The Longest Road

Confession time: I’ve never played a game of Settlers of Catan on a physical board. I love the game; I can make wood for sheep jokes with the best of them. All that play time has been on an iPhone, an iPad, or on the Xbox 360, though; I’ve never played a game on a real board with real people. I even have a copy of it sitting in my office, still in the shrink wrap.

You see, I’ve been promising my friend Greg Demetrick that one year, at PAX, I was finally going to play a full game of Settlers with him. As long as I’ve known Greg, he’s been a huge fan of Settlers of Catan, to the point where he devoted the bulk of a day at PAX to competing in Settlers tournaments. Like most of my board game aspirations, I’d never been able to make it work on my own, and I figured he would be the best person to help me make the transition from beating on helpless computer players to making negotiations with actual live human beings.

A word about Greg: He’s one of the kindest, most fun people I’ve had the good fortune to meet. He and I were both part of the podcasting community in the early days, when the podcasting community was a single entity and not a collection of smaller communities that it is today. He’d been a supporter of my shows back then, and I likewise was a supporter (and occasional contributor) to his podcast, 5 Questions. Greg was also the only constant of my PAX experience over the first four years that I attended; one thing I knew for sure was that Greg was going to come down from Vermont and we’d get to hang out for at least part of the time that I’d be there. Going to PAX back then was for him, like for me, something that he looked forward to all year, and he was going to be there and enjoy every minute no matter what.

So I’d decided that PAX East 2014 was going to be the year I finally play a physical game of Settlers. For the first time, I’d be buying a 3-day pass, as opposed to the single day pass that I usually bought. By going more than one day, I wouldn’t feel the pressure to see everything there is to see on the PAX Expo floor in the eight hours that I’d be there, and could take time to do different things like sit down and play a board game for an hour or two. There’s so much to do and see at PAX that buying a single day pass is kind of like going to Disney for a day; you need to plan ahead to maximize the time you have to get the most out of it, and that means cutting out some things you want to do based on how much of a time investment they’re likely to be.

There was one problem with that plan, though: Greg never made it to PAX East 2014.

Shortly after we said goodbye to each other at PAX East 2013, Greg was diagnosed with stage 3 liver cancer. He was optimistic about treatment, and it didn’t stop him from buying tickets for PAX the following year, with the intention that he’d be healthy enough to attend. He wasn’t. My last interaction with him was messaging him right before the show to ask if he’d be able to make it, and he told me he wasn’t going to be able to. That’s when I knew that things probably weren’t going to get better. Shortly after that, he’d posted how much energy just responding to well wishes was taking from him, so I respected his wishes and waited for good news that never ended up coming. Greg passed away in June of 2014.

What ended up happening at PAX East 2014 is that I unexpectedly had a lot of time to myself to think, which is ironic given how crowded and full of people the show is. None of my friends were available to hang out with at the show, and Greg’s absence underscored that. As I walked around the show, passing from booth to booth, I kept coming back to that game of Settlers that wasn’t going to happen. I started to think about the opportunities that had come my way over the years, and how many I’d said no to, for one reason or another. Some of those reasons were justified, some were purely from inertia, and some were from feeling like I could always take up those opportunities later, when it made more sense to do so. After all, there’s always a reason to say no. This time, though, I kept saying no, and then the next opportunity to say yes never came.

A week or so later, a conversation with Brianna where I idly made an offhand comment that it’d be nice to get back into podcasting at some point turned into starting Isometric. This time, instead of finding a reason why I shouldn’t do it, I recognized it as the opportunity that it was and found a way to say yes. That obviously was an amazing decision; I have a fantastic, popular podcast where I get to geek out about video games with three incredibly smart women (who have also become amazing friends) every week. I’m actually speaking at PAX this year on two panels, which is something that I wouldn’t have considered even a remote possibility a year ago. It’s encouraged me to write more, both on this blog and elsewhere, which is something that I love and have felt like I’m good at, but never could find a topic that I felt was worth the time to try to write about. I’ve gotten to speak out more about parenting and games, which has in turn given me more feedback and new ways to connect with my kids and build a stronger relationship with them. It’s also made me value the time that I spend with my wife, who is an amazing woman who I’m incredibly lucky to be married to, and I’ve realized that I’d unconsciously devalued time spent with her because I’d just assumed that time would always be there.

So as PAX East is coming up again, I’m thinking a lot about Greg and that game of Settlers that we never got to play. A lot has changed in my life for the better over the past year, and I see PAX East 2014 as one of the major turning points where everything changed for me. With all that, though, I’m sad that Greg never got to see it, and that I can’t tell him what a positive force he ended up being for me; he almost certainly never knew.

So wherever you are, Greg, thank you for everything. I hope all your rolls land exactly the way you want them to and every card you draw is a victory point. You’ve certainly helped me earn more victory points than you ever knew.