My first GenCon journey ended early in the morning on Sunday. The taxi took me to the airport at 4:00am – plenty of time to catch an early flight back home.   After picking up a cup of coffee and a small unsatisfying breakfast, I walked to my gate. Waiting for me at the gate sat a father and his two children – ironically, the same family who had begun my GenCon journey a week before by inviting me to sit down and play cards while we waited for the flight into Indianapolis. Even in the early hours of the morning, the energy and excitement was clear in his children’s eyes. We talked about the last several days.  After boarding the plane, I slipped on my headphones, turned to the classical music folder, and drowned out the outside world. I sat in reflection preparing to sleep. With the music softly and surely sweeping away the background rabble and weighing down my eyelids, I experienced an epiphany.

I was happy.

The realization that life was enjoyable reminded me of all the times I loved someone, or thought I loved someone. In my first few adult relationships, love (as I knew it) came easily. Then, I met my wife. I had been mistaking a fondness and physical attraction for real love. Until I discovered what real love in a relationship meant, there was no way to know what I felt wasn’t the real thing. Happiness is the same way. I considered myself to be a relatively happy person; happy memories kept me going through the day to day dullness of a steady career. Fleeting moments of joy and laughter came occasionally. However, I lived through each day instead of living for each day.

Happiness and fulfillment are emotions we need to survive, like air and water. I was gasping for air earlier this year – especially in regards to my hobbies.   I put so much of myself into these games that even with a wonderful wife, home, and job, the feeling of emptiness permeated my waking hours. The satisfaction I depended from my gaming was few and far between.

My friends and I were in this gaming group called the Mercy Killers. The group was based around the game Warhammer 40k, but was more about friendship than the game itself. The Mercy Killers have been together for over a decade, and some members have gone so far as to get a tattoo of the club’s symbol.

The person who started the group, who we will call Rick Timmy, had clearly been having some frustrations of his own because he attempted all sorts of things to try and make playing and being in a group more fulfilling. He rented out a space in a local store as a club house. He had another member start running tournaments. Lastly, he started adding more people to the club at an astonishing rate. Whether or not this helped him, I cannot tell you. For me, it just made everything worse. Taking what was supposed to be a relaxing hobby more seriously was not helping me have more fun.

The moments I enjoyed became fewer and farther between.

I tried focusing on the formats of 40k I used to like. I signed up for “apocalypse” games, which are big, splashy and really the “Commander of the 40k universe”. When that didn’t work I focused on painting. I put up a Sin-City/Night Circus-themed army that I had hoped to be able to have fun showing off, but a competition ruined the army for me. By placing something I had tried to make an artistic statement with in a competition where it would be judged, I took it all too seriously. After having my pride and ego bruised, I wondered why I was continuing to do tournaments. Commander was used to break up the long painting nights and give me something to look forward too, but eventually it was all futile and I quit playing 40k.

After quitting the game, I felt very much alone. I played Commander, but my closest friends rarely saw me and they took the club more seriously, devoting even more time to a game I had forsaken. I could see them being miserable and trying to convince themselves that they weren’t. There was nothing I could do. I put on a happy face, picked up a few new games, and went on hobbying. Gradually the weight was lifting. As new people showed up to my town and new friendships were forged, I had this mental itch.

Why was I starting to have more fun around strangers than old friends?

July was my month of vacations. It started off with a trip to Seattle, where I just could not get myself to unwind and relax. I was unhappy and making everyone around me unhappy. When I showed up at work after the vacation, I felt drained and had no drive. However, the next weekend my wife and I left for Las Vegas – and something magical happened. Staying up till 5am, dancing, drinking, and hanging out with people I didn’t know…I had fun again. Real, honest-to-god, feel-your-soul-jump-up-and-dance kind of fun.

Even more astounding, the feeling of elation didn’t go away when I got home.  

Then…GenCon happened.

GenCon was amazing. I played in a few events, demoed a lot of games, and played a ton of Commander.   Most of all, I met a bunch of the people I had been talking to online in real life for the first time. Incredibly, even though I call myself the “black sheep”, it reminded me most of when me and my old friends used to have fun hanging out. The conversations were natural and easy. Everyone had a great attitude. In a crowded hall, where we got kicked off tables and smacked in the head by unwieldy costumes, we laughed and had a great time. Even the complete strangers I played games with were friendly, excited, and a pleasure to hang around.

.     .     .     .     .

The music continued to play on my headphones and I couldn’t help but smile. There was one common element to everything I had done – my outlook going in. My initial instinct was to believe I had a good time because everyone who I’d been spending time with also wanted to have a good time. That is definitely true and a huge part of it. More than that, though, a huge part of the equation was my attitude. When I felt defeated and tired, my group felt defeated and tired. When I felt angry and hopeless, my wife and family felt angry and hopeless. When I showed up ready to have a good time no matter what, everyone around was up for that.

There was the epiphany; our attitudes affect each other more than we like to admit. Going into Vegas I was tired and drained and a group of people lifted me up. Going to Gencon, my positive attitude that I brought attracted the other people there with a similar positive attitude. This happened to be a ton of people, since Gencon is where you go to have fun. If negativity breeds negativity, and positivity breeds positivity, then it just makes sense to be positive.

At work, playing Commander, and just living my life…I choose to be happy.

-Sean Patchen