Claire Nelson | Orange Media Network
Dave Okerson and Brittni Lipscomb are the owners of Gamagora Geekhouse, located on Madison Avenue in Corvallis. The self-labeled geek house was created with the intent to have a space that felt like a home, to host social gatherings where people can get together and play games, read or watch movies.
Q: Where are you from?
Brittni: I grew up in Washington, I was actually born in Walla Walla. My mom went to vet school so I lived in Pullman, which is very similar to here, it’s the college town, very small, and growing at about the same rate. Then we moved to Salem, and I lived in Salem from middle school until I went to college, then I went to L.A. to go to film school. Then lived up in Portland for a while, and then got a job here on campus and ended up meeting him at work.
I worked at NuScale, a nuclear test facility at OSU. Nothing in what I ever wanted to do, but it was a job. I had just gone from working in the veterinary field – my mom’s a veterinarian and we opened a vet practice together. We started at the beginning of her practice and I was in the vet field for like 10 years. I worked everything from reception to surgery technician, and I was a manager for seven years.
Before that it was law. In high school I decided I wanted to be an attorney after watching Ally McBeal, and then I found out that’s not actually what they do. But at 21 when I was living down in L.A., of course you can’t actually get a job in film until you’ve actually done a bunch of work for free, but I needed to pay rent. So at 21 I ended up being a manager at a law firm. I don’t know why, but it just worked out that way.
Q: What have been some challenges of running a board game shop of this type?
Brittni: This is completely different. I think one of the biggest challenges is explaining to people what it is. Especially the older generations, the people who have insurance and the property owners. Actually explaining what it is we’re doing, and we have lots of questions like “Oh, you mean people are going to pay you to play Monopoly?” and we’re like, “No, they’re not.” It’s really difficult trying to explain where games are now, and why people are so interested and why people would pay to be interested in that. It’s very difficult to explain that to the older generation, or people that are just non-gamers, and they just don’t understand why people would go hang out for two hours and pay money to sit down and play board games.
That was the biggest challenge for us starting. The biggest challenge for us now is that we’re growing so fast. We opened July 31st and we, just before Christmas, have our 600th member. So 600 people have said “This is our home now,” and it’s like, we have one, two, three, four tables?
It’s almost every week we’ve had something that we’ve had to adjust because it isn’t working, we’re growing too fast, we’re doing things we didn’t think we thought we were going to be doing. So, just being able to be flexible in growing so fast is a great problem, but a fun little puzzle.
It’s just the two of us, we do everything. We decorated everything, we stock everything, we don’t have any other help opening it up, and no help doing anything. It’s just us, but it’s fun though.
Q: What do you tell people who come in wondering what you do?
Brittni: We show them. Almost every single game we have in our retail section we have in our library. We can actually break it out, run through it, go through the components, put it on the counter and run through a couple of turns and see what’s going on. But that’s been the best thing for us, is to actually show people that there’s more to it.
Q: What’s your personal favorite game?
Brittni: Blood Rage. Hands down Blood Rage. That was the first game where I went “I get why people love board games.” Before I met him, Clue was my favorite game, and I had never really played any real games. He had tried to teach me a few, and I was all “Don’t love it, don’t love it, don’t love it.” The first time I played Blood Rage, I won, and I felt this was my game. It’s one of those games where you can lose, but still win. No, I love everything about Blood Rage.
Q: What are you excited for the most about the upcoming year?
Brittni: The three pillars that we did in our personal life before we even thought about opening were board games, graphic novels and movies. That was a big thing that we wanted to really build here. We now have a game every day of the week that we’re going to teach people to play, which we were just doing sporadically before the New Year. We’re keeping all the scores and stats, even random stats like what color people play as, what characters they play as, what their scores are throughout the rounds, different things like that. We’re really excited to start collecting data on game plays.
Next month we’re going to be doing a sort of book club with graphic novels. I’m excited. We’re going to start small with a few people meeting once or twice a month getting into the nitty-gritty of what’s happening in the graphic novels. The artists, the writers, what’s happening in the world when this story’s coming out, kind of like a lit class but for graphic novels.
The following month we’re starting our movie draft. This is something we’ve done in our personal lives for years, but its kind of like fantasy football. There are seven people per group, and you each get 100 virtual dollars. We have a list of movies that are coming out in the year, and we get to bid on these movies. When you win the bid, whoever has the highest gross after the year, wins. It’s a very simple thing, but it’s a ton of fun. It builds relationships that you didn’t even know were there.
Like I said, he’s been doing it longer than I’ve even known him with his family. When I met him then we were doing it with all of our friends and coworkers, and oh it’s so much fun.
Also, we’re going to get a tap, which is really exciting. I don’t drink, but he’s so excited. He’s like, “I just want pints. That’s all I want, is pints.”
Q: Where are you from?
Dave: I am from Oklahoma. I joined the navy, I lived in Southern California, Hawaii, then once I got out of the navy I moved to Australia. I lived in Australia for four or five years I think, then I moved back and lived in Oklahoma again. I’d been away from Oklahoma for so long, my family was there, and when I came back to the states after being gone for about 10 years, I went back there and realized quickly that, after being everywhere else, Oklahoma wasn’t for me. So I was like “You know what, I’ll stay here for just a few months, hang out with my family, I haven’t seen them in so long,” and five years later I was still there. So that scared me, I gotta get out of here. So I quit my job, sold all of my belongings, got in my truck and drove. Through a bunch of different paths, I ended up here.
