A Chat with Manchester Gamers Unite

    Video games have become a key player in the entertainment industry. In 2016, the UK had the 6th largest video games market behind China, USA, Japan, South Korea and Germany, according to the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment. There was a reported 31.6 million gamers in the UK last year, who spent a whopping £4.33 billion on their favourite console games.

    Many developers have set up shop in the UK – in fact, there are 2,141 games companies currently active in the UK, according to the UK Games Map – creating a range of games for mobile, PC, console and VR/AR. The north-west of the UK has the highest area outside of London for developers and publishers.

    Despite many games being developed in the north-west, many gaming events take place in London, meaning northern gamers have to pay hefty train fares to attend. However, in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, there is a monthly meet up called Manchester Gamers Unite, held at Dive Bar, for avid gamers and developers to meet up and play some video games while enjoying a beer or two.

    What is Manchester Gamers Unite?

    Manchester Gamers Unite, set up in 2016 by games enthusiasts Steph Staszko and Simran Whitham, is a non-profit gaming and networking event bringing the gaming and game development communities of Manchester and the north-west together. The night is a mixture of button bashing on old favourites, such as Crash Team Racing and Street Fighter, exclusive experiences on brand new games from local developers where feedback can be given and a chance to meet some new friends with similar interests.

    Events are free entry with a discount on selected food and drinks and there is a chance to win a bunch of prizes in a gaming tournament.

    We caught up with the pair to find out what Manchester Gamers Unite is all about and why they love video games so much.

    Steph Staszko and Simran Whitham - Manchester Gamers Unite

    Why did you want to set Manchester Gamers Unite up?

    Steph: A passion for video games, but I also wanted to try my hand at events management, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Simran and I met on Twitter and discussed how good it would be if more gamers in the local area could meet up. That’s how the idea was born really, just as a bit of an experiment. Since then we’ve had around 50 people to each meet and lots of new and familiar faces.

    Simran: Our aim at the time was just to put on a one-off cool chilled night for gamers to come down, have a drink, relax and make friends. However, the sheer overwhelming numbers and questions from people asking ‘When is the next night?’ changed everything and we decided to make them a regular thing.

    We met with the managers of Dive Bar about a monthly event, made a Facebook page, designed a logo and other work and Manchester Gamers Unite was born.

    What’s been your favourite moment at an event so far?

    Simran: It’s hard to put my finger on a single moment, but when we hosted the first-ever Halloween-themed event, I particularly enjoyed it. A lot of people came wearing cosplay and costumes, plus we had special guests from The Game Face Show and indie development studio Astro Manatee.

    For me, the highlight of the night was when a group of us gathered for a game of Cards Against Humanity where you had me dressed as a man of the Night’s Watch, assassins, vampires, Tekken fighters, Jack from Bioshock and the Joker and Harley Quinn coming up with some of the worst humour our cards had to offer.

    Steph: I think the Halloween one was my favourite too as quite a few of us dressed up. I enjoyed dressing up as an assassin and there was just generally a really good vibe. Also, having people from big studies, such as TT Games, is always cool.

    Manchester Gamers Unite

    Why should people come to an event?

    Steph: If you’re into video games, live locally and enjoy making new friends, there’s no reason not to! For devs, there’s the added value of industry networking and getting to share your game with potential future players.

    Simran: We offer people the chance to come down to a nice, chilled environment once a month to play video games, make new friends and give developers feedback on what they think of games in early development. Plus there’s cheap food and drink, which is never a bad thing.

    What are you hoping to achieve with the event?

    Simran: The goals of Manchester Gamers Unite have changed a lot in the year we have been running for. Originally, the goal was to simply unite the gamers of Manchester once a month to play games, make friends and have a good time. However, due to the enormous game developers’ interest and attendances at events, we have aimed at expanding further and uniting both the game development and gamer community further.

    Steph: I would love it if Manchester became a hub for video games development. We both want to help indie devs in the area too, as the budget for marketing is often tight so we want to give them a platform for getting their hard work recognised and appreciated. 

    Simran: As a game design student, one of the things I am pushing for is more networking to take place at events, as I believe that having both gamers and game developments talking to each other at social events can only be beneficial. Developers can hear the thoughts of potential gamers about the game and how it could be developed. And gamers get to play an early build of a game thus getting to be amongst the first testers and have face-to-face contact with the development teams. One of the ways we are looking at expanding this is by holding gaming jams with gamers as judges.

    Manchester Gamers Unite

    What’s your favourite console?

    Steph: Nostalgically, probably the original Game Boy. I’ll never forget my first playthrough of Pokémon Red when I was about six years old. I got stuck in that huge cave for ages as I didn’t realise you get the Flash TM. That was before I had the internet and could just key in “Pokémon Red walkthrough” as well. It was a real slog!

    Simran: I don’t really have a favourite console as I find it quite restricting because I like being able to play all types of games on multiple gaming platforms and hardware. I mainly play the PlayStation 4 as I have it connected to an enormous 4K TV and play in a comfy gaming chair as I find it the perfect way to unwind and play as you are immersed in a game’s world.

    What are your favourite top three games?

    Steph: Oh god, this is like asking what someone’s favourite song is! It changes all the time, but at the moment, I’d say Skyrim is up there. Rocket League is another favourite and anything from the Pokémon or Fire Emblem series.

    Simran: Despite being a gamer from the age of five, this is an easy question that I get asked quite often. The first game would be Dragon Age: Origins; this game is very special to me as it was my first time being introduced to not only Bioware-style narrative games but it was the first time I had ever felt really immersed within a game’s world, as if I was actually there myself, living the adventure.

    Dragon Age: Origins is the game that made me fall in love with games that tell a good story; it was the first game that presented me with such a wide variety of player freedom and non-linearity. I created a character that looked like me, entered a fantasy world I could make choices in that I felt like were ones that I would make in those situations and could see the consequences of my decisions unfold. The game’s world, story and amazing well-acted characters made me feel like I was actually in the game. While other games have allowed me to experience this before, Dragon Age: Origins was the first and holds a special place in my heart.

    The second game would be Fallout: New Vegas for similar reasons, as it was another game that immersed me within its world. It featured heavy choices, beautifully written narrative and made me feel like the character in that world (ignoring the fact I made my character look exactly me) making decisions that would decide the fate of the various factions, settlements and individuals within the Mojave Wasteland. This game made me more passionate about narrative presence within video games as a whole, from both a storytelling and design aspect.

    The third game is The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim because, to put it simply, it’s amazing. Fantastic story, great characters and a big open world to truly get lost in. I am a huge Elder Scrolls fan and a bit of a fantasy lore junky, so playing Skyrim for the first time was a dream come true. It is the one game that’s total playtime is embedded in my brain and I will never forget – I spent a total of 484 hours 17 minutes and six seconds in Skyrim – and it is one of those games that I would not put down until I had done everything – every main quest, faction quest, side quest and unmarked quest. I love this game very much.

    Manchester Gamers Unite

    What’s your favourite video game character?

    Steph: I really like Virion from Fire Emblem. He’s an archer with a vanity complex so he comes out with some excellent, sassy dialogue. What more do you want from a hero?!

    Simran: Honestly, this is a very difficult question to answer because there are so many, but one character that I have a particular fondness for is Morrigan from the Dragon Age franchise. She was of the first characters that I truly connected within a video game because she is well written and well acted by Claudia Black. Morrigan is one of the most organic game characters I have seen in a game to date.

    To find out when the next Manchester Gamers Unite, check out their Facebook or Twitter.

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