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I didn’t get nearly as many photos of this as I would’ve liked so I may just have to go back and get some more as my terrible photography meant that I had to delete a lot of blurry and otherwise unpresentable pictures.

So as many of you know, I visited gaming paradise for the first time there on Friday. It’s called Casa Del Giochi (House of Games) and is about 20 minutes on the metro from central Milan. It’s worth pointing out that this is a not-for-profit venture and not a private shop like in America or in some instances, the UK.

Casa Del Giochi is an old school complex with lots of different side rooms, a main hall and a basement which wasn’t being used. Jonatha, the chap who completed the project around 2006-07 was an aide to a local politican (who is now under house arrest for some sort charge, probably corruption, but less said about that the better…). As a result Jonatha knew a lot about what buildings were on offer and how to work the council to his best interests for the idea.

Before I go on to talk about the man behind the idea, I want to give you an idea of the scope of this place.

For starters, it has every RPG, gaming book and game you can think of that can be just be picked up and played. Here are just some pictures of the library to give you an idea of the scope of this place:

Then there’s the main play are area – note the judges station off to the left:

There are WC’s behind the station and another large gaming room as well as two more gaming rooms towards the left outside the margins of the picture. The picture was taken at night but you can go out beyond where the windows are and play games outside on nice days. There are two more small rooms from where I’m standing taking the picture for RPGing and quieter games. Then there’s the bar behind and to the right of where I’m taking the picture from:

Unfortunately I didn’t get pictures of the basement where there are 4 interconnected room for LARPing alongside lockers full of LARP kit. Next to that there was another basement room with Jonatha’s personal collection of games he had amassed overthe years and that picked up on the cheap from games shops closing down on the cheap. If he hadn’t found a place for them in Casa Del Giocha I would have accused him of hoarding! Just seeing it was a shock – my emotional range went from stunned silence, to flabbergasted, to angry and envious to stunned acceptance. There was so much of the stuff; games I didn’t know existed. Did you know there was Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles euro-style card game? Gaming treasures that I did know existed – like the copy of the 80s version of Ogre by Steve Jackson.

Then there were the clubs, some bigger than others. There was a wall full of these plaques, one representing each club:

The atmosphere around the place was great too as there were families with their kids just playing games together, eating, drinking booze – just having a great time. On the Saturday there were LARPers in their kit enjoying themselves as other quieter games went on in the background. The atmosphere showed what the gaming dream could be as opposed to the stereotype we often get lampooned with: anti-social Dungeons and Dragons players in the basement.

There are similarities in what he and I do. For a while he did what I do now and went around different clubs asking them if they would want to move their play area to a centralised area, which would soon become Casa Del Giochi, but got little incentive as the gamers were mostly happy where they were. He also tries to convince gamers to join together and play more games.

But that seems to be where the similarities end as he seems to. Jonatha joked about having to convince the gamers to come to the central meeting point rather than random pubs and clubs by using any means necessary from bribery to blackmail to threat of force. Although he was mostly joking, and considering how Italians do things, I’m pretty sure he used did just about everything within his power to ensure that these clubs ended up in The House of Games.

He’s also found it harder to spread gaming around. He told me that one of his greatest problems was cross-pollinating gamers in Casa Del Giocha. Traditional games like Scrabble and Chess seem more popular in Italy than in Scotland but those same gamers who love those games seem to consider it ‘their game’ and not one they would split away from whereas in Scotland we can meet people who may consider themselves miniature gamers but also do RPGs or even LARP.

Further to that, he said that he couldn’t put 2 different gaming groups in the same room. If chess players were put with backgammon players, there would be a row, guaranteed. In this sense, Scotland is similar for those gamers who don’t feel the need to play other games other than their chosen one.

Also, whereas most of my base of contact comes from the web and the Internet, Jonatha’s base is all personal contact. This may be because Milan and the surrounding area has a population of 4-5 million; the size of Scotland alone and Jonatha could simply travel around them all and meet them face-to-face when he was setting the place up.It could also be attributed to the fact that he wasn’t very keen to use the Internet as a means of spreading the idea and was surprised when I talked about how we have some great podcasts in Scotland that disseminate the good stuff going on in the gaming scene.

The other difference he found has its roots in culture. He mentioned that normally there is a kind of ‘Capo’ or leader of each gaming society in Casa Del Giocha and they seem to manage everything successfully. This seems to be the same in Scotland. The difference is that when the organiser leaves for whatever reason (moving abroad, giving up the game, new schedule) it was very hard to find someone to pick up the mantle afterwards. He talked about how in one case, a group of Italian gamers would rather see the club of 50 or so die out than step-forward to ensure it’s survival. For the most part, we don’t have that problem as handover to other people seems to common at least in my experience.

