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A one stop shop for Vancouver nerds

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“The downfall of society today is that [young] people are zombies to their computers,” he says. They’re not only feeling isolated; they’re not learning basic social skills, like having a conversation, much less how to act at a job interview. Games provide a medium through which shy people can become more comfortable with others and learn life skills because, whether it’s a board game, a card game, or a role-playing game, it involves tactical and operational decisions that will affect the player later in the game.

Even group computer games, if they’re played in the kind of open, undivided space Martins has created, can foster social interaction, and they’re often a way to pull in new customers. His customer base largely comprises people from their early twenties to mid-thirties, somewhat more male than female, and often shy. They’re mostly college graduates, but there is also a small group with developmental delays or autism whose parents are thrilled for them to have a safe place to go and be with others their age.

“People here don’t care [if someone has a developmental delay],” says Martins. “Ninety-five percent of people who come here regularly are hand-picked by me. We have a lot of people who come in here that are ‘rules gurus,’ that are only out to win and they’re not part of the fun of the game.” Customers like that are simply not welcome, he says. The result is an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for anyone who just wants to have fun and meet people.

Vancouver a lonely city for many young adults

By all accounts, that’s something the city needs and should be finding ways to support. According to a 2012 Vancouver Foundation survey called Connections and Engagement, which spawned a series of articles in the Vancouver Sun, up to one-third of 25- to 34-year-olds feel alone more than they would like to.

“This group had a greater sense of isolation and disconnection compared to other age groups,” says Denise Rudnicki, the foundation’s director of strategic engagement. “They may have friends, but they don’t interact with their neighbours [and] they find it hard to make new friends.”

OpenFile writer Jesse Donaldson countered with a suggestion that the vast majority of respondents do not belong in this group, and that loneliness in Vancouver is a myth. But one-third of a population is still a large group of people, says Rudnicki.

“It matters a great deal to the entire community when young people, and a large proportion of people, feel alienated. There are consequences. There’s a pessimistic attitude, a withdrawal from community life. They don’t want to participate in the kinds of activities that make a neighbourhood a better place to live. And we should care about that [because] there are cascading negative consequences of loneliness and alienation.”

It’s that loneliness that Martins strives to address, and a sense of community that he’s trying to build. And he’s succeeding.

Board game nights help break isolation

Peter Davies has been hanging out at Martins’ store almost since it opened. He likes it so much that he volunteers there at least five days a week, mostly helping people learn to play games. To him, the best part of hanging out there is just having a place to relax and meet people without a lot of social pressure, having the kind of guess-you-had-to-be-there moments that are hard to explain, but that we’re all familiar with.

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