A while back a man sent me a video of his elementary school class at indoor recess. It was a window to another dimension. In this other dimension Summoner Wars is insanely popular. There were a couple dozen games of Summoner Wars being played simultaneously. The handful of kids not playing Summoner Wars were watching others play. I had a hard time registering what I was seeing. I know that there are thousands of Summoner Wars players. I have even seen several games going at once during a tournament setting like GenCon. Those experiences are uplifting, but they also feel like drops of fandom in a greater ocean that is board game and card game fandom. This image of a class full of kids ALL playing the game was something different.
A couple months later Bill Reed, the aforementioned teacher that sent the video, asked me to come speak at his school. I agreed. I don't have a lot of experience with public speaking, but I have done it before. In the 4 previous times I've spoken, 3 of those times it was to teenagers at the church I worked at for years. The message was always similar: dream big, set goals, work hard. The other time was in the early days of Plaid Hat and I was asked to speak at a small high school. I tried to present the same general message, but it felt flat that time and the percentage of the group that was actually interested in what I do was pretty small I think. This time I was being given the opportunity to present to a group that knew what I did, loved what I did, and some of them had even played around with game design at this early age (4th -8th grade). I decided I would speak about the game design process and then do a bunch of Q & A, so that I got to talk about what the students were ‘for sure’ interested in. But I didn't want to completely lose the ‘work hard’ inspirational side either. I see a lot of friends I grew up with living uninspired lives. It's something that I think about a lot and when given the opportunity to speak I feel compelled to include it in my message.
The day of the speaking engagement arrived and I made the 2 hour trek to Columbus. When I arrived in the building, donning my signature Plaid Hat, I started to hear a ripple of whispers exclaiming, “Hey, that’s Colby Dauch!” Here I was in that alternate dimension I peeked into when I opened that video link that landed in my email months earlier. Maybe this only exists here, I thought, but to these kids I’m something special and they are really looking forward to hearing from me.
I started off speaking to the 4th-5th graders and I was really quite nervous staring into that crowd of young faces. I had never spoken to kids so young and didn’t know if I had prepared well for it, and mostly I didn’t want to let them down. I introduced (or more aptly re-introduced) myself to them by taking them back to when I was around their age. I showed a picture of a young man and talked about how handsome and happy he was and how he looked like he knew where his life was going and couldn’t wait to tackle it. I then informed the kids that this was not me, this was a kid I admired in school. I then showed another slide of a not so happy young kid and informed them that THIS was me, and that this kid was not so confident. I went on to talk about the things that inspired me at that young age and quickly brought them up to 2009 when I decided to make my own game. Starting to get my feet under me, I deftly slid into the question of how to go about making a game and spent a majority of my speaking time going through the process of game making, citing classes in school that helped me with specific parts of the process and giving specific examples of what those parts looked like when designing Summoner Wars. I touched briefly on the production process and moved on to talk about the success that Plaid Hat Games has seen and the excitement of getting to do something I’m passionate about full time. Then I brought back the picture of little Colby and told the kids I wanted to give little Colby some advice now that I know where present-day-Colby wound up. I told the kids I hoped that maybe my advice to little Colby might help them out as well if they ever felt the same way that he did. My advice to little Colby was, “Learn to love learning. You’re never going to stop doing it. Don’t let the cruel things people say cause you to hide who you are. Let your guard down. Not everyone is out to get you.” And finally, “It’s going to be okay.”
Then I asked for questions. Most every hand shot up in the air and I answered as many as I could before our time was up. There were some really great questions. I expected the usual questiosn that I get asked in every email interview ever, but somehow these kids were able to touch on the heart of where I’m at. An example of such a question that I got asked is: “How difficult is it to make another game after you have made a game.” Man does that one strike home. The answer I gave was, “It is really tough. When you’ve made a success like Summoner Wars you feel like you’ve set the bar for yourself. You don’t want to fail the expectations people now have for you, so creating a second game can be agonizing.”
I then went on to speak to the 6th-8th graders (same thing, only not quite such a high level of enthusiasm, still a great experience). After that I stayed for their after school game day where I filled pre-orders of Summoner Wars products that Bill had arranged with the kids and signed what felt like at least a hundred Summoner Wars cards. We then drew names from the Plaid Hat to determine which kids I would get a chance to play against. We setup 4 games and I played all 4 simultaneously, and 2 of those games finished early enough for 2 other kids to jump in. These kids were no joke. I pulled no punches and still got beat in at least half the games. The parents then showed up to pick kids up. Many of the kids introduced me to their parents and many pictures of me with the kids were taken.
From getting my name whispered, to insightful questions from kids with an advanced knowledge of my game, to signing autographs and doing photo ops, I felt like a rock star. I’m back in the real world now, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget that experience and I treasure it. You see, the past few months have seen me hit an invisible, but very real, creative wall. When that is part of your identity, and you’ve set it up to be the way you support your family, it is very scary and frustrating to hit a wall like that. Getting out of bed and getting to work in the morning is suddenly tough where it hasn’t been in years. Inevitably when I find myself down I let it affect those closest to me, sharing my hurt with those I most want to protect. I withdraw. Seeing such excitement about what I do has really jarred me out of that haunted place in my head. I’m back at my office desk as I write this on the first work day after the visit feeling refreshed and ready to face my never ending inbox and this design document I’m currently working on. So Mr. Reed, if you are reading this, please accept my heartfelt gratitude and also pass it on to your class.
A picture of me and some of the kids: