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Gay Gaymes: Geek out at gaming nights

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Gayming guru Saul Sugarman ponders the challenge of a Just Dance board.
Gayming guru Saul Sugarman ponders the challenge of a Just Dance board.  

Tuesday nights at The Midnight Sun are the newest Gaymer nights in the Bay Area. These evenings, which co-organizer Saul Sugarman promises will be loads of fun for gay geeks and their friends, will feature popular video games that focus on cooperative play, like Nintendo's Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and Just Dance. There's also a number of board and tactile games, like jumbo-sized Jenga, beer pong, and Drunk Twister.

So what's a gaymer?

"I could tell you a gaymer is simply a gay guy or person who plays games," Sugarman tells Bay Area Reporter. "But I think there's more to it. Nowadays, we have Vin Diesel and Stephen Colbert playing Dungeons & Dragons. Mila Kunis plays World of Warcraft. And I think San Francisco has adopted geek culture: arcade venues like Brewcade and Emporium SF have opened in recent years, and there's also Folsom Street Foundry that puts on routine game nights."

Sugarman noted that there was a time when playing games came with a bit of a stigma.

"When I was growing up, gaming and geekery in general was not something you wanted to be associated with," he recalled. "People called you a geek as an insult, and the same was true about being gay. I grew up in the 'burbs. So gaymers, to me, are people who have been courageous enough to embrace two identities that haven't always been part of mainstream culture. I think they're a community unto itself that overlaps but is still apart from someone who simply enjoys playing games."

Console gaming at a recent Folsom Street Foundry event.  

Geoffrey Norman, the current leader of SF Gay Mafia, another Gaymer group, said, "With Gaymer nights, it's gratifying to have a safe place I feel I belong. Traditional San Francisco gay bar culture often feels intimidating and not as inclusive."

Daniel Irish, a Gaymer night attendee, and an investment banker in the video game industry, said, "Feeling the commonality of the childhood love of entertainment software is something I've always wanted to share. I grew up with video games and then pursued a career in the field. Video games and, by extension, Gaymer groups, bring an inclusiveness that spans income classes, backgrounds, and education levels. We all can love a game for what it offers to us and find others who share that love."

Kids at Play
Sugarman's love for gaming began at an early age and was instilled in him by his family.

"Originally it was that my parents gave me a first generation Nintendo as a toddler," he said. "But I long have touted my mother as my main inspiration. She introduced me to a lot of Sierra games like The Island of Dr. Brain and the Kings Quest series. Notably, my mom, my grandmother and I played most of the Myst series games together. Those memories are still some of my fondest growing up: sitting with my mom at an old desktop, trying to find our way off a mysterious island for hours. I don't think we finished most of those games without cheating."

Drunk Twister at Gayming Night at The Midnight Sun. photos: Saul Sugarman  

Sugarman tells us that he was not the originator of Gaymer Night.

"I came upon it in late 2014 when Jeff Arbildo was hosting one in the South of Market neighborhood," he said. "At the time, I was a full-time journalist for a legal affairs newspaper, the SF Daily Journal. I was bored as hell and not long out of a breakup, still living with the ex and pretty unhappy with life. I suggested to Arbildo that we get the game Just Dance on a big screen."

Jeff Arbildo, the host of many gaymer nights, said, "As a kid, I used video games to escape reality, the same way adults use the bar scene to escape their reality. So once I leveled up and had experienced both, I wondered, why can't we combine these escapes to craft something new? I never imagined back then how big the demand for such a thing would be. I'm proud that my short time working in San Francisco still resonates and is being kept alive. Never stop hitting that continue and reach for those extra life's!"

Sugerman took to Arbildo's events.

"I started showing up every month in a lot of sequin numbers," he said. "My dances became a performance element of the event," he said. "More people came, and eventually we moved to a monthly Friday slot, and Arbildo and I became business partners."
And now, as the Gaymer community grows, Sugarman takes pride in rolling out the welcome mat for all.

"My events draw pretty much anyone who enjoys games, but I do tend to focus on making it a safe and enjoyable space for the Gaymer community specifically," he said. "Many of them, I think, follow the stereotype of being maybe more shy or introverted. I strive to make an event where they feel comfortable but also that gets them out of their shell."

Game Night at Club BnB in Oakland.  

He's also seeking to get a more diverse crowd of players to attend.

"It's a mixed age crowd," he said. "In my personal life, I enjoy and encourage pretty big age differences in friendships and group settings. And women do attend. One of my closest friends dubs herself my assistant and tries to get other women out. The event is predominantly made up of gay men, but I'm always trying to add in new crowds so it doesn't all skew to one type of person."

Theresa Von Dohlen, Sugarman's assistant at many events, said, "It's a casual, fun atmosphere where I get to touch base with members of the community who I may not be able to interact with at more intense parties."

For Jose Cital (in a fab pink shirt in the Twister photo), "It feels like a safe space to gather because I know we're all nerds, as opposed to normal bar culture which is very much image and hookup driven."

Sugarman explained Drunk Twister, a game we had not heard of before.
"It was just a whacky idea," he said. "I made Skittles-infused vodka in these bright colors that matched the game, and initially I'd billed it as, 'Every spot gets a shot!'

Meaning every single circle you put a limb on, you got a corresponding shot in that color. I quickly realized this was a way to get people sick. So we basically just had regular Twister and handed out free shots whenever people were in precarious poses.

Other drinks are also tied in with the game being played.

"I like to do theme drinks that complement what I'm focusing on for a Gaymer night," said Sugarman. "Last time, I spent a lot of energy on making Twister a thing, so I asked the bar to make a drink called the Drunk and Twisted. It was a bright red cocktail that used Smirnoff Sour Punch vodka. We've done a lot of Pokemon, Star Wars, and Sailor Moon drinks previously."

Gaymer Night has even raised money for good causes. They've partnered with the Imperial Court of San Francisco, raising more than $1,000 for the LGBT Asylum Project.

To join in the fun, stop by at Midnight Sun, 4067 18th Street, on Tuesday evenings from 8pm until midnight. There is no cover charge and no drink minimum.

Happy Gayming!

Upcoming Gaymer Nights:

Tuesdays @ Midnight Sun
4067 18th St.

May 24 & 25 Game Vibes @ Folsom Foundry
(not-LGBT-specific, but inclusive)
1425 Folsom St.

May 28 Gaymer Meetup @ Brewcade
weekly 7pm-11pm. 2200 Market St.

June 8 @ SF Eagle
398 12th St.

June 19 @ Lookout
3600 16th St.

SF Gaymers Group:


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