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Meet the best gaming communities in the UK

hellen_b

20 minute read

Small communities can change the world, one game at a time. Check this blog to meet the most cool gaming communities in the UK.

Mairéad Ralph

Mairéad Ralph

Switch London - organiser

https://www.meetup.com/SwitchLondon/

https://www.instagram.com/switchlondon/

SWITCH London is a gathering of gamers in London - it started under the name DS London where people came to play DS games - Tetris, 42 in 1 and so on. We have since moved onto 3 DS. I got into the group as I attended a whole lot of meets and made some suggestions to then organisers and organising it a bit better. We started doing bigger meets in gaming bars - we started organising some tournaments to bring bigger groups together. It was such an amazing atmosphere. It’s things like that you cannot do sitting at home by yourself - you can only do that in person.

A lot of the times I would go to a meeting and wouldn’t play many games but would rather end up talking to everyone. The social aspect is great – we are definitely breaking down the barriers and stereotypes that gamers just sit around on their own with their headset on, on their couches, not meeting a single person. We are all about meeting in person, now that we have Nintendo Switch, we have a lot of local multiplayer games so everyone comes together and they set up a little lobby room on their switch and everyone plays.

It’s an amazing feeling that you can do that, you can play your high quality games but get to know the person next to you.

I started coming to the meetings when I moved to London from Ireland and I wanted to connect with people. When you move somewhere completely new you have to get out there and meet people. I got to know everybody and I started building up friendships. Some of the people rotate but you always get the regulars.

I got in to gaming when I was 7 and got into Sonic the Hedgehog. I would play it with my brother. I wasn’t very good at it but from that moment I was hooked.

I really find it annoying that people think every gamer is an overweight male still living with his mom, I am neither of these things. I firmly believe there’s a game for everyone - just keep on trying things.

Izzy Jagan

Izzy Jagan

Indigo Pearl, Account Executive

http://www.indigopearl.com/

https://www.instagram.com/izzydragonn/

https://www.instagram.com/indigopearlpr/

I am really bad at games - even though I work in games and I love them, I am really bad at gaming. My first memory of gaming is struggling with A Bugs Life tie-in game very intensely and being very upset with myself for not being able to win. I have maintained being very bad at games but I still love them which definitely requires commitment. It took me about 5 years to finish the Spyro game.

I always play the game on the easiest mode possible because I love myself and I want to have fun. I don’t have any malformed pride to give myself more of a challenge. It should be fun for everyone.

I realise that gaming industry has a history of creating toxic environment for people who aren’t straight white men so, obviously, I am their worst nightmare and I have come to wreck the place. I think it’s getting better - it has been not the best for the longest time but now people have realised they deserve better and that people like me deserve to see themselves in games and in the games industry.

I have met so many amazing people in the community in the past couple of years just by me expressing my opinion how people should stay true to themselves in gaming. They do not have to fit these high standards of what other people think a gamer is because it’s such a weighted term. It has a lot of misconstrued associations. But really it represents people who play, like me and my friends.

When you see a group photo - you want to see yourself represented in it. If you don’t see yourself in the picture, why would you be interested in it? And, in our case, the picture is gaming. There’s been a lot of movements to change it make it more inclusive. I want to do whatever I can for a young Izzy type of person to see themselves in the picture which they might’ve not seen themselves in otherwise. One of clients, Blizzard, represent all kind of people in their games, you can play as a lesbian time-traveller, a really buff pink haired Russian lady or a Brazilian DJ and everyone can see themselves in one of these people. It’s so important to have this representation in the game which also means the community around it is very positive. You can also play as a rat - you win some you lose some. There’s a lot of potential for communities to be positive and encourage people to get into gaming.

Aoife Wilson

Aoife Wilson

Eurogamer - Writer, presenter, video producer

https://www.eurogamer.net/

https://www.instagram.com/aoife.wilson/

I have always played games I don’t even remember the time I didn’t but it wasn’t until I started working for a production company specialising in gaming content that I started to think that this is something I could do for work. From there I started hosting and writing for magazines and reviewing games.

I think it stemmed from watching a lot of people doing this job and seeing they do not have the passion and I thought I’d rather see someone in the room who really cares about what they are talking about. I think people respond really well to that.

Community is super important in gaming , I have been in the industry for almost 10 years now and it’s changed massively since. We still have a lot of work to do in terms of making the community more inclusive. Up until this year, I have never worked with another woman. Now I work with three and already it’s changed the tone of what we do for the better - making it more open.

