Part 1 of 2 PAX Unplugged: Thank You
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Therapeutic by Design
By Timothy Grant
Part 1 of 2 PAX Unplugged: Thank You
l would like to introduce myself since I will be writing alongside with Dr. Quinones on this blog. I’m Timothy Grant the Program Director at Gaming Approaches Towards Education, LLC. For as long as I can remember I have been a board gamer. I have been tinkering with game design since high school, when I was first introduced to role playing games. A friend asked me and two others if we wanted to try a game his brother use to play. He pulled out a beat-up red box with the words Dungeons and Dragons printed on it. He tried playing it as the Dungeon Master for a few hours then he said, “I don’t want to play this again” and I was so confused because I fell in love. I didn’t want to stop playing. I told him “If I ran the game would you be a player?” He replied, “Yeah I guess I’ll give it another try” and he handed me the box. That weekend I opened the box read everything that was in that box. I didn’t understand half the rules. I started to empathize with my friend on why he didn’t want to play anymore. I will tell you one thing nothing was stopping from playing this thing I just fell in love with. I spent the whole weekend redesigning this so I can understand everything. I made monsters, Maps, People to populate my new world. I took what I understood from the mechanics (which wasn’t a lot) then just made everything else up and wrote it down. I didn’t know it then, but this was my first game design. I was 13 years old and in love with two things, they were game design, and tabletop role playing games. I continued to run that game through most of high school. Now here I am 39 years old at the biggest board game convention on the east coast.
So how did I get here… that’s a good question
So, let’s fast forward from 13-year-old me to 34-year-old me. I’m going to a friend’s house to spend the weekend playing board games and run a game of Pathfinder the RPG. On the last day after everyone left and I’m consulting with my friend who is a therapist on what games he could use with certain clients who were dealing with certain challenges and what games could help with those same challenges, the idea of going to a game convention came up. So, I looked up if any were in NJ. Now we both lived in NJ for most of our lives and never knew that NJ had game conventions. The closest one was in two weeks. It was called Metatopia. Now not only was Metatopia a regular game convention, but a game design convention! I knew I had to go, correction we knew we had to go. I arranged for someone to watch my son that weekend and requested off from my day job.
Two weeks roll around we travel an hour from my house, and we arrive to Morristown, NJ. We step into the hotel where Metatopia is held and we were in awe of the melting pot this place was. People of all places and cultures were here to design board games. It was so inclusive and welcoming to everyone. Even to us, these two complete newbs. At least that’s how we felt at the time. Until I had a conversation with someone that went like this:
“Are you working on a game design”
I Replied “Yes”
They replied “Then you are a Game Designer, never forget or doubt that”
After sitting in panels and playtesting others designs, I realized I am a game designer! I have been doing this ever since that first night I couldn’t understand the rules of a game, so I rewrote them.
That same weekend we met Chris and Heather O’Neil from 9th Level games. We tested Meeple party a game that Heather Created and we fell in love with it.
9th Level Games
Time to fast forward a few more years and here we are visiting our 10th or so game convention. I believe it was a Dreamation also in Morristown, NJ. Heathers game Meeple Party has been successfully funded on Kickstarter, and we couldn’t be happier for her. We have been waiting to set this up at our table and sit down & play this for some time. We noticed Chris was testing a new game he was about to bring to Kickstarter, and we signed up to test it. The game was called Mazes. A game harking back to old-school Role-playing games with modern rules. We loved this game.
I guess I should mention by this time my friend who has accompanied me to all these game conventions and who I consulted with for years now goes by Dr. Brian Carl Quinones, and we now own a therapeutic practice called Gaming Approaches Towards Education. We both looked at each other and knew right then this was another amazing game that 9th Level produced that we could use in the office with our clients.
Chris talked with us for an hour after the testing of the game about what he had planned for the system that mazes was built off can do, and as he went on, I started thinking about the possibilities of the system. Brian and I talked about it all the way to the next Metatopia. Where we tested the system that Chris was calling Polymorph.
Polymorph is a System that lets you create your own role-playing game. It was free and fun. In one hour, we created a fully working RPG about Algae gaining sentience. For another hour after we played that game and I had so much fun playing it. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone at that table had a blast. When we were done my brain wouldn’t stop thinking about it. We went to lunch and I started my own game in my head as everyone was talking waiting for their food. This was it. This was going to be the system we start designing games for office.
Later that night in the lobby where everyone meets every year to talk and catch up. Brian and I were explaining what games we were using in the office and why we use them. Then Heather said to me:
“We have these conversations every year till late in the night sitting in this lobby. Other people need to hear what you two guys are doing. “
I said “yeah we should”
She continued to say “I’m signing you guys up for panels for next Metatopia and PAX Unplugged and you’re going to tell others what you do”
She was serious because a few months later she contacted me and said, “so what’s going to be the title of the panel?” That Metatopia we ran two panels and invited some amazing people that are doing similar things to talk with us.
If you read this Heather I cant express how much you pushing us to do this means to me. Thank You!
First PAX Unplugged
I visited PAX Unplugged on its second year. Myself and my Con buddy Dr. Quinones arrived in the city of brotherly love after last minute booking at an overly expensive hotel that was not worth the price. We check in and before we turn down for the night, we prepared our convention bags for the next day. After seeing the massive number of people coming to play board games, I start getting excited.
Entering the expo hall, I tell myself I’m at the NY Comic Con of board games. Every publisher I can think of is here. There are thousands of people flooding in and It’s a sensory overload for me. I walk around for hours looking at all the new games, only stopping to demo interesting new games and to talk with publishers and designers I have made friends with over the years. About halfway through the day I was exhausted and left to take a nap. I think I just found out I don’t like bigger cons. I had fun seeing friends and demoing the few games I did, but this is exhausting and a confusing experience for me. I felt lost and like I had no purpose here.
This PAX Unplugged
This year was different. Heather O’Neil after pushing us to do two panels at Metatopia already has did what she said she would do, which is sign us up to do a panel at PAX Unplugged. And to my surprise it was excepted! This is real I’m about to talk in front of a possible few hundred people. I was excited and terrified all at once. Brian and I invited Jack Berkenstock, Shawn Roske, and we told Heather we were looking for another female to share the stage with us. She was two steps ahead of me and invited Emperatriz Ung. We had our Panelists we were ready to rock.
Heather and Chris at the last Metatopia invited Brian and me to help at 9th Levels booth and to run a few games for them. They offered to pay for logging and our badges for our service and I am so thankful for them. I don’t know if I would have been able to afford going again otherwise. So, Heather and Chris if you read this, I love you guys and thank you for pushing us and giving us the ability to afford to go.
Our panel went amazing and I got to talk with so many people who are like minded and who were truly interested in everything we said. Once we started talking out all the nervousness, I felt disappeared. I was hitting flow on stage and felt at home. I have been practicing this on smaller scales and studying all this for years.
My experience at this PAX Unplugged was so different. I finally felt I belonged. Working the floor as exhausting as it is, it gave me purpose and made me feel like I belonged. Doing the panel took away any imposter syndrome I may have been feeling about myself. I realized I Timothy Grant was an expert here. All the work I put in for the last few years was all worth it. Thank you from the everyone from the attendees, designers and publisher friends, and all the new and old friends who came out to support me on stage.
PAX is now over I have all the feels still two days later and now I’m back on my grind. Coming up we will be talking to a local child study team in our school district and I plan on writing on our experience with that. After that we will be at the Young Men’s Conference in Middlesex County College running a workshop on teamwork and how gaming can help teach that. I was also invited on the Rolling for Change Podcast again so go check that out as well. The link will be listed below.