Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.
For Derrick Sheets, gaming was a family affair that morphed into a full-blown hobby and career.
“I remember my folks teaching me card games ever since I was little,” he remembers. “The grown-ups would play lots of card games, and they taught me little games like War and Go-Fish.”
While his mother focused on the fun of the game, his dad was the type that liked to win—and one of Sheets’ proudest moments was winning against his father.
“It was literally the highest point in my chess career,” he says. “I peaked really early personally, at around six.”
Much like the simple card games his parents taught him, Sheets is drawn to that medium of gameplay. The 31-year-old game store owner counts Magic: The Gathering as his favorite game.
“With the game’s evolution game, a super-rich story, that is told using the game as its median. The fact that there is not a ‘real’ Magic movie is beyond me,” he explains. “The game has an amazingly deep, rich story; involving tons of characters interwoven through multiple large novels, comic books, short stories, weekly story-articles and just simply the cards themselves.”
For Sheets, the cards are just part of the game. The players themselves add to the experience and Sheets has enriched his life through the connections he’s made in the game.
“I’ve played since I was 12, and I’m 31 [now]—that’s half my life,” he says. “Through the game, I have met dozens of close friends. I’ve won thousands of dollars—including a 10k first prize events 2 years ago—played on three continents, and have seen a lot of cool cities playing a card game.”
As the owner of Game On Chattanooga, Sheets is also a vendor at local conventions like Con Nooga, Chattacon, Liberty Con, Anime Blast, Jampcon, and Dalton Comic Con, but when it comes to gaming, Gen Con is his favorite.
“[It’s] a giant tabletop gaming convention,” he explains. “You literally can find events for anything from Monopoly to chess to Dungeons & Dragon to Catan.”
He’s also been impressed with how gaming culture has evolved and become more user-friendly for the masses.
“Gaming, in general, is growing, [especially] video games and face-to-face gaming,” he says. “Even our cell phones are being taken over by solo player games like Angry Birds or Clash of Clans. Pokemon Go also was kind of a revolutionary phone game and changed the game bringing a ‘nerdy’ game to millions of people all over the world.”
There’s one type of gaming Sheets does wish there was more of—miniature gaming such as Warhammer 40k and War Machine.
“There is a healthy community for it, but I think that the appeal could be very mass-reaching with all the personality that the hobby can provide,” he says. “Basically the components of a large-customization board game come all unassembled and unpainted. The hobby is putting all the pieces together and actually painting them exactly how you want.”
Getting Their Game On
This year marks the Second Annual Chattanooga Tabletop Gamefest. The initial event developed from wanting to celebrate International Tabletop Day.
“When Jason Mink over at Infinity Flux shot me a message wanting to do the same thing, we sorta just ran with it,” he says. “It was a huge hit, people loved it and we loved hosting it. We had pretty much anything you can’t play on a tv screen getting played, from Werewolf to Apples to Apples, we had it all. We even had a couple of people working on board games and role-playing systems come out and give it a whirl.”
This year’s event will have over 100 games available to play, as well as game giveaways, and a silent auction. The event is family friendly and if you’re new to gaming, they’ll have people on hand to give a rundown of rules and gameplay.
“It’s a pretty cool sight to see 200 people all having a great time with people they just met,” Sheets says. “Games and friends are awesome.”
Like many other geeks, giving back is close to Sheets’ heart, too. He hosts an annual food drive called “Grub from Gamers” at his store.
“We take canned goods, and in return, let you cheat in the games,” he says. “Our very first year, we raised over 2,200 pounds of food for the Chattanooga Food Bank. We’re hoping for 3,000 this year!”
Rachel Stewart grew up in the ’80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered “Doctor Who” and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority—a “Doctor Who” fan group—and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Chattacon, Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who, and ConGT. She also reviewed “Doctor Who” novels and Big Finish audios at “The Oncoming Storm” podcast. Want to be featured? Email Rachel at [email protected].