Aaaand it’s Monday Again

Easter Sunday: Jenifer stayed with us overnight and Edmund made lemon soufflé pancakes for brunch, served with fresh orange juice, mocha, and mild Italian sausage patties. Yum! We had discussed going to the Skagit Valley tulip festival, but the weather was precarious so we stuck with the original plan to go see the Grindhouse double-feature. We had a good time, though we like the Robert Rodriguez movie (“Planet Terror”) better than the Tarantino (“Death Proof”). I felt that the movies weren’t horribly sexist, not like the original grindhouse movies of the 70s. At least, I thought they were much better than 300!

Jenifer returned home and Edmund and I went to our DragonMech game in the evening, grabbing a couple of lamb gyros and a dish of creme brulee at B&O Espresso for dinner. Had a good time, even though it’s hard on the GM, Taylor, that several players are moving out of the area. I hope it will all work out. I don’t like the d20 system, but I like the setting and the group.

So the weekend was good, but the thing that’s preying on my mind is the reorganization of the Metro Seattle Gamers club. It’s a 20+-year old club that started at the university, then had to move to its own place. The club has been renting the same location in Ballard for 16 years, but now that building is going to be torn down to make space for more crappy condos since Seattle is on a crappy condo kick right now. At the same time, matters are coming to a head with steadily declining attendance and revenue. The club was using a small base membership fee plus pay-to-play fees, and the shortfall has been a problem in the last couple of years.

So MSG is trying to come up with a new fee structure and a new organization in order to be able to rent a new place. The decision was made by some of the most active (and oldest) members to go for a two-tier system with key members with full privilege, access 24-hours a day, 365-days a year, and four guests a month, paying $50 a month and getting two votes; and regular members, getting one vote and access any day of the week when a key member can open for them, paying $25 a month. They sought pledges and received about a dozen pledges for key membership, and about 20 or so pledging at the regular member level. At the special meeting last week or since then, about half of the pledges have paid for the first month so there would be money to pay deposit on a new location. Although the group included many role-players two decades ago, it’s now by a large majority a wargamer/miniatures gamer club. I am the only woman I know involved with the club; we’re talking primarily white men in their late 30s to 50s, with a strong grognard component.

Edmund and I have been members in 2000 but didn’t use it, then became members again in the summer of 2004 and have been since; we play there for SGA Monday night short-shots. We’ve been very active in the local gamer community in the last three years, and we’re trying to build more bridges between gamer groups such as MSG, SGA, and many others. We are interested in RPGs above all, though we like the occasional board or miniatures game. The SGA group is much younger and is about half women on a typical night. As RPGers, our space requirements are much lower than wargamers and miniatures gamers, who like to be able to store games, terrain pieces, and entire in-progress boards. Many of our members have budget restrictions and all but one have said they would not be able to or willing to pay $25 a month. For couples, like Edmund and I, we’d be talking about $600 a year! That’s a lot of gaming books.

So we proposed an associate member status that would give us access to the club on a single night a week, the off-night of the club’s choice so as not to compete with the members paying higher fees. Going by what our polling revealed among SGA members as the break points, we proposed a $15/month fee for associate members, and $5/visit for occasional players for who monthly membership did not make economic sense. At current participation rate based on the last four months’ attendance, we’d bring in over $1500/year. This is a conservative estimate since our attendance has actually been on the rise. Also, a few more details of interest: SGA has been very active in trying to help with MSG. When there was talk about organizing a clean-up of the rather run-down, unappealing facility last fall, we made up over half the cleaning crew. And let me tell you, the bathroom, kitchen and basement were scary. Also, our attendance has been for a large part in the club’s survival in the last three years; some members admit openly that without the SGA games, the place would likely have closed six months ago.

But not all of the MSG veterans see us, since we come on an off-night. And those who — right now — are willing to pledge $50/month don’t like the idea of other people gaming for $15, which I can understand. Another problem is that participation (in terms of voting, volunteering, speaking up, etc.) has been declining for so long that apathy has become the norm. So the current group is openly planning around the idea that people will not be interested in voting, or meeting, or participating other than as users of the facility. Also, some people at the meeting said very clearly that they weren’t using the current facility, but had pledged out of interest or principle. This is all well and good, but I worry that in six months, it won’t be a sufficient reason and they’ll re-prioritize expenses.

So let’s recap the life signs:

  • Without a vote under the pre-existing rules (hazy as they were), a system has been put in place to assign votes by amount pledged. All current votes are now taken under this system, as of last week
  • Budgets are being prepared on the basis of pledged money rather than including a contingency factor.
  • No alternative or additional sources of funding are currently being actively discussed.
  • Strong, vital participation is given less weight than amount pledged.
  • The new constitution is being written with the assumption that members will not show interest in participation.
  • The parameters of the club (how much space is needed, at what time, etc.) have not been discussed by the group, so no new ideas have been brought. They’re looking for same area, nicer space, similar budget.
  • When open discussion was launched on the mailing list last night, finally asking what people thought of a multi-tiered voting system, instead of being an actual discussion it rapidly turned into a defensive “What the heck kind of decisions do people think a games club of 32 persons is going to make?? What POWER grabbing issue is so hideous that this discussion has taken on the quest for perfection??” (verbatim quote.)

In other words, the signs are bad. I really, really want MSG to live and regain its former energy, I want SGA, and the Puget Sound Roleplayers, and the DnD Meetup Group, and all those other groups out there to form partnerships and support one another. I want a vital gaming community. I don’t want to buy my way into votes, or go on with a setup just because it was used 16 years ago, or plan for apathy. So, to be quite honest, I’m hoping we can either have an unexpected breakthrough (yeah, I know it sounds like I’m hoping to the magical Group Dynamics Fairy to drop by), or a clean and quick break so that those who do want to work on a live group can move on with hands free and a clean conscience.

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