A (Game) Room of One’s Own 


Many nerds make light work.

About a dozen volunteers worked to open a new store in Williamsburg earlier this month. They came from as far as Philadelphia and Connecticut to take down two walls, repaint and build tables while listening to classic video game soundtracks. "They're my friends," volunteer Dana Goldstein said matter-of-factly. "I wanna play here."

The workers were from a community of nearly 100 "Magic: The Gathering" enthusiasts looking for a home.

Store renovation may not be typical weekend fun, but the work might have been the most exciting manual labor ever for these barnraising geeks. They renovated and opened the Twentysided Store—a new haven for geeky gaming—in just five days."There's all these people that want to play all these games. And there just isn't a space in New York," said co-owner Luis Chato.

Twentysided started as an email list three years ago. No one in this diffuse band of New Yorkers seems to remember how or when it got started. Nonetheless, members used the list to organize pickup games and tournaments anywhere possible in space-starved New York City: bars, living rooms, delis and afterhours in a co-working office.

"Magic: The Gathering" is a game that stages imaginary duels between dimension-traveling wizards called "planeswalkers." Using specially printed decks, the planeswalkers take turns drawing power from land (cards) to summon monsters and fling spells until one player has lost 20 life points.

Between the cards—each one decorated with fantasy artwork—and players' geeky sense of humor, playing in random public locations can get awkward, said longtime member Alice Gougen. But why not just play at existing gaming shops, like Jim Hanley's Universe in Midtown?

"The space for gaming is tiny and only available on Friday evening," Gougen said. King's Games in Brooklyn? "Way too far by train. And the crowd just doesn't feel right."How about just in public? "Too many funny reactions from patrol officers and ‘deranged homeless people,'" Gougen said.

"We want to be silly, to be what we want without being judged." On the first Friday night at the new Twentysided (named for the many-sided dice used in fantasy gaming), Chato was busy putting hundreds of rare Magic cards into the store's inventory. The store would host two small tournaments, but Chato did very little advertising, he said, hoping for a quiet night to get work done. Barely five minutes later, a community member walked in the door and said, in a show of support, "I've told a lot of people about the store in the last four days."

Another player entered the store and asked, volunteering his labor, "You guys interested in getting any art on the walls?" By 7:30pm, when the tournaments were supposed to begin, the store was packed with 26 community enthusiasts.

It's hard to imagine the crowd of casually-dressed 20- and 30-somethings growing much larger: getting from one side of the store to the other, with its exposed electrical wiring and worn wood floors, takes a bit of tiptoeing to avoid bumping into players and lightweight tables.

But between the player wearing a playmat on his head and shelves full of community-donated gaming props, everyone already looked at home.

The cardinal rule, community member Dustin Long said, is "Don't be a Dick." He recounted another player who once tried to joke that a stereotypical male Magic player shouldn't bring his girlfriend to the game. Anyone harboring any kind of bigotry usually doesn't stick around long, he said.

"We keep each other in check," Long said.

Shortly after the games started, Chato and co-owner Lauren Bilanko realized there weren't enough seats. Two patrons grabbed an extra table from the back room while Bilanko went next door to unlock the apartment she shares with Chato. Three of the players returned from the residence with a few chairs, no questions asked.


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