It began with bears. Ste Robinson, who’s a bit bearish, started hosting game nights for his ursine friends at his home in Ottawa’s west end. Beginning with a Magic: The Gathering infatuation, they gradually ran through more games that they hadn’t played for a while.
The crowd grew as friends started to bring their friends. The bears were joined by the other denizens of the forest, and soon they were trying games they hadn’t played: Settlers of Catan, Munchkin, Talisman and the like.
“[Gaming] was kind of niche before, but now it’s getting popular,” Robinson says. “People see the group dynamics and want that. They don’t want to just play online against friends in fighting games. It’s more fun and socially oriented.”
But within a few years, most attendees had migrated downtown, and the commute to Robinson’s place was a chore. So JP Rousseau, Robinson’s friend and a bartender at Swizzles, suggested they move the night to the centrally located bar and open it up to the public.
Organized by Robinson and Rousseau, Gaymer Night at Swizzles began in May 2015. Every Tuesday evening, the event draws an enthusiastic and increasingly diverse crowd (including people who meant only to drop in for a drink but are enticed into playing).
It’s not the only place for gamers in Ottawa, but it’s one of very few for gaymers. “Some people don’t really want to go [to straight events or venues] and have to censor themselves,” Robinson says. “So having something in the gay marketplace helps people relax more, I guess.”
Each week’s theme is announced on the Gaymer Night at Swizzles Facebook page. Attendees are encouraged to play either a specific game or games relating to a specific topic (zombies, for instance). Robinson emphasizes that, while it is a bar, there is no obligation to drink.
The focus is on tabletop games, but Robinson occasionally delves into his collection of consoles, including classics like Sega, Nintendo and Atari. Rock Band for PlayStation 3 is a crowd favourite, especially among karaoke die-hards who wander in, confused about what night it is.
Theme suggestions are welcome, but those who don’t like a particular night’s theme or themes in general — theme haters? Anti-themers? — don’t need to stick to the theme. Other games are available, and Cards Against Humanity is always up at the bar. Next to the booze. Where it belongs.