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Going geek: Common interests build community, friendship

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Part three of four

By Becca Owsley

On Sunday afternoons battle rages in Radcliff City Park. Dressed in combat array and period garb, men and women fight with ancient skills and foam weapons while building communal ties and treasured friendships.

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One of the most positive aspects in geekdom is the sense of community that develops among people who are fans of the same thing. It can start with something as simple as a shared understanding of geek language and end up a friendship.

This is especially true through role play gaming. Sometimes this is done through online games such as World of Warcraft or table gaming like Dungeons and Dragons. But others, like those in the amtgard troupe in Radcliff, take it a step further through live- action role play.

Amtgard members dress in medieval style clothes and fight each other with foam covered weapons similar to what was seen in the film “Role Models.”

The skills they use are from a forgotten time with a sense of fantasy mixed with history. It’s not only a fighting group but one that focuses on medieval leatherworks and sewing.

Interest in this activity increases when books, films or television shows such as “The Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones” become popular, participants said.

Matt “Drakes” Troutman is the Baron of Five Oaks, the name of this amtgard group’s Barony. The live-action role play has rules and regulations like any sport, he said. They also have rules in place for safety.

Many in the group strive for knighthood in areas of service, fighting, the arts and high levels of offices.

Troutman said when people fight together you get to know what kind of person you are dealing with and it builds community. These warriors often hang out together outside of the game, eating together and helping one another, he said.

Randy “Teth” Smith shares the communal feeling. He knows any time he needs help, amtgard members are there for him. Not long ago his car broke down and many from the group offered aid. He knows that no matter where in the country he is, someone in the national amtgard will help him if needed.

Smith started playing in 1993 when he was serving in the military in Germany. That group played in Frankenstein Castle.

He found the group in Radcliff in 2001 and made immediate connections.

“It was like coming home again,” he said.

In the online role playing game World of Warcraft, players get interested in medieval and fantasy things but they keep their community online, he said. With amtgard, they get out to socialize with others who have similar interests.

Smith is a graphic designer by trade but does leatherworking in the amtgard world. He has been knighted for his work. Sometimes he creates monsters and goblins for big themed battles.

Melissa “Enfys de Verell” LaLiberte’s love of playing dress up drew her to amtgard. She likes focusing on the arts and sciences and makes her own and others’ garb. Some people like fantasy attire but she likes to research the history of what she’s wearing and prefers the Anglo-Saxon period.

She is the oldest in the group and often serves as the group’s mom.

They often get together in each other’s homes to play games and work on their craft. They usually cross into other interests such as comics and sci-fi.

“For some of us, we are nerds in every sense of the word,” she said.

But the community feel is often simpler than what can be found in amtgard.

Sometimes it’s about a common conversation and vocabulary.

University of Kentucky student April Winebarger had an experience at summer camp that reminded her of the sci-fi community connections. She saw someone wear a shirt that said, “don’t blink,” a catch phrase from television’s “Doctor Who.” They immediately started talking about the show and had an instant friendship.

It was almost their own kind of language, she said.

This kind of connection seems to be happening everywhere.

Jonathan Sullivan, a student at Western Kentucky University from Elizabethtown, has found himself in random conversations among strangers who have a common interest. He was at a McDonalds in Florida and ran into a British family who asked him questions about his phone.

“It works as well as the TARDIS, every now and then it’s pretty awesome and every now and then it’s not,” he answered.

They instantly knew the TARDIS reference and were surprised an American would talk about “Doctor Who.”

But the commonality goes beyond a shared vocabulary.

Sci-fi enthusiast and collector Aaron Taylor said asking someone if they liked “Star Wars” was an icebreaker in school and was an instant in for social circles.

It’s the same today. Taylor recently went to a 20th class reunion and found himself talking to the husband of a classmate, a doctor he didn’t think he had much in common with professionally.

“But when I mentioned my Transformers collection and Megatron tattoo, we talked for half an hour like kids in elementary school,” he said.

“It’s not politics, sex or religion; it’s fun to talk about,” he said. “I’ve made many new friends just through the shows we watch and the toys we love.”

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.