I was gonna take a job in San Diego, I was going to move to Portland and on the way down I drove into town, crossed the bridge and really liked the feel of the downtown. I said “You know, I’m going to stay here for a while.” Found a place to live here with a company called NuScale Power, and so for the past five years, that’s where I worked.
Of course in that time, my whole family moved out here from Oklahoma. My sister, my brother, my mom, and so they’re all here as well. That was it. Loved my job, loved my friends, worked at the NuScale test facility and gamed. At some point decided to downsize our living arrangement, and I was the host. I was the one with the games, and most of my friends have me to blame for the games they own today, because I introduced them to the hobby. Every time they’d come over there would be a new game, because I’m always chasing the cult of the new.
Our dining room was so small, so we went out looking for new places to play. We tried a board game café in Salem called Ticket to Play, there’s a pub in Portland called Game Knight, we also went to Rogue brewery, we went everywhere trying to take our group out in a social setting to play games, and none of them had the right feel. We had the idea of opening a business, Brittni had the idea for a comic shop combo thing, and we thought, “Well, let’s try making what we do and kind of taking that out to other people and see if they want to experience something similar.”
So the model for us for building this place was what I had done at my house. I had movies in the background, and whatever game we were playing, I would try and match the movie to what we were playing thematically. Good lighting, nice tables, every guiding principle has been “Does it feel right?” and for us, “right” means that it felt like home, which is why we call it a geek house.
Q: What have been the challenges in running more of a living room or lounge space rather than a regular shop?
Dave: You’ve got people asking, “What is it?” and you have to explain what it is as a concept. But on the other side of the coin though, a lot of the people that come in here saying “Thank you, thank you for making this place,” which is a weird thing. It’s something that we wanted, but for somebody to give you that feedback, “we’re just happy you exist,” to get that sort of groundswell of enthusiasm and excitement about the place is something other places don’t get.
When we opened, I didn’t envision us selling hardly anything. I thought we would primarily have people come in to the geek house and hang out and play games. I thought they’d be hardcore gamers. If you’re going to a place called a geek house to play games, you probably know board games. So we had a very small retail section just in case you played the game and wanted to buy it. I thought that people would come to the geek house to play games and then buy them, but it’s actually been on its head. People have come in here for the games, and the more that’s happened the more I’ve had to expand to give people more room to stand because it’s been so packed.
Q: What do you tell people who come in wondering what you do?
Dave: Most people have some level of experience with games beyond Monopoly, usually its Catan. The most popular is Catan, maybe Dominion, but mostly Catan is the one. We’ve had several instances where couples come in and all they know is Monopoly or Clue or you know, Pictionary. They’ll even ask, “Can we look?” and they’ll walk by table to table and see people playing games and they’ll be like, mind blown. They’ll say, “What is this?” for something they didn’t even know existed. Typically I’ll start them with the simplest, quickest, but most fun for your time, game that I can come up with.
Q: What do you think’s driving the increased interest in board games in the past years?
Dave: That’s a good question. I guess I can only speak for myself and use that as maybe a theory, but I prefer the social interaction that comes with board games. You’re joking with someone, laughing, making fun of someone, getting upset when you lose, whatever that kind of laughter and social interaction that happens. Computer games aren’t the same. I’m on the networks with my friends and I can hear the jokes back and forth, but its not the same as a physical interaction. I don’t know if that’s it, but I’ve always liked board games though, and maybe it’s just they’re doing something that computer games aren’t. In general, there’s a design element here that, whatever they’re doing, computer games don’t do that for me. It might be the way my brain works or whatever. And I like computer games, when I’m not here I’m usually on the computer at home. But for games in general, I think it is that social interaction that maybe we don’t have a lot of other avenues for.
We’re definitely in the golden age of board games. Since 2010 and going forward, every year, Kickstarter is doing for board games what Steam does for video games. If you have a good idea for a board game, you don’t have to go hat-in –hand to a publisher and say “Here’s my idea for a game” and they go “You know what, that’s fine but we’re going to change the theme, give it to our editors…” People say “You know what, skip that, I’m going to go straight to the public and say ‘Here’s my idea for a game.’”
It’s an overwhelming challenge for us here though, because I don’t even know what the number is , I’m just going to say 1000, its probably more, but 1000 new games come out a year. Of those, how many are good. I don’t know, but of those how many do I want to spend time learning and trying to teach, that chase of “This is really good, this would be an awesome experience.” Our goal is to be a catered experience, where we do the filtering for you. If the game is in our library or retail section, we’re saying its good. You’re not going to have a bad experience. If a game is just ok, that’s not good enough. There’s so much choice now. I have a very low tolerance for poorly written rules, don’t have time for it. If your player aides don’t very clearly explain how things work so that I have to keep looking into the rules saying “Wait, uh…” No. I don’t have time for that.
Q: Favorite game to show people?
Dave: That’s a hard question for someone like me, it’s like asking what your favorite movie is. It’s probably whatever game I’ve played recently and then I’ll think of something else.
The cult of the new is in my head, but recently Western Legends, the western game. I really liked that feel, they could have called it Red Dead Redemption II: The Board Game. The Quacks of Quedlingburg, that got a ridiculous name, I like it a lot. And Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done. There’s no real theme to it, but it was fun, it felt good. But I think that the challenge for me is to find the time to play these games.