Saint Denis St. gaming community under the shadow of OQLF
By Matthew Civico, Opinions Editor. Online exclusive to The Concordian
Luca Caltabiano pushes cardboard, and the kids love it.
“Here, you can have a free noob badge,” he told the girl visiting from Massachusetts. She laughed and accepted a large Chez Geeks pin, joking that she should go before she buys something else.
Chez Geeks deals in all manner of geeky goods from card and board games to collectable figurines and dice in every colour and shape imaginable.
Caltabiano, a Concordia graduate, and his brother Giancarlo opened the shop in 2010. The pair also collaborate on Board to Death, a video review website where they playtest and recommend games.
Caltabiano studied journalism at Concordia but channeled the videography skills he picked up in the program into Board to Death. The reviews serve to help people make smart purchases and to help new gamers know what they’re getting into before dropping $70 on that Game of Thrones board game (spoiler: everybody dies).
Because Chez Geeks isn’t the only game in town, let alone on Saint Denis St., Caltabiano wants to foster a unique gaming community at the store, where everyone can gather for tournaments or fun in the game room. “There are bars that do the same thing, but it’s not very family friendly” he says, “[alcohol] is the moneymaker but we’re not in it for that.”
Many of the players around the tables at Chez Geeks are teenagers playing and Caltabiano believes the audience and market for board gaming in Montreal is growing. One reason for this, he says, is the number of shops opening up, increasing the chances of getting curious window shoppers in the door.
While board games do seem to be in the midst of a pop culture renaissance, Caltabiano is worried about the future. Not because games aren’t selling, but because the Office Québécois de la Langue Française wants to tell him how to sell his games.
To date Chez Geeks has received three warnings from the OQLF, the most recent coming in Feb. 2015.
Caltabiano freely complies with the well-known stipulations of Bill 101, conducting transactions in French or English, as the customer requires, and the signage out front exceeds requirements, being in French only.
Co-owner Giancarlo Caltabiano spoke to CBC expressing frustration about the warnings, thoroughly discrediting the first two (signage and language of service) and throwing up his hands to the third and final stipulation: not stocking English-only games.
When asked about this, Luca Caltabiano said many popular games are made in United States with with no French version, or at a considerable markup, so it isn’t feasible to stock the modified French versions.
All the uncertainty doesn’t stop the fun at Chez Geeks though. There was a healthy Sunday afternoon crowd of regulars in the game room. “I’d still be at home playing with my cousin, not knowing the rules,” said a young patron when asked what he would be doing if Chez Geeks wasn’t around.
But perhaps good things come in threes. Despite the pile of warnings from the OQLF, the Caltabiano brothers are hard at work breathing life into the local gaming scene with a kickstarter campaign to fund their second board game. Their creation, Street Kings, is a wordless racing-themed game that requires no advanced knowledge of French or English, and is designed and playtested right here in Montreal.
The French language is worth protecting, but it can’t be protected without cultivating culture, and you can’t cultivate anything in harsh conditions. Quebecers will get the games they want regardless of which official language they’re in, and if they buy games from Chez Geeks Quebec culture is still strengthened.
After all, Amazon.com doesn’t host Pokémon tournaments for the neighbourhood kids.