Friday, 11 April 2014
A Trader Among Us
Spring is here, and for me at least that also means the start of the show season, after my long winter’s nap. I was at my first wargame show of the year only last weekend. Perhaps you were there too and we chatted, but quite possibly not, as I fall into that peculiar category of Non-Male Gamer.
To spare blushes all round, let’s call this particular show Fracas ’14, following the tried and trusted formula of ‘something fighty + the year’ (which raises the dire spectre of a show called Combat 18 in four years’ time). If there really is a Fracas wargames show somewhere in the world, please let me apologise now. At any rate, this show took place in a school or sports centre somewhere in the UK, and I was there in my official capacity of ‘trader’s hanger-on’. This means I get the tea and bacon sandwiches, bang on endlessly about Doctor Who, and occasionally hand small metal figures over to customers in return for money. My time as anything remotely resembling a booth babe are sadly several years, and pounds, behind me.
The first thing that happens as I walk into the show hall is that the folks on the entrance table won’t let me pay. It’s under a fiver, but they tell me women and children go free. Try as I might, the ticket chaps won’t take my money and just wave me inside. Why complain about that, you may well ask? You just got in free – surely that’s a result. Yes, true, but I really would like to pay my way. I’m not in financial difficulty and I don’t need ‘ladies night’ style inducements to come into this predominantly male domain. I know about pillboxes and tanks, for goodness’ sake! I know sculptors and painters and scenery designers. I’ve written combat rules and can measure the blast radius of a mortar attack in inches at a glance. I’ve even read Anthony Beevor’s phone book-sized Stalingrad from cover to cover and only very occasionally nodded off.
What I’m trying to say - with possibly a hint of stereotypical hysterics - is that it is conceivably possible for persons of the female persuasion to actually want to come to a games show. Not all women are there simply to be dragged around a hall full of demo games and trade stands on a Sunday afternoon by their husband/boyfriend/sons, helpfully carrying a large bag full of recently-purchased polystyrene scenery while their menfolk root around the bring and buy for an old box of Descent On Crete. Some, like me, might want to be there in their own right.
But here’s the really funny thing about going to a show that I’ve noticed. Women develop the super-power of invisibility the moment they walk into the hall. Other women can see each other - they wave hello from behind trade stands to familiar faces in a ‘fancy seeing you here again isn’t it a bit chilly’ sort of way. But for many men, women are evidently invisible or see-through or, I don’t know, cloaked like the Predator. I know this is true because I’ve experienced it on countless occasions myself.
I’ll be stood there behind the trade stand with my male chum, playing the delicate cat-and-mouse game of customer engagement: say hello too briskly and you may spook them off, say nothing and they may drift away unloved and unenhanced by our fine products. It’s like fishing for skittish human beings. One or two chaps are loitering around the stand, eyeing the goods in a potentially purchasey manner. One of them is already talking to my chum, possibly asking him when we’re bringing out a heavy weapons crew for our range or asking for a rules clarification. And I’ll be stood there right next him, trying to catch the eye of one of the other guys on the other side of the table, giving the half-smile and raised eyebrows of the time-honoured non-verbal ‘can I help you’ opening.
But do they notice? Do they make eye contact? Do we chat about release schedules and rule supplements and ranged attacks? No, not very often, to be honest. I’m knocking on six foot tall and wearing my ‘hello my name is Helena please talk to me’ t-shirt, which I got specially made as an ice-breaker, so by all rights, they should be able to see me. But apparently not. They would rather mill around waiting for their chance to talk to the chap next to me, so I can only conclude that my mysterious invisibility powers - which would be frankly awesome if they worked at any other time - have kicked in once again.
Now, I’ve exaggerated for comic effect of course. But not by much. Some guys will quite happily come over and engage with me. Some will converse about the agony of dry-brushing Skaven fur or the relative merits of the Liberator vs Scorpio. Some offer me fudge. And a few have been hilariously unable to raise their gaze from a point approximately twelve inches below my eyes. But hey, at least they can see me, or at least a part of me.
This sounds like a big long whine, but it’s really not intended as such. I’m just saying: do come over if you see me behind the stand. I’m the tall strangely-shaped one. Do not be afraid. Talk to me. I will talk back to you. Perhaps you will buy something from me and we will emerge from our brief encounter satisfied (you) and enriched (me). At the very least I will know that I’m no longer invisible.
But you know the best bit about being a woman at a games show? The loos. They’re always empty! I was talking to another woman after Colours at Newbury racecourse last year and we realised that we practically had the ladies to ourselves for the entire weekend. She had all the ones on the left, I had all the ones on the right. Luxury.
An edited version of this article first appeared in Miniature Wargames #372, March 2014