So, nerds that we are, my spouse and I trundled down to Columbus yesterday for Origins Game Fair, a convention of sorts for fans of board games and related interests. If you’ve never been to a convention for people with a shared hobby, it’s an experience that I struggle to describe — not because it defies description, but because there’s a plane of emotion there that’s hard to communicate to people who don’t have the same passion.
One of the reasons we went yesterday instead of a different day was for the Foamed Forge youth tournament. Because I’m a teacher, you might assume that I simply enjoy watching kids bap each other repeatedly with foam swords. Really, it’s that my 12-year-old brother won it last year and wanted to win it again this year. There were many, many more kids who participated this year, but he came in second so he still got a prize. The top four kids won swords, but only the first place kid won a fancy-looking sword.
And, yeah, sometimes it’s fun to watch kids let loose in a battlefield context. Hey, if it’s okay to enjoy pee-wee football, it should be okay to enjoy foam broadsword battling for the minor set. There were rules against hitting certain, more vulnerable parts of the body. Kids received a bit of coaching beforehand, since this was an activity they probably didn’t do a lot at home — or do with a lot of structure at home. (In my experience, moms and dads are not as interested in refereeing living room fights between sibs as they are in getting them to stop.) It was interesting to see the choices kids made — some played with longer foam swords, some shorter. Some used small shields, some preferred a sword in each hand. Some played careful defense, allowing themselves to be backed up against the edge of the ring of refs; others went totally aggro and never didn’t charge; along with a whole spectrum of behavior in between. There were no fewer than five adult men in medieval costume refereeing. There were also minimal tears — the only kid I saw crying was the probably the youngest in the tournament, who got out in the first round. And he didn’t even cry when he got out. He cried when his big sister claimed the fourth place prize. (I’m totally with the sister on this one.) (These kids were all there because their families are interested in games, so I’m sure they have ample experience with losing and winning graciously.)
I usually skew pretty peaceable. I don’t feel comfortable with a lot of violent words and play in my classroom. I tell students that, while I like video games, I don’t like scary or violent ones. On the other hand, there is a spectrum, so there exists a further extreme. I used to teach improv games in class as ways to soak up the couple extra minutes before a transition; then a principal suggested to me that “knife throw” might be too violent. (We changed the game to “throw the kuh-nih-fee,” because a kuh-nih-fee is a lot like a knife but also isn’t a knife, and also isn’t real, just like the knife was never real, so.) Discussing a hobby some might think is too violent might be a risk I’m taking with a quasi-professional blog. On the other hand, I really don’t see how this is different from many sports — for example, just because football players don’t use weapons doesn’t mean their tackling one another is any less violent. And I’m only picking on football because of its acceptability and prevalence as a sporting interest. I should maybe pick on baseball. That has bats.
I can enjoy foam sword fighting with my family because it’s not happening in my classroom. The entire context is different. I’m not an authority figure to my siblings the way I am an authority figure in my classroom. Families have more freedom to explore one another’s interests, even if those interests are weird. Also, I’m not particularly interested in foam weapon fighting myself (I was the one who took the above photo, not one of the ones posing in it). I just support my siblings in doing it. It’s good exercise, there’s sportsmanship involved, and it’s as good as rock-paper-scissors for deciding whose turn it is to do the dishes. Just do it in the backyard, please.