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On the quieter side of Providence Road, almost hidden behind the Music Suite at 1906 North Providence, is a store that defies expectations. A small awning over a glass door offers only a peek, revealing games and cards, but not much to grab the eye.
Inside the store, however, is a personal experience, filled with people playing games together.
The store, Magelings Games, is the project of Columbia Area Career Center teacher Nathaniel Graham and opened April 18. Its purpose, he said, beyond sales, money or moving inventory, is bringing people together.
“Some folks will say, ‘Yeah, they’re just sitting around playing games,’ you know, waste of time, but really it builds a lot of social skills. It builds a lot of self-confidence,” Graham said. “You’re physically there with someone, and you’re each sharing a passion.”
Magelings, he said, is a way to bring a pastime of his and many other people to the forefront. Graham said he had been playing tabletop games, sophisticated games that range from role-playing to total war, since the 1980s. Although Columbia currently has a couple of stores catering to the tabletop market, like Vahalla’s Gate, Graham said there is no place for people of all ages to go and play games; with Magelings, he hopes to remedy that.
Graham said the store will carry several systems even he hasn’t played before in an effort to appeal to a wider audience. “Systems” are tabletop games. The first system and perhaps most widely known tabletop game is Dungeons and Dragons, first released in 1974. It blossomed out of the growing popularity of organizations such as the Society for Creative Anachronism, while adding fantasy elements to the strictly history-focused SCA.
For junior Owen Thorpe, D&D was a defining game of his childhood; he has been playing since he was six years old.
“I think one of the good social aspects of [tabletop games] is that most people see it as this ridiculously nerdy thing that a lot of people are serious about,” Thorpe said. “But a lot of the time I use it as a time to mess around and harass my friends.”
Thorpe said Magelings was a great idea. Beyond the ease of access the store would offer for hard-to-find products, he said it helps overcome the insularity some games encourage. Tabletop roleplaying games such as D&D are typically played with a circle of close friends.
“Having a place for people to actually play and get together is good,” Thorpe said. “It gets them out of their own social circles while playing.”
As some games can encourage insularity, the store offers many social gaming events. However, Graham said they will not be without some learning. In addition to requiring quick mathematics skills, he said gamers learn from each other.
“It’s applied mathematics, actually,” Graham said. “A lot of game systems have a lot of backend mathematics that runs probabilities. When you sit down and play Warhammer, for example, there’s a lot of number crunching going on, but it’s behind the scenes, and it’s in a way that’s intuitive for people to use.”
When it comes to crunching numbers, Graham is aware now might not be the best time to open a store. But though the economy is in a slump, that doesn’t worry Graham. His day job, teaching programming at the CACC, will help cover the costs, and Graham said his main priority was engaging the community. Down the road, he said, there may even be room for expansion.
“This just needs to stay open; that’s it. People come in, have fun. We’ll float, and if we go nutterbutters rich we’ll find some way to thank the community,” Graham said. “I would like to see something even bigger, even at 3,300 square feet. I want something bigger. I want to be able to have 150 people in at once and having fun and going at it.”
By Adam Schoelz