I was terribly sad to hear this week that a well-loved stalwart of many a UK gaming con, Keith Rapley, had passed away. I’d spent time with him, and lovely wife Mary, at events such as LoBsterCon, SorCon and HandyCon over the years. He’ll be greatly missed.
I’m not sure I’d be comfortable calling him ‘friend’. We spoke and played together on many occasions, but always at gaming conventions. We never had a bad word, yet I couldn’t tell you where he lived, what he’d done in life (I’d heard he was an accomplished academic), or anything else non-game related.
But at the same time, he felt more than an ‘acquaintance’. I’d smile when Keith walked into the main gaming room of a con, always started up a chat, and invariably enjoyed my plays with him. He had an infectious manner and a sharp wit that was easy to be carried along by. Sure, he played pretty slowly – but he often played very well. And as another slow player, it’s nice to share the blame with someone else at the table!
The gamer’s greeting
I guess that’s often the way with gamers. There are people I’ve known for more than a decade I fall immediately into conversation with the few times each year I see them. Conversations invariably begin with the typically polite, “How are you? Hope all’s well” etc. Then, after a brief awkward pause it’s, “So, played anything good recently?” Then the conversation begins to flow.
It’s a mutual understanding that while the feelings for each other go deeper than the usual ‘acquaintance’ level, we’re there to feed our shared addiction. And when we head our separate ways at the end of the weekend, we’ll do it in the knowledge we’ll look forward to seeing each other again – at the next gaming weekend.
For these reasons, I was surprised quite how hard the news of Keith’s passing hit me. As Sarah said to me yesterday, sometimes its simply the fact of realising that person isn’t on the earth anymore. You’ll never see them again. It’s a reminder of our mortality and of all those other things we push to the back of our minds so we can get out of bed in the morning. That’s part of it, sure. But it was more than that.
A sociable gamer
I’ve spoken before here about anxiety. About how, as I move further through life, I struggle more in social situations such as gaming cons. What I tend to do now is line up as many things as possible beforehand: arrange a whole morning or afternoon with a particular group or other couple (if Sarah is around). I rarely play with strangers, as I find the initial stages very difficult.
Keith was the model social/con gamer. He’d wander the hall, looking/asking about games he’d pass; or asking to join if there was a spare space and people were about to get underway. I saw him play all kinds of things. And you just knew it was thanks to a deep love of the hobby, and everything that came with it. He oozed an ardour but also a level of inclusivity many younger gamers could learn from – not something many expect to find in the older generation. No cynicism: just wide-eyed, boyish enthusiasm.
And he showed age wasn’t a barrier to cons. Friends and I have often joked we’ll all end up in the same nursing home, gaming together and having the time of our retired lives. Thanks to him though, I’ll know I can comfortably keep attending conventions – and playing with people of all ages and walks of life – for as long as I can still role a dice. As I push 50, that’s a thoroughly uplifting and comforting thought.
The last few times I’d seen Keith, he’d looked conspicuously, disproportionately older. There’d been a clear physical change in his appearance and he didn’t look as steady on his feet. But when you sat down with him to play, that glint was still very clearly in his eye – and his impish smiling and joking were very much in evidence.
The last game we played together was Tales of Glory, at SorCon back in February. He joined a table of five of us as one of three players needing a rules explanation. I’m pretty sure Keith slept through most of the rules, and the game ended up being twice as long as it should’ve because of it. I didn’t mind at all – it was still great fun and meant I could be slow without getting all the blame. And despite spending half the time trying to work out what the hell was going on, Keith still won a tight game on 57 points.
My most enduring memory will be from a LobsterCon a good few years ago. There were only four or five tables playing games in a smaller room, several of which had become quite boisterous. But in one corner sat Rocky and Keith, learning the rules to boxing card game Jab. Keith was asking questions, obviously having to raise his voice over the din (he was a very well spoken man).
For a second, all the noisy tables happened to quieten at once. And cutting through the silence came Keith’s eloquent voice [sic]: “So what you’re saying is, I can just punch you in the face?” Rocky is a proper salt-of-the-earth lad, which made it even funnier. The whole room fell about laughing.
RIP Keith x (Posted with the consent of his wife, Mary)