With International Tabletop Day around the corner, we’re counting down the days to the big celebration by highlighting friendly local gaming stores, their owners, and their awesome stories. Be sure to find an ITTD event near you so you can enjoy the festivities in your community.
Rebecca Clark is a remarkable woman. She owns Break From Reality Games, a self-described “geek and game shop” in Johnstown, Colorado, and after chatting with her and hearing her story of building the store and its community, she’s become a personal inspiration to me.
Hers is one that starts like many others. “I had always been a board gamer, throughout my childhood the one thing I remember most strongly is playing games.” She’s a mother of five boys, aged 18, 16 14, 2.5 and 7 months old, and spent seven years raising her then 3 children as a single mom. She used games to help connect with them. “When I became a single mother I wanted there to be a night for my sons that they could always know I would be home with them and engaging with them. So I started Monday night game night. In 7 years of being a single mother, I only missed 2 game nights and we still have them now even though they are older.”
Rebecca did eventually meet, as she describes, “a hot geek” and grew her family with him. But in so having another child, she grew more aware of how some gaming stores and spaces weren’t exactly amenable to her family. “After our fourth son was born realized that they weren’t very child-friendly. When we would go play at our local game store we didn’t really feel welcome and felt like we were bothering them with our family size…4 boys at this point. I played in a couple of tournaments where my opponent would be cussing up a storm with my sons sitting mere feet away. The bathrooms were grungy and I couldn’t let my baby crawl around. Eventually, I just started sending my sons and husband and I’d stay at home.”
It was in facing these challenges that the idea of creating a game store and community she and her family, and those like her, came to be. ” We wanted to create a place where everyone, especially families, would feel comfortable and welcome.” And she did just that.
“From the beginning I wanted it to be as welcoming as possible to everyone that comes in. Teenagers in our town need a place to congregate free from outside pressures where their parents can be assured they are safe. Our store is such a place. We offer free after school clubs, video gaming, and board gaming. We have a microwave and toaster oven so that anyone can use them. I found half size cookie sheets and most days of the week can be found pulling fresh cookies out of the toaster oven for anyone to enjoy. We go through A LOT of cookies!” Beyond the cookies (which are more than enough to win me over), there’s a level of connection with customers that Rebecca prides herself in. “A big thing that makes everyone feel welcome is the fact that I know almost every customer by name.”
Rebecca also thoughtfully has tailored the store’s space to be inclusive. The aisles, for example, are intentionally wide enough for a wheelchair to comfortably pass through them. And in terms of creating a space where families are comfortable? Rebecca herself has made the store the family’s second home, and has made it as comfortable for other families with younger ones so they can do so as well. “We have a children’s play area complete with toys, books and their own kid-size table. My own children work in the store and the younger one can be found rampaging around. He loves to get into the game library and will set up his own games on the kids table. My infant is almost always with me at the store and has been since I went back to work after his birth.”
Rebecca is a true hobby champion, opening the world of gaming, and letting that world make her community better, and more connected. “I have received countless emails from customers and parents thanking us for creating such a great place. We have seen gaming positively change the lives of so many around us. One of the local middle school teachers told me that a student of hers started getting better grades and behaving better in school after he started gaming with me.” It’s pretty clear Rebecca is a paragon for the kind of good gaming in a community can do, and how creating welcoming, inclusive and safe space for gaming has positive effects all around.
You can visit Break from Reality Games at 10 South Parish Avenue in Johnstown, Colorado and find them online.
Do you have memories of childhood or teenage gaming? Share it in the comments below!
Image Credits: Rebecca Clark