Either my nerves are getting the better of me, or I'm developing claustrophobia. The narrow room I'm sitting in regresses deep into the building's basement, well-lit, but only about two and a half table-lengths wide. I spread out my playmat as I've done so many times before. Next to it, I place a neat pile of credits for easy access. Shuffle. Deal my opening hand. Nod in a friendly manner to my opponent and say “good luck”. On any other day, this would be a normal opening to a normal Netrunner tournament
Except that my opponent responded a little differently than what I normally hear. They responded with "Lykke Til". Norwegian, not English.
This experience stopped being normal for me when I packed my Netrunner cards into my vacation luggage. Now, somehow, I'm sitting opposite my Norwegian counterpart trying to suppress my jitters long enough to win a match. How did I get myself into this? Playing Android: Netrunner, for me, is playing Chess with a customizable army. I memorize likely moves, anticipate my opponent, and take great enjoyment in knowing that my creation is particular to me. When I win, it's with something that I've built and tuned myself.
This article isn't about that. This article isn't a review of Netrunner rules or tactics (Wyatt touched on that already). It's not yet another internet article urging you to get out and experience your local tournament scene. It's about what happens when you get a little more outside your comfort zone.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I didn't actually intend on packing my Netrunner cards for vacation. I understand that, while my wife plays games with me, it's not on the same obsessive level I can sometimes reach. For example: memorizing every card printed in my LCG (that's Living Card Game for short) in order to play it better. Our trip was meant to be an experience together of the sights and culture of a place unfamiliar to the both of us. Games could wait a couple of weeks until I came home again. So imagine my surprise one day when a conversation lead off with, “Why don't you pack your cards for the trip?”
Kit, my favorite runner in the game.
A man much wiser than I in the ways of Netrunner, one Quintin “Quinns” Smith of Shut Up & Sit Down, once famously said, “Play with strangers.” Those three words were the motivation behind going to my first tournament. The trip in itself was something remarkable, a day's road trip with a friend to a game shop the next state over, about an hour's drive away. Traveling for Netrunner for the first time taught me something vital. Rumors I'd been reading across the reaches of the internet were true: Netrunner players really were the friendliest bunch of gamers I'd ever met. I'd never experienced such warmth and good-sportsmanship from people I'd only just exchanged pleasantries with moments before. The common ground of the card game added something to this mix of humble, smiling people as well. We were instantly able to share a common language, congratulating each other on spectacular plays and marveling at each others' deck-constructing canny, even though we could barely remember each others' names. Something big was happening here.
I lost that tournament horribly (I came second to last of about a dozen players), but I could not have walked away with a bigger smile. Not only were my tournament losses a wonderful learning experience, but I was imprinted with a sense of camaraderie . The sense of inclusion passed around within the Netrunner community had rubbed off on me. I had more friends than I realized. I just needed to get out and meet them. I was already eagerly looking forward to the next time I'd be playing in a tournament.
Tournaments in LCG games are great:Prizes are alternate art and accessories, rather than overpriced rares
Cut back to my bag-packing, pre-vacation OCD. Two decks were all I stowed for my trip. One runner, one corporation. The bare minimum needed to play. There would be no card substitutions if something didn't work in the next two weeks, as I had to travel light. This was again supposed to be a trip about experiencing another country. Not playing as much Netrunner with strangers as possible, despite my wife's best wishes. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have “what if” moments revolving around my largely untested decks and the embarrassments that might happen. This was a little different than going one state over; I was definitely getting outside my comfort zone.
The Oslo group! The dangerous guy on the far left scorched me for my only Runner loss that day.
I should also mention that I didn't intend to play in any tournaments either on this journey. Facebook was searched. Groups were found in a couple of cities I would be visiting. Posts were made and meet-ups located. Netrunner was meant to be a casual affair, sampling a different kind of local meta and meeting some international strangers... possibly sampling some international drinks while doing so. When, after an evening full of smiles and stolen agendas, the Oslo group invited me to their Thursday tournament, I said only vaguely that I'd see if I could make it but that there were no guarantees. Silently between us it was understood that my limited time in their country should be spent experiencing as much as possible, and that cards might not be the priority. It was again my wife (have I mentioned how cool she is?) who helped plan a day of activities that culminated in my return to the Oslo game shop in time for the tournament.
Which puts us back in a narrow basement room. Me, bad at names as I am, trying to remember both that the guy opposite me is Olav and whether a Cerebral Imaging identity typically packs kill cards (pro tip: yes it does). Miraculously, the experience wasn't any more stressful than any other tournament I've played, and I think this owes in no small part to the aforementioned friendliness of the Netrunner community.
Let me take a moment to explain the real takeaway of this experience: shattered expectations. What I had expected was a group of players, possibly with shaky English, communicating to me through familiar artwork on cards that might be printed in another language. At the same time, I was expecting to see repeat copies of the decks I saw at home, thanks to how the internet works. What I got was anything but: while Norwegians speak their own language, most of them also speak excellent English. Certainly good enough to offer jibes and jests mid-match that I could appreciate. Their cards are printed in English, just like mine, and I didn't see a single metagame-copy deck in any game I played. The group was playful under pressure, experimenting with anything they thought could be powerful so long as it remained, most importantly, fun. I took home some alternate art cards for my performance, but my real souvenirs were my memories and the education I received in what the netrunners of Norway are really like.
Members of the Bergen City Grid! Much of Norway was out on summer vacation during my visit, but these dedicated few were still rocking some running.
I played more Netrunner as my trip progressed, meeting both natives and others who, like me, were transient in either the nature of their work or in visits of their own. The games grew, though, into more than simply sharing matches. I was learning about people. Their language and culture. Exchanging facts about our respective homes. In an unexpected turn, I'd ended up doing exactly what I'd set out to do in Norway in an especially personal sort of way.
If, like me, you have trouble walking up to a complete stranger and starting a conversation, if you have any reservations about taking your netrunning skills on the road, and especially if you happen to have a significantly cool significant other, I strongly urge you thusly: get outside your comfort zone. Play with strangers. The stranger the better. Netrunner is a common language we all share when we play this game, and it can be your bridge to more than just meeting new friends. This game we all love has the potential to act as your personal ambassador, bridging your understanding to cultures the world over. It was for me, and it makes me proud to say I'm a gamer.
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