We still need more diverse voices, we can’t just be the stereotypical view of being a bunch of guys in their basements. We need to hear more voices from the people of colour and from LGBT community. We need as many voices as possible and I think it enriches the texture of gaming. Even in the last couple of years, there’s been so many more interesting stories that never would’ve been told otherwise. At the end of the day it’s not about escapism but about building a community, celebrating and exploring different assets of games- education, building tools for education or making people more empathetic to others from different walks of life than theirs. And of course about having fun.

There’s been a lot of really great titles coming out in the past couple of years, pushing the voices that have not been heard before. This is happening even in the big blockbuster games. There are so many new games with female protagonist and it’s not optional anymore, it’s just how it is.

We are not quite there yet but we are pushing through that.

Kristof, Josef and Chris

Kristof, Josef and Chris - organisers

GAYMERS INC

http://gaymersinc.com/

https://www.instagram.com/gaymersinc/

Gaymers Inc. are an LGBT gaming group in London. We started about 3 years ago with a small group of friends and developed into a bigger group. We wanted to do more for the community and reach out to more people within our LGBT London community and we have been able to do it through gaming. A lot of people felt quite alone, they did not have a place to go or they did not think they belonged. We think a lot of people have found their group of friends through Gaymers. It’s a way of meeting people that doesn’t involve going out or drinking. Video games are a great icebreaker, you can get the conversation going much easier, you can play a few games and hopefully make long-lasting friendships.

Now that LGBT community is more accepted, we can get into more detailed level of interest groups and gaming happens to be one that we all really like. You can be yourself as other people are LGBT too. You can break the ice with having a round of a game or talk about something nerdy which is more comfortable than going to a bar.

There’s a lot of stereotypes about gamers - that they do not have friends, they do not go out much and that they do not shower but we do all of these things. Maybe apart from the time when a new game comes out.

Online games are not always the most accepting if you have voice chat on you can hear abuse, it’s good to find like minded people who you can geek out with and you know you’re not going to get homophobic abuse from them. None of us set out to achieve what we’ve achieved, we set this up because we thought it would be fun and then it is just a happy coincidence that people started making friends and coming out of their shells, people’s lives have changed thanks to this group. It all happened very organically, nothing was forced, everything we’ve done has been built from bottom up. It’s important to have an LGBT gaming community where people know they will be accepted and can feel safe.

In the beginning, it was a lot of guys coming to the meet ups but as we’ve grown and we got a bit of a name for ourselves, the diversity has changed dramatically, we have got a lot of people from different parts of the community - trans, lesbian, bi and especially the BAME community has come to us in a big way this year. We are very open to everyone.

Kristof, Josef and Chris

Kate Herron - organiser

Mohammed - game developer

The Screen Community

http://www.towerhamletsarts.org.uk/?cat=12&cid=29381&guide=Organisations

https://www.instagram.com/screencommunity/

The Screen Community is a London based charity which has been running for about 8 years. We started with Film and TV workshops and we bring in industry professionals to come and teach our students. The aim is to engage young diverse, often disadvantaged people and give them a chance to learn something. It’s a known fact that the media industry is lacking in diversity. Then along the way, we thought it’d be cool to run some games courses so we met and we started running the workshops.

A lot of what we do is for people who don’t have access to tools and means of learning. Currently, we teach people not only how to build a game but also how to code in Javascript and how to create a piece of interaction design. We talk a lot about game theory and how to keep the users engaged. Even though the medium is a game, what they’re getting out of it is a lot of transferable skills so they can branch out. A lot of our workshops are not like real classes, they are pretty laid back, we always start with a discussion and talk about what games are. Even though students work on their individual projects, they all play each other’s games and making them in the same room is what brings them together. We kind of created a micro-community for the duration of these workshops. This aspect definitely keeps people coming back - some of the students might not be as interested in building games but they want to be in the classroom and come to the workshops.

It’s really exciting to take 15 year-olds that might be initially a bit overwhelmed but then by the 5th meeting, they’ve created something amazing and it’s theirs. We are opening them up to - you could have a career in this.

All of these kids play a lot of games at home, and the parents might keep on telling them to get off the screen but for us it’s great to bring them into the classroom and show them how they can use their knowledge to build games and learn new skills. We got to the point now when we are starting to produce complex, polished and very playable games. We are very excited to see how much further we can take this.

