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…