He also spoke about how to keep the place going. He employs 6 staff and has about 1,400 gamers come through to the place in any given year. 900 of those were regular types who visit at least once a week whereas the other 500 would be those who come to play their game of choice once a year or so. He charges each player a membership card of 6 euros a year (!) and the clubs who use the place also charge their own membership fees too.

During the summer he runs a summer camp for kids to come through and keep their kids busy for the summer. This is more of an Italian tradition when kids are off for the summer for 3 months or so but it’s definitely applicable here too. These kids will likely grow up with a sense of nostalgia and fun for gaming and may come back to it even if they drift away from it in their hormonal teenage years. Think of that for a moment, generations of gamers…

Either way, there’s a lot to learn from his example and a lot of ideas that I have come away with that I would like to implement if not copy wholesale! Where to begin…

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“El Capitano, do you ever get fed up of being questioned?”

NO! FUCK NO! I love being questioned! I love being able to explain myself when people misunderstand me. I love being responsible enough to know that I can stand up to scrutiny each and every single time someone accuses me of something I’m not or tells me how I’m doing something wrong. I get HARD when I have the capacity to see my own mistakes pointed out for everyone to see – and my ability to stand up and admit I’m wrong; it makes me a better person.

And better yet, I can be questioned in a variety of different ways! I love it when I’m questioned face-to-face where I can demonstrate exactly what I mean with the full compliment of tools of expression available to me, like intonation, body language and other verbal cues. But I’ll tell you, nothing compares to being able to articulate facets of my personality and expression in the written form – the expressive equivalent of communicating with one hand tied behind your back – to not only justify what I’ve said but to do it in such a way that everyone reading can understand my point and allow the original questioner to enlighten themselves, to have learned just asking.

And yet nothing compares to being trolled; I LOVE being trolled – not the wishy-washy jokes that people make for a laugh, yet take things off-topic any way but PROPER trolling. I can’t get enough, and yet there’s so little quality trolling out there. After all, a good troll makes me look good – not to everyone of course but to the people who actually matter, the people who know me and know I’m not the kind of person who does anything half-heartedly or uses my opinions for self-serving purposes; the people who know I’m biased but biased with an understanding that I can be questioned and that I can be wrong – a bias that lacks ego and seeks to understand.

I LOVE being questioned. Truly, I do. So, please question away because more than anything, I like to question myself. But before you do, I have questions for you: Can you say the same? Do you have the same ability to express your emotions in black and white? Do you have people in your life who care about you? Or did you simply question out of ego to prove to others that you are some how valuable to fill that void? Or did you question because I simply disagreed with your view point? If so, why didn’t you leave your ego at the door? Or did you just question to mock? Did you ask yourself why you felt the need to mock others and not make a joke of yourself? Did I make a mockery of you? And if so, did you question why I made a mockery of you?

These questions are all valid but they all lead to the same one: “Did you ever think to ask questions of yourself before questioning me?” After all, we as human beings are just one big jumble of biases. Some of you may have grown up with certain biases, others maybe have been forced on you, but ultimately the origins of all your questions come from a time when, for whatever reason, you did not or could question yourself, your viewpoints.

So as much as I appreciate my values being double-checked and book-keeping made out of my personal beliefs, my comments being called into question and my requests ignored, derided or even sometimes carried out – I can assure you, I do a lot of that accounting myself. I question the validity of my posts and when I’m not impassioned, I stop to think about what I say in person.

But that’s me. This post is for you. And the one last question I have for you is, “Can you say the same?” But please, don’t answer that. It’s for you to know, for your understanding.

My mate Jim has a habit of nailing stuff succinctly and thus he’s probably the most quotable person I know peronsally. Here’s a post from a Facebook conversation as frankly, it needs to be recorded:

“People need to realise that any problem in their life can only be overcome by their own actions as effort. Passing the blame for a problem off to someone or something else is juvenile and pathetic and shows a lack of confidence and a laziness of character in the complainer. Can’t get a girlfriend? It’s your fault. Change the way you treat girls. Can’t get a job? Look elsewhere or get training/education. Don’t get approached in a group of people? Approach the group of people yourself. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. Whining about how other people should be fixing it for you is morally redundant, amazingly self-centred and fantastically childish. Folk need to take responsibility for their own situations and actions and identify and overcome their fears. Anything else leads to an empty and mundane life, full of excuses and regrets.”

So far, one of my greatest culture shocks in Italy has been the sheer lack of customer service or willingness to be helpful.

Supermarket staff can be openly hostile if you upset them, which can be frightening if you don’t speak the language: eye-rolls and hand gestures abound when you fail to answer quickly enough on important questions like, “Do you have a store card?” or “Would you like some bags?”

But they aren’t the only low paid, low-level workers who can fuck up your day or, more likely, your sense of well-being. Since my role involves going into different companies and teaching people on their premises, I often deal with security guards and receptionists and there’s a ritual that goes with that territory. You start by introducing yourself in bad Italian. They switch to bad English and ask for your passport. You hand it over and wait on average, at least 5 minutes for a visitors badge while 3 other security guards or workers sit around, chat or even in some cases, have a smoke. Meanwhile the security guard who was dealing with your inquiry takes another phone call or strikes up a conversation with his colleagues.

