How Glasgow’s Glesgames Revels in the Social Side of Video Gaming

Scotland’s gaming scene is amongst the friendliest you’ll have the fortune of stumbling into.

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Nov 17 2016, 5:00am

All photography by the author

We're two thirds into Glesgames​ X, the tenth installment of a regular games, booze and partying event hosted in Glasgow, and I'm two thirds through the range of ales the Drygate Brewery has to offer. I would grab another, but I need to get in position to shoot the most anticipated moment of the night.

The semi final of the "Street Fighter Through the Ages" tournament is underway, and there's quite a crowd forming. Secretly, this is the real final, as friends and long-standing Glesgames rivals Joe Dillon and Jim Purvis square off for a classic grudge match. I've faced Joe and Jim myself in the past, so I know how good this is going to be. 

Everyone has gathered around one small screen, craning necks to see who has the edge. I resist the urge to join them as the crowd emits a cacophony of roars, cheers and laughter at various key moments.

Twists, turns, comebacks, mistakes, moments of genius, moments of madness. One final roar from onlookers and Jim emerges victorious—a victory he accepts with supreme immodesty. The war will rage on into Glesgames XI no doubt but, for now, Jim is on top, and Joe graciously concedes defeat through a tight smile.

Above: Simon Marshall, organizer of Glesgames​.

Glesgames started life as an impromptu meet-up following cancelled plans for an Edinburgh-based games expo. Simon Marshall, organizer of Glesgames, decided everyone should just meet up anyway, seeing as they all had video games in common. It was when Simon had a conversation with James Stewart, who at the time was a chef at the Burrell Bar in Shawlands, South Glasgow, that they suddenly had a venue for their event, and Glesgames was born.

"At the first Glesgames there were about 30-odd people there," Simon enthuses, "which blew my mind because I only expected a handful. The second Glesgames, we totally packed the place out—you couldn't move in the room. Johann Sebastian Joust [from the Sportsfriends compilation] was a center point game for the first Glesgames, but the second one was so busy we couldn't even play it! That was the point where I thought, 'We need a new venue, we need to make this bigger and more central to Glasgow,' and it just went from there."

Glesgames is an event that could only come out of the Scottish games community: there's a critical mass to the scene where it is big enough to feel significant, but not so big and disjointed as to feel impersonal or fragmented. Living in London, there are plenty of gaming events of various shapes and sizes, but they often lack the sense of unity found here in Glasgow. I ask Simon why he thinks that is.

"With London, there's so many gaming events going on and so many people who could attend, which means there are fewer people who know each other at any given event. Also, people might not want to travel all the way from, say, Manchester just to get to an event in London, whereas people seem to be more willing to travel to Glasgow from other parts of Scotland. We've even had people come to Glesgames from Ireland.

It's more than just a gaming meet-up; it's interacting with your peers that you don't see very often. There's a huge social feel to it. — Simon Marshall

"It's quite a tight-knit community, and it's a chance to meet up with and see people you interact with everyday over Twitter. So it's more than just a gaming meet-up; it's interacting with your peers that you don't see very often. There's a huge social feel to it. It's mind blowing that the Scottish games community has got that sort of power, and luckily for us, we've been able to tap into that."

Glesgames feels like an antidote to some of the chin-stroke-y, dry, inward-looking gaming nights offered in London. Maybe that's why I'm such a fan of Loading Bar in Dalston and Stratford; they host a variety of nights to suit everyone, but there's always the opportunity to just go to a pub, meet friends, have a drink and play games.

I'm all for events which ask us to think about gaming culture in new, intelligent ways. Or happenings that encourage new ways to interact and socialize using video games. But more straightforward events like Glesgames somehow feel refreshing. There's a welcoming atmosphere—which is so important for people who are nervous or have difficulties with social interaction, or who feel intimidated by the hyper-trendy vibe of some of London's gaming-themed club nights.

"Some people who have come to Glesgames have been previously uncomfortable in social spaces," Simon explains. "But the games are there to help you to introduce yourself to new people. With something like the eight-player TowerFall, you can just walk up, pick up a pad and have an absolute blast with people who you've never met before. You're using games as that icebreaker and, suddenly, you're out having a good time with likeminded people"

Rather than a statement against other nights, Glesgames acts as a complement to them; there's room for both. There is huge value in normalizing the idea of going for a night out to the bar with friends to hang out and play games. It's a grown-up version of gathering friends after school, passing around controllers, and having a good time together.

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