Land of War and Magic
Local gamers find a gathering place.
BY TIM O'ROURKE
Three of the older gamers at the Evolution Gaming store are standing around me, laughing and talking about Magic, a card game. It requires skill and a whole hellofa lot of knowledge of the intricate rules. They're patient with my questions about the scene at the game shop, how they started coming to this place and what exactly Magic and War Hammer are. I get that they're games, but the rest is kind of foggy.
They happily answer my questions as best they can, but it's like a physics professor trying to explain the theory of relativity to a fourth grader. Then I become invisible as the conversation turns to the details of the different Magic card decks. This is a different world. These 20-somethings look totally normal, but they have their own rules, their own language. They talk fast, using words I've heard before. But for the most part, I have no idea what they're saying.
"I played a bird, he had a swift play."
"I can make a blue/red version of the deck."
"It's lava spike spliced on laser ray."
"Swamp. Ritual. Rats. Therapy." They laugh.
Despite the language barrier, I'm able to use my ethnographic skills honed in a grand total of three undergraduate anthropology courses to decipher what's going on in this strip mall on the south side of Eugene. On this particular Friday night, about 20 gamers are hanging out. They range in age from an 11-year-old fifth grader with pink hair to some guys in their mid-20s, one of whom works on Xbox 360 games here in Eugene. Upstairs and downstairs gamers are battling in Magic tournaments, and the couches are full of messy-haired youth playing Halo 2 (which, for those of you completely out-of-touch with the gaming world, is a video game).
The store is filled with chatter and laughter. A guy and a girl seem to be flirting while playing War Machine, a game using figurines that's a close cousin to War Hammer (but you knew that). Behind the glass counter sits Jarnigan Cook, a 22-year-old lifelong game lover who owns and runs the store with his wife, Ashley.
"I've been hanging out in game stores since I was a little kid and I just saw a niche here," he says as kids shout their Magic scores over our conversation. "We put in all the things I always thought would be cool that weren't in other game stores."
And Jarnigan knows his games. Magic, War Hammer and skill-based board games are his specialties, but don't even bring up Monopoly around this guy. "Even Risk is glorified rock, paper, scissors," he says.
Jarnigan and Ashley opened the store about 11 months ago, and so far the response to the store has been like casting a lightning helix at a watchwolf, thus defeating the watchwolf and being rewarded with three lives. Translation for non-Magic players: The place is a success.
Evolution Gaming isn't like other stores. Proof of good grades gets the gamers discounts, "drug talk" isn't allowed, and once a week they host "Paint Night" where War Hammer connoisseurs come to paint their one-inch-high figurine models. Jarnigan even has a phone line for them. It doesn't have long distance, but they can use it to make local calls and call home for rides. The store is open past midnight on weekends, and sometimes more than 30 gamers are in the store, playing games and hanging out late into the night.
Although it feels more like a lounge than a business, there's money to be made. Jarnigan and Ashley rent anime videos and sell junk food as well as all the cards and figurines needed for a good game of War Hammer or Magic. They also host tournaments with entry fees from $5 to $10. But first and foremost, this is a gathering place. "Lots of the parents kind of joke that they pay us as babysitters," says Jarnigan.
Evolution Gaming is located at 2475 Hilyard Street, past the 23rd Avenue merge, across the parking lot from Taste of India.