The Ottumwa Courier

October 15, 2012

Grassroots Gaming Expo draws a crowd

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Gamers hunkered down for the weekend to play video games new and old, battle over games they hadn’t seen in years and to test out new games that haven’t even hit the market yet.

Liz Bolinger and her husband, Josh, have been working for the past three months to get the second annual Grassroots Gaming Expo up and running.

The three-day event this weekend at Bridge View Center offered a free play area on consoles, as well as arcade games, vendors, documentaries and tournaments.

Game Consoles Worldwide even held a demo of their new handheld console at the expo.

“It’s open source, so anyone can create games,” Bolinger said. “You can download emulators, which takes a program and translates it so it works on a handheld.”

The device is great for games that these days may be hard to find, or if you can find them, they’re very expensive.

“People have this misconception that gamers are anti-social,” she said. “In fact, we meet each other because of video games and become really good friends.”

One of Bolinger’s friends she met through gaming and they now share tips and tricks in particular games.

“I stream online to watch my friends play,” she said. “Plus it’s an excuse to travel. I have friends from all around, so this is a great opportunity to hang out with them. It’s like a reunion.”

Bolinger started her love affair with gaming when she was young and spent time playing games with her father.

“I got to know my dad through video games,” she said. “A lot can be gained: problem solving, hand-eye coordination. I have good problem-solving skills because of video games.”

When you keep getting stuck on a level, she said, you have to switch up your strategy and find ways to incorporate other things you’ve learned in order to move forward.

These skills also come in handy when looking at a daunting goal, such as trying to reach a record of 10,000 points when you’re only at 5,000 points.

“So you set smaller goals and think how can I make it to 5,500 points, 6,000 points, etc.,” she said.

Another stereotype that all video games are violent and that they are the “downfall of society” really bothers Bolinger.

“I’ve played all kinds of violent video games,” she said. “I’ve never even been pulled over.”

When new things come out, she said, it’s hard for people to adapt to change when it’s something they’re not used to.

“Instead of blaming the person, it’s easier for them to blame the game,” she said. “As our generation gets older, and we grew up with gaming, I see the perception changing.”

In fact, violent games are not the biggest selling video game, she said.

Some also have the misconception that gamers sit at home for hours on end every day playing video games and not interacting with the outside world, when in reality, she said, even a person who only plays an hour or two a week is considered a “gamer.”

Today, schools are even starting to incorporate gaming into lesson plans. Teachers use video games to teach children math, with awards and achievements along the way, Bolinger said, so kids will be more apt to think learning is fun.

Popular arcade games at the weekend expo included Donkey Kong, Mario Brothers (different from Super Mario Brothers, Bolinger noted) and older games such as Ice Cold Beer.

All of the arcades and consoles were from her staff’s personal collections, along with a few TVs from the Hall of Fame.

Profits raised from the event will go toward a non-profit organization she’s forming. Eventually, she would like to do the expo once or twice a year, with other smaller events throughout the year.

“As a world record holder, I incorporate charity,” Bolinger, who holds world records in Dance Central 2, said. “A lot of us who are states away will stream together to raise money.”

One charity they donate to is Child’s Play, an organization that distributes toys and games to more than 70 children’s hospitals across the nation, including the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.

She also wants to donate to Able Gamers, which provides special equipment to those with disabilities who want to play video games.

“Once we’re a nonprofit we’ll be able to do more to help out,” she said.

An added bonus of the expo, she said, is that it attracts people from outside the area who come to town and frequent Ottumwa’s hotels, restaurants and shopping areas.

“I haven’t met anyone yet who didn’t like Ottumwa,” she said. “It’s a really welcoming group.”

She hopes the expo will continue to expand, including not just video games, but board games and card games.

“If a mom has all of her kids playing video games, board games would be something she could do while the kids are off playing,” she said. “This encourages parents to interact with their kids, which has a huge impact in the long run.”