home.

    p.
  • I've played in this vegetarian bistro/coffee shop called Cafe Deux Soleils. It's great because there's lots of ambient noise, it's always got poetry and artsy stuff going on in it (so there a fairly large set of "normalized activities" in the place, and it's got good food.

    It is sometimes too noisy.

    I've also played in Denny's, which is phenomenally awesome for gaming. Large semi-concealed booths let you feel at home. Ambient noise prevents your "I slaughter them all" lines from carrying too far. It's cheap enough. the serving staff are willing to be like "sigh, whatever. This is Denny's. let them stay for four hours if they want to."
  • When I was in LA I played A Penny For Your Thoughts with Josh Roby and his crew at a cafe - I believe it's one of their regular venues. Nobody appeared to take any particular notice.
  • Thanks for the responses! I don't feel so bad about invading my local Starbucks. And taking my "gamer shame" out of the "closet" and into public is something I'm working on.

    It's funny, I live in Orange County California and, aside from college coffee shops, I've never seen anyone play cards in bars or coffee houses. Maybe chess at the beach or coffee shop, but not cards (and I'm talking the deck 52, not Magic or some such).
  • Ken, I wouldn't sweat it. Back in the day I used to play Magic: the Gathering all the time at coffee shops. People gave us barely more notice than those playing chess. And more recently I've done some playtesting at a local coffee shop and never even thought about it. Not much different than a group of students studying and chatting together with all their college books and other accoutrements.

    If you are spending money, having fun and not bothering others, I don't think anyone is going to mind at all. Find a place where the staff and/or owner are friendly and they may well be asking you to come back for the business!
  • edited August 2008
    There is a Belgian bar in Philadelphia called Eulogy and on their second floor is the coffin room. Black walls, coffins with plastic tops so you can see the funeral wreathes and stuff inside, and pictures of famous dead people on the walls. We played a Ravenloft game in there every Thursday night until we had to cut back on our beer budget. Good times.
  • In high school I played some tabletop in a coffee bar simply because no one's parents would let 5 unruly teenagers talk around their table till all hours of the night. It was a relationship of convenience.

    I definitely hear you on the gamer shame though. I was at the library a few weeks ago photocopying stat cards from the 4E monster manual and I didn't really want to be scene with it. This was on a weekday afternoon, the only people in the library were a couple of old people napping with magazines on their chests, a librarian who looks like my mom, and a homeless guy who was likely unaware he was even at a library in the first place. THESE were the people i didn't want to judge me for being a weirdo.

    This is a big reason I designed Sweet Agatha; so there would be a game product folks could walk around with, use in public, and enjoy that normal people would think just looked like a cool book. It's pretty well designed for play in cafes, diners, and bars.
  • I played at a park once. A confluence of events left our group without a place to play. It sucked. Keeping papers pinned down in the wind. Bad surfaces. So horrible that we stopped regular meetings until there was an indoor place to play again.
  • About a decade or so ago, we were told we weren't allowed to play Vampire at Denny's, because there were dice involved and that was considered "gambling".

    Also, I was once told I couldn't play chess at Shari's (Denny's clone) because they didn't want to "promote a tavern-like atmosphere". Which was funny, because any time I've played chess at a tavern, I always got funny looks.
  • Posted By: Ron HammackAlso, I was once told I couldn't play chess at Shari's (Denny's clone) because they didn't want to "promote a tavern-like atmosphere".
    I would guess thay they wanted to promote a "Hey, leave the table already so we can fill it with some new butts-like atmosphere."
  • Posted By: nocluePosted By: Ron HammackAlso, I was once told I couldn't play chess at Shari's (Denny's clone) because they didn't want to "promote a tavern-like atmosphere".
    I would guess thay they wanted to promote a "Hey, leave the table already so we can fill it with some new butts-like atmosphere."

    That's the funny thing. After they told us we couldn't play chess there, we left (we were trying to finish a game we'd started at the nearby bowling alley, who (rightly so!) kicked us out when they were trying to close up and go home), before we received our food. So they kicked us out without getting any money from us and without (due to the time of night we were there) the prospect of getting more profitable replacement butts in the seats we'd just vacated.

    And more strangely, this happened during one of the few times in my adult life where neither I nor the people with whom I was hanging out were particularly creepy looking.
  • Posted By: rafialHookah bars were a fad in the US several years back. Seattle had several until the restaurant smoking ban drove them out of business.
    Funny, it seemed to me that I saw more hookah bars after the ban went into effect than before, and I figured they qualified for some kind of exception. Google Maps seems to be turning up several places in and around Seattle.
  • Cards, dominoes, backgammon, chess, and checkers are all traditional games that are often played in public spaces such as cafes, bars, and parks. I wouldn't find it strange at all to see that going on.

    My game group has played RPGs several times at a hotel bar in Seattle's University District, when our usual spot in Tony Dowler's basement wasn't available for some reason. The wait staff actually took to asking us, "ooh are you going to play games tonight?" when we'd come in.

    I've also played the board game Blue Moon City a few times at restaurants (pub and pizza place), when a friend wanted to meet up after work to play and we both needed dinner. That same friend had a board-game birthday party last summer at a pub, although she did know the owners which made that easier.
  • Due to a function of location and available space, my friends and I often game in Starbucks, cafes, diners, restaurants, parks, and so on all the time. What games we play is influenced by what's viable for mobile play. Starbucks and the like are ideal -- they're expecting customers to settle in for a while anyway.

    Pretty much, you just need to be polite: buy stuff, don't hog a table in a restaurant when it's busy, move on after a reasonable time, tip very well if you've been there a long time, and so on. I've only had a problem once, and we weren't playing an RPG then.

    Be prepared to answer the inevitable "what are you doing?" questions from the curious.
  • edited August 2008
    When I lived in London, we used to game at a pub in the City (it was a London meetup group, people from all around London). After some time, we had find another pub with a private room that suited our needs - gaming in the public area of the pub proved difficult as there was lot of laughter, banter and stuff - couldn't even hear your own voice.

    And yeah, one of the guys used to bring with him this huge suitcase thing full of miniatures. And noone looked at us strangely.

    Back in Czech Republic we usually do the pitch sessions and world burning in a local teahouse (tea, peace and comfort). I also did a pre-game demo of a system at a coffee house - no problem even though some of the players got a bit over-enthusiastic and loud.

    Yes, in my country things may be a bit different. But I believe, that the reception you get also depends on your own point of view and behavior. If you act as if you are doing something shameful and immature, people will more readily think you strange or geeky. However, if you act confident, smile at the staff and other customers, and show no marks of embarassment, people shouldn't think you are some pariah geek from hell (or basement, whatever).

    Also, I've never met anyone, who wouldn't be - after I explained what this thing we're doing is about - either intrigued or at least fine with us having our hobby. No negative experience with public gaming there.
  • I run a Traveller game every two weeks in a public coffee shop. Mostly because the gaming group has drifted apart geographically but still want to play together. The shop is roughly in the middle.

    To be honest I don't have much gamer shame because I really don't care if people see me having fun. We've definitely gotten looks but I just look back and have winked a few times. LOL

    Depending on who can make it we have between 5 to 7 people including myself. Though we do sometimes rent out a back room so we don't have to worry about getting loud/rowdy.
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