by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
It's Tuesday night and I'm sitting in my apartment. There are 20 people here, probably more. It's the first time I've offered up my own place for a weekly game night that I was first introduced to in the spring. While it might sound a little innocuous at first, it's clear there's something special going on here. For Carl Joslin, who started this weekly gathering almost six years ago, 20 people usually makes for a 'well-mixed crowd.' The largest one I saw was my first, which brought out 41 people. It's no surprise Carl attracts so many every Tuesday. A 99.9% extrovert, Carl is warm, welcoming, and full of energy. He smiles wide and often - a smile so infectious, he could likely laugh at all his own jokes and never pull a faux pas.
'We always play games with two decks, because two decks are better than one,' says Carl, grinning. 'All the games are games that any number of people can jump into. One that was very popular was Apples to Apples.' But now, he says, 'we play Cards Against Humanity because it's funnier and dirtier.'
Perhaps it's his personality that has made this weekly gathering unique. Over the summer, one Game Night was filmed for MTV when Colton, a Game Night regular, was selected for a reality show. When he was told they'd need footage of his everyday life, Game Night was what he wanted to show the world.
BIRTH OF A TRADITION
'I've known Carl for about five and a half years - I met him pretty much right after he got here. He's the original Seattle social butterfly - I've never seen anyone make friends so quickly,' says Ken, who's been going to Game Night ever since.
Carl moved to Seattle in July 2007. Like many here, he's from small-town Washington. Having known Carl since spring, it's easy for me to picture this 'social butterfly' milling about Seattle all those years ago, hanging out in Cal Anderson Park, dancing the night away or singing karaoke without diffidence.
'I started making friends really fast,' says Carl. 'For the first time ever, I was living in a city with people who accept me for who I am.'
A weekly game night was already a tradition of his before he moved to Seattle - Carl grew up playing games. But what was once a casual get-together, usually consisting of no more than five people, underwent a quick evolution into something far more meaningful and unique.
BRIDGING THE AGE DIVIDE
'We're creating our own thing instead of witnessing someone else's entertainment,' says Alan, who came to his first Game Night two years ago. For him, the communication and the connections Game Night affords is something he doesn't see in bars.
We all know that scene: a bunch of strangers and a few friends, loud music making communication difficult and sporadic, scanning our perimeter mid-conversation to check others out and see who's checking us out. The older crowd is at one corner of the bar, seemingly exiled from everyone else. Here, there are three 20-year-olds around my coffee table, while Ken, who's sitting to my left, is 60. We're all laughing together as we try to remember the name of the fifth president of the United States for the newest addition to the game-night rotation, 'Joe Name It.'
Carl's been through all the normal transitions that six years of life yields. Changing jobs, getting together, breaking up, and the like, but Game Night has remained a constant.
When he was singing in the Seattle Men's Chorus and working two jobs on top of being a full-time student, he always made sure his Tuesday evenings were clear. When he lost his apartment and spent a month on a friend's couch, he just brought Game Night with him.
'I guess if I had to say one thing about how special Game Night is to me, it's that no matter where I lived, who I was dating, what job I had, where I was going to school, or even if I felt like I didn't have enough time to myself, Game Night was always that one constant in my life,' says Carl. 'Now, I just have a part-time job and I'm single, and all my friends are still there for me. I've never had a lack of people to turn to.'
Think about that for a second: 'I've never had a lack of people to turn to.'
It used to be an inside joke to call the weekly gathering 'Carl with a C's Game Night,' but the sense of community Carl finds in the tradition he began belongs just as much to the 77 people he texts an invite to every week.
'I don't think of it as just 'my thing' anymore,' Carl says. 'They're just as much a part of it as I am. I just started it.'
'Game Night is a community, it's a family,' says David, a three-year regular.
'I met all my friends through Game Night,' says Nathan, who grew up in Snohomish County.
Nathan and his friend Mike, both 20, agree that Game Night has offered them something they couldn't find at all-ages nights and the like.
'Game Night is really the only place for me to hang out with a large number of people - it's that one time of week where I can,' says Mike.
'You can always count on it,' adds Nathan.
RULES OF THE GAME
To be sure, Carl has one of those 'forever young' personalities. Decades in either direction are no barrier to meaningful friendship for the 29-year-old, but for the younger attendees he also takes on a bit of a guardian role. Over the years, he's watched many turn 21 and go out into the greater community already having a healthy social network, not to mention being well-prepared for what to expect in the bar scene. To assist in this, he's got a few rules for Game Night. For the most part, they're unofficial and don't even need to be spoken out loud, but over the years Carl has had to tell a few people they were no longer welcome.
Rule 1: Everyone has to play. Game Night often turns into a more conventional gathering of friends once the games are put away, but while they're on the table, it's expected that people are there to play. Alan sees games as a way to get people to come out of their shells. This certainly seems apt, but as I watch this group of friends I notice that even for those who aren't shy the games present an opportunity to shed the stress of the day and jump into a fresh, fun, community-oriented task. I learn, almost instantly, things about each individual that would never come up in conversation - seldom have I picked up so quickly on the characterization of someone's sense of humor as I have here.
'It's just been a really fun way to connect with people,' says Tony, who's at Game Night for his second time. In conversation, he's shy and reserved, but in the game, he's laughing and shouting right alongside Carl. 'I think it's the games, really, like Joe Name It. Just through that little network of friends, us playing that game ... we got to know each other just through that game,' says Tony.
Rule 2: Game Night is not a pickup joint. 'Don't come to Game Night if you're coming to use it as a prowling ground. It's a safe place for my younger friends and my older friends,' says Carl. 'And I have a lot of good-looking friends.'
In addition to creating a safe space for minors, this also fosters the kind of inter-generational communication that tends not to happen in the bars.
'With my older friends, I feel like I learn from them, and with my younger friends, even being 29, I feel like I'm teaching them a lot. I feel like I'm giving them helpful tips that I've found in my life, my experiences,' says Carl.
'I'm the oldest person here, obviously,' Ken says with a smile. He tells me hasn't been to a bar in over a year. '[Game Night] is something like I've never belonged to before. It's a dynamic crowd ... they come to Game Night to play games, to have fun, and to meet people, of course. People go to bars to meet people.'
Rule 3: Leave your other half at home. This one's a bit more lax. Carl understands the desire to share romantic happiness with friends as well as anyone, but Game Night is meant to be a 'boys' night out.' The suggestion also exists with the well-being of the group in mind.
'It's nothing against your man,' says Carl. 'It's about your friends.'
The Game Night group as a whole has never been forced to pick sides during a breakup and Carl wants to make sure it never has to. Carl's had his share of breakups like any, but because of Game Night he's always had a large support network during tough moments like that, and he wants the same for everyone else who goes to Game Night.
'A lot of people go to church once a week, people are made to have a sense of community [there],' says Carl. 'I've created a way that we can just get together and have fun - and we do it once a week, religiously.'
CHANGING YET CONSTANT
While 77 people were invited this week, Carl surmises that if he were to include all the regular attendees of the past six years who have moved on for various reasons, the invite list would approach 200. Game Night has fostered all sorts of interconnections and it's still thriving, still evolving.
Every time I go to Game Night, I meet someone new. Sometimes, much of the group is different.
'Every day, every week, every time, it changes,' says Jett, another Game Night regular. 'They're all different, but they're all the same.'
'There's always going to be new people coming, so the way I look at them is that these are all the people that I'm going to introduce to my new friends to,' says Carl - and, of course, he says it smiling.
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