We usually do not publicise the course on social media - we just approach various schools and through the word of mouth, we end up getting a lot of people interested in coming. It’s not official and corporate so people know that they can just come in and hang out and it removes the pressure.

We have a new course that’s starting soon Games Hub and we want to explore storytelling a bit more, take that to that next level. We want to work on a game collectively so all the students can add their narrative to the story and have their voice come through.

Kristof, Josef and Chris

Thomas Whitbread

A Table Top Roleplaying Meetup in London - organiser

https://www.meetup.com/Table-Top-Roleplaying-London/

NO IG I started playing tabletop roleplaying games when I was 13-14 and it was very different to videogames. Storytelling games, which I really enjoy, are about people coming together and bringing interesting ideas and perspectives which you can all add to your game.

I grew up in the countryside, so you only play with who you have available in the area but when I went to university, suddenly, there were people from different walks of life, countries and even women (laugh). The roleplaying game world has definitely diversified in the past few years, you can see people with very different perspectives.

Why do I lead the group? In a purely selfish way, it is about finding people to play with. When I moved to London, I did not know anybody here and I am sure that’s a common experience for most people who move here. I started reaching out to people who share similar interests to me through an online meetup platform.

People are busy, they’ve got demanding jobs, kids, they live far, you’ve got to engage with them and reach out to them to encourage them to join up the group. I always send a welcome email and ask for their input on the games, I want people to be involved.

There’s that tension of when you meet someone for the first time and you play a game together you do not know how much of their personality bleeds into the character. When you get to know people, you see how their personalities often shine through. Unlike video games or board games, it’s all about interaction. Unlike just meeting in a pub, it gives you something to talk about or something to build - I love games when you start with a blank page and build a world together - with vasts forests, deep oceans and horrible kings - you work together and learn things about people, it’s all about the collaborative spirit. People bring various ideas to the table. Next week we are playing a wrestling game, it’s not something I grew up with but I will give it a go, sometimes people are very good at sharing their enthusiasm and you end up getting caught up in it.

Female representation is much more common these days - we’ve got people who are not just men at the table and we have to think of representing them too. I feel it’s a way more diverse group of people than when I was 13. People with different backgrounds and different ages are getting into these games and it definitely opens up the storytelling and the way games are being played.

Kristof, Josef and Chris

Jade Leamcharaskul

BAME in Games Events Manager

http://www.bameingames.org/

https://www.instagram.com/jdwasabi/

I grew up in a typical Asian household and my parents always wanted me to do all the music classes possible. I got a Playstation One from my dad for passing my Piano Grade 3 exam. I remember I really liked the soundtrack to a lot of games I was then playing and I started to think I can write music for games.

When you grow up as a non-stereotypical gamer, you start noticing that all the characters you play tend to be white, not that it is a bad thing but coming from a non-white background, you will pick this up. There’s a lot of cultural identity dissonance in that way. That’s kind of what got me started thinking about representation of BAME in media, films and now games.

I organise BAME in Games events We do not charge any entry tickets and we have free snacks which is especially popular with the students. We are trying to be different than other diversity and inclusivity initiatives. Our aim is to become a central go to point for BAME people to connect with other BAME people who are interested in gaming. People who are not from the BAME background are also welcome to attend but, for me, it is important to make it clear that the space is prioritising BAME voices rather than the other way around. It’s like with feminism, its aim is to reach equality but it has to prioritise female voices to get there and achieve it.

There are a lot of students or young people but also game industry professionals who are a part of the group. There’s the connection between people who are just starting their career and people who are quite high up. It’s often difficult to get busy high-up people to come to the meetings but because we have a lot of industry veterans are part of the group, it makes it a lot easier to get them to come.

The great thing about games is that everyone can play them but because of the fact that a lot of the people who are making these games are not very diverse themselves, therefore we can’t really create as many diverse games. If you are not creating games catered to the audience, they are either not going to like your games because they cannot find themselves represented in them. Another example could be when I find that the story is told through my culture in a weird way which is just wrong. I want to encourage more BAME people to join to the industry, if you are not catering to the people that are enjoying the products, the industry is not going to evolve.

I believe there are bad and good gamers, the first group are not open to sharing their passion and discussing it with other people. What makes a really good gamer? There’s no judgement, we all come here to enjoy playing or making games together or even just talking about games and discussing games. Much like anything else, some of the people are approaching the games in a good or bad way.

