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Press Start: My geeky week in Montreal

By Jake Magee
August 12, 2015

I spent last week in Montreal, the home of my girlfriend, Kaya. There's nothing quite like spending the summer in Quebec's Metropolis. When I wasn't eating poutine, walking through Chinatown dépanneurs or being approached by French-speaking strangers, I'm happy to report I got to explore some of the city's geeky underbelly.

First up was Randolph's, a board game bar—that's right, a bar full of board games. It was a short walk from my girlfriend's mother's apartment in the beautiful Plateau neighborhood. The upstairs wall was lined with hundreds of board games, which titillated me with their infinite and colorful possibilities. My girlfriend and I sat with her friend and boyfriend and settled on playing a round of Sushi Go, an adorable card game.

Unfortunately, the bar was so overcrowded and noisy that we could barely talk to one another, so we decided to cut our board game excursion short. As my bad luck would have it, I didn't get a chance to go back before my trip ended. Maybe next time.

In my short stay at Randolph's, I was reminded of Foonzo's, a downtown bar that's full of video game consoles. Step in, sit on a couch, order a drink and play a plethora of games with your friends. It's a pretty fun joint Kaya has taken to me to a few times, but we didn't get a chance to visit during this trip. I wish Janesville had something similar, but at least we've got board game stores such as Kryptonite Kollectibles and Noble Knights Games.

Early in the week, Kaya surprised me by explaining that the city's science center was hosting a temporary exhibit about video games, so of course we had to go. After paying the steep price for a pair of tickets, we were in and exploring hundreds of old and current video games hands on.

The exhibit begins by showing off the first commercially produced arcade machine and the very first video game console, which was the size of a refrigerator. But the floor quickly opens up into a free-for-all arcade of sorts. Every system imaginable was on display, and most of them were playable. For the first time in my life I got to play an Atari and Commodore 64.

As we moved through the exhibit, we found more modern games, but we skipped them, having played most at home. After getting our fill, we left with a new appreciation for how quickly and exponentially the video game industry has grown.

My geeky week ended with my first Otakuthon, a convention geared toward anime fans. The event happens to attract a lot of other nerdy hobbyists, including gamers. And the cosplayers come in droves to share off their sweet representations of their favorite characters.

One highlight was an accurate recreation of Cartman's A.W.E.S.O.M.-O costume from “South Park,” which was so big and bulky that it took several minutes for its cosplayer to descend the stairs. Two others include Draven from “League of Legends” and a 12-foot-long alien centipede of some sort.

I've been to PAX, a video game convention, and I know plenty of people who attended Comicon in Chicago and other cities, but Otakuthon is unique. As soon as I stepped onto the show floor I was overwhelmed with how much nerdy swag was available for purchase. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), my credit card was declined due to my forgetting to let my bank know I'd be traveling abroad, so I was left only able to buy some hilarious Pokémon pins.

The following day, I was on my way back home with some new memories and a greater respect for the global impact of nerdy culture, which spans countries and even continents. From gamers to anime-lovers to comic book aficionados, passionate fandoms are everywhere. I'm glad I got to spend some time with them in my short week in Montreal.