It doesn’t stop with people like me who, without any Italian language skill, can be easily taken advantage of. In the staff room, me and my colleagues swapped stories about the worst treatment they’ve ever had from security guards. The winner in this category was a receptionist who read her magazine while a queue of ten or so different people formed, including one of my colleagues. As she kept them waiting, a man with a suitcase stepped forward and announced himself; “My name is Luca Di Montezemolo and I have an appointment with your director of sales.”

For those of you who don’t know who he is… well, you can find his wikipedia entry here…

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

So, I complained about a lack of customer service when I was in Britain and lamented how I remember things used to be. Due to privatisation, the increase of outsourcing and the need for ‘flexibility’ from employers we’ve developed a workforce who simply don’t receive enough benefits or remuneration to care any more or even have time to do the job at end of the day when they do.

In Italy the story runs a little deeper.

It was explained to me by my colleague that people in jobs without much responsibility are highly protected by Italian law. It’s very difficult to fire them unless they mess up in a huge way – like assaulting someone or something like that and of course, you can’t demote them. If companies take them to court, under the current system which favours the employee, if the employee is not found as a completely useless screw-up who may or may not be likely to murder someone then generally the company has to rehire them and pay them lots and lots of money. But why?

I only have the basics of the story so anyone from the country can feel free to correct me on this one but this goes back to a time when the unions were strong and pushed for these laws that simply haven’t been updated for a long time.

However, that doesn’t really explain why it’s ok to behave like a complete tosser for no apparent reason. Sure, the law might be on your side but why not spend the 8 or so hours you do work a day trying to smile and get greet people by doing the best job you can?

And for that answer we have to go deeper still and unfortunately I’m simply not knowledgeable enough about Italian culture to give a concrete answer. However, I can sure as hell make an educated guess!

In Italy, there is a strong mindset, almost a motto: “If you can get away with it, you can do it.” It affects how drivers treat the rules of the road, how corrupt government officials can do what they want and in this case, how lackadaisical they feel they can be towards company visitors and customers. Apparently, this mindset is taught in schools to kids, or at least not quite so negatively. It goes more along the lines of, “Rules can be questioned, everything has different sides to it and thus everything is questionable,” or words to those effect.

So in the case of these workers who are backed by the law and won’t ever really get fired, they can effectively treat people how they want and if they want to take a toilet break and leave the reception unmanned for 30 minutes, well, va bene.

What does this mean for me? It means I’ll probably have to test the boundaries; the next time a security guard makes me wait 5-10 minutes for a card, I’ll be walking away well in advance into the building shouting, “Sorry, I don’t have time.”

It also makes me worry about Scotland. If we do go Independent and unions become strong, as they are likely to in a left-leaning country, can we expect ridiculously overly-favourable labour laws for our public sector workers, who for the most part seem to spend most of the day on Facebook? I hope some consideration to countries like Italy gives us pause.

Father wins: flawless victory!

BONUS CONTENT: GET’S!

 

EDIT: I’m reliably informed that the kid in the video is called Tomas and is a boy.

In the mire of days where you follow a pattern, there are little moments you don’t want to forget, like waking dreams you want them to stick with you. In this post I will capture one of my waking dreams as best I can.

I stepped out of my last class, out of the work grounds at the company I was teaching at after dropping off my badge at security. The day was fairly unusual already in that my first two classes were cancelled meaning it went from being my busiest of the week to my least. As I usually do,  I put in my headphones and started listening. The last track I had been this (well, the “Bambi’s Dilemma” album version):

 

It was on repeat from some time last week: when I get stuck on a song I usually overplay it for the longest time until I am a little fed up of it, until of course I can go back to it a while later.

As I finished walking up the street and towards the end of the road that leads away from the company, I walked onto the main road; a junction to an airport, with a bridge on the left that shielded my initial stroll towards the main road itself and into bountiful rays of warm sunlight – the kind that blinds you a little.  Through the rays I saw all these seeds that the nearby plants had released; young kids in Scotland sometimes call them “fairies” and hold the belief that if you catch on in your hands you can make a wish. There were literally thousands of them floating through the haze, past you, through you, onto your clothes and hair and away again.  They danced through the shine like aimless ghosts – drifting in the sunlight like some kind of purgatory. Out from underneath the shadow of that motorway bridge, I had stepped into some other ethereal world.

I was snapped out of it by a small lizard that had managed to retain it’s awareness while sunbathing as it ran away from my looming shadow. I’ve been meaning to write a poem about those little lizards on that walk for a while now. I’ll get to work on a haiku at some point when I’m not being stopped by conductors on buses…

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