Kristof, Josef and Chris

Anisa Sanusi

Video Games UI/UX Designer at Hutch Games

http://www.hutchgames.com/

https://www.instagram.com/anisasanusi/

https://www.instagram.com/hutch.games/

You do not really talk about film and music in the same way you talk about games. Nobody’s going to ask you - do you listen to music or do you watch films? Growing up I was one of the few people that took video games way more seriously than other kids did. I went to an all girls’ school and I guess I was a bit more of a nerd than my peers. I studied animation and there’s a lot of overlap between that and games and animation. I now do User Interface and User Experience design for games. Even though I wasn’t intending on pursuing a career in video games, they were a constant in my life and I never stopped playing games.

In my last job, there was around 300 people working there and once I did a head count, I think about 10% of them were women. This was a few years ago but it’s an ongoing fight, there are more women in the industry than they used to be but we still have a lot of work. It starts when you are a kid, when you are taught that girls should be playing with dolls and boys get to play with technology. Even though the representation is not very high at the moment, it is still the highest it has ever been and we keep on pushing this number more and more every year. Me and a few other women in the industry try to promote some video games mostly to convince the parents to get their daughters to follow this path career to believe in the industry as a viable career. It is after all a creative industry and a lot of women thrive in creative spaces. I thoroughly believe there will be way more women in the industry and it’s not going to be a minority issue anymore.

In video games, there’s literally a job title - Community Manager. The people who play the games are in itself all a big community. The other community is the developer community. A lot of indies tend to hang out together as they help each other out with game design and so on but also the business side of it - how to get funding for your game. It’s a cut throat business and every bit of help you can get is welcome. The industry as a whole is really small so everyone knows each other, all developers are tightly knit together. It’s so important to keep a positive vibe. The communities I am a part of are less competitive and more looking out for each other - making sure everyone has the right resources.

Someone asked me if I was a ‘gamer’ and I wasn’t sure how to answer that . They were talking about this very mainstream game that I never played and I did not know the characters but I have hundreds of hours game playing under my belt. There are so many different games, everyone can be considered a gamer including a 40 year old mom playing 200 hours of Candy Crush on her phone. The stereotype that has been perpetuated in the media that gamer is that nerd who wears glasses and can’t talk to girls - it is such an outdated 80s teenage movie thing. If you go to various gaming events, you see a lot of diversity. We are definitely trying to breakdown this stereotype. If you have a diverse force behind making the video games, you will end up with a more diverse lineup of games suited to different tastes and more people will be playing them. It’s no longer a valid question to ask someone - do you play games, it’s more what games do you like to play?

Kristof, Josef and Chris

Peter Davies

The London Warhammer Gaming Guild

https://www.meetup.com/The-London-Warhammer-Gaming-Guild/

https://www.instagram.com/lwarguild/

I moved here 6 years ago and it was very difficult to find friends. I went home to visit one day and I went to my old shed and I found my old Warhammer models there that I used when I was a kid. I thought to myself: ‘Do people still play this game?’. I picked up my models and brought them to London, did some research and found out that the game is still very much alive. I went to the local pub in Clapham and convinced the manager that I can fill the two empty rooms he had upstairs with people. He said: ‘Warhammer? Yeah I’ve heard of that’ and he allowed me to do it.

I set up the first night and only 2 people showed up but we had a great time and it grew from there. The reason it’s so successful was never about the game. It was about the people you’re with, about making new friends. I consciously set the meetings up in a pub, it’s a great social setting and people go there to socialise. Our unofficial motto is ‘We are a drinking club with a gaming problem’ it’s about meeting up and having a good time with the game. There’s even been a marriage that came out of it.

There’s a wide variety of people who come to the meetings but obviously they are all brought together by the love for the game. They keep on coming for each other, not so much for the game. They come for the relationships they build, I haven’t attended any clubs before so I don’t have a mould for how it should look like, I haven’t build it on any blueprint but I wanted to build it on what I thought was best for the community, and the core of it has always been the player experience.

Having said that team Draco is now second or third in the world so we have the people who are really obsessed with the game but I do really think people keep on coming back for the vibe and the community. It feels more like a family who loves the game but the reason we are there is each other.

I see my role as an enabler, in a positive way though, I want to help the people play a particular game or run a campaign through the infrastructure we have.

I spend a great deal of my personal time on it as my wife will tell you, it’s become like a second job now. I do it because I really like the look of happy people coming together and playing.

Written by hellen_b

Hellen is a content expert at giffgaff.