The development of a highly contagious global pandemic threw an unexpected spanner into the works of the ASL world this spring, causing a number of ASL tournaments and informal get-togethers to be canceled around the world. While some have resorted to VASL to get their ASL fix in, other players have now found themselves spending more time playing other games with suddenly homebound children. Or other activities altogether, such as finding toilet paper.
While we all ought to be grateful that the pandemic does not have a fatality rate like SARS or, even worse, Ebola, it’s bad enough. As I write, the number of dead in the U.S. in just a few months is 39,115, while the European death toll has surpassed 100,000 (and the true numbers are likely higher still for both). Even for those who survived the coronavirus, all too many people have had to be on respirators, have had trips to the hospital, or have suffered for up to weeks at home. I have one friend who had a “moderate” case of Covid-19 who was in the hospital twice, was extremely sick for weeks, and still has not fully recovered. It’s nasty.
For health and work reasons, I was unable to attend the Winter Offensive ASL tournament in Bowie, Maryland, in January 2020. It was my first no-show in the nearly 20 years I had been going. Naturally, this has made me look forward to the other big tournament I regularly attend, ASLOK, held each year in Cleveland, Ohio, in early October. That’s nearly half a year away, but it’s an open question as to whether or not ASLOK will be held–or whether it should be held, or whether people should attend. And it’s not just ASLOK. From ASL tournament directors to ASL players organizing “play days” with their local friends, the question of the coronavirus should loom heavily over decisions that people make for themselves or others in the coming months.
As the Covid-19 “curve” flattens around the world, and infection and death rates go down, different countries will slowly begin re-opening themselves, gradually emerging from the restrictions imposed to protect people from the pandemic. In the United States, it will be on a state by state basis. In an ideal world, lockdowns would last as long as possible, but we don’t live in an ideal world, and lockdowns put considerable strains on economies and societies. Though there will be variations, and different strategies, generally speaking re-openings will be slow ones. Few societies are going to say, “Well, it’s over, whew, back to normal.”
Societies with widespread testing will be the easiest to reopen. The United States, sadly, is nowhere even close to widespread testing. In Ohio, for example, where I live, less than 1% of the state’s population has currently been tested for the virus. This means that, for practical purposes, we have no idea who in Ohio may or may not have the virus. Thus planners have to assume that anyone may have it. Which means that social distancing guidelines such as staying six feet apart are likely to remain in the workplace, as well as other places such as restaurants. In some areas, temperature checks may be required for people to return to work or engage in certain other activities. Widespread testing would make all of this easier, as would widespread antibody testing, once that is developed, but most places in the U.S., and many other places where ASL is played, are simply not there yet.
And we should remind ourselves that ASL is a game in which people sit facing each other for hours just two to three feet apart, all the time touching the same objects (and Covid-19 can remain active on cardboard for 24 hours). ASL is an activity almost designed to transmit the virus. I, like many ASL tournament goers, have caught colds, sinus infections and other bugs from time to time thanks to playing ASL. I, like many people, have groaned when a sniffling, coughing person has sat down across me at the gaming table to play the next scenario in the mini. “Why would you come to an ASL tournament when you are sick,” I can’t help but silently bemoan, but at the same time I realize that many people plan for months and may travel hundreds or even thousands of mile to go to a tournament like ASLOK, and the thought of giving all that up (including the money spent on air fare, hotel, etc.) because of a last minute cold must be agonizing to people. So some show up. Only now, it might not be just a cold, it might be Covid-19.
We also ought to keep in mind the population that plays ASL. The average age of an ASL player is probably mid-to-late middle age, which means that a substantial number of ASL players fall into the Covid-19 vulnerable category just on the basis of age–leaving aside other conditions, such as diabetes, heart problems, lung problems, etc. The ASL community is, collectively, not exactly the sort of community likely to come through coronavirus infections unscathed. And, of course, every ASLer has other people–family, friends, coworkers–whom they might transmit the disease to, if infected.
So the question for people organizing ASL events is when or even whether to start having them again. In some places, continued social gathering restrictions may not make it possible for some time to come. But given that some states in the U.S. really don’t seem to care if their citizens get the virus, there will no doubt be some states that more or less throw the gates open. But just because someone legally could hold an ASL event, does that mean one should?
Obviously, when and if a vaccine is developed, and people are able to be given it, all such decisions become easier. But experts tell us that’s likely a year away at best. There are currently some promising antiviral treatments in testing that may make it much easier to heal and treat people who become infected. If any of those turn out to truly work, and are able to be cheap and widespread, that may make decisions easier, too. And if antibody testing becomes widespread as well, that would be great, because if people showed up at an ASL event with proof they have antibodies, they are not likely to be infected by anybody, nor to be infected themselves.
In the absence of one or more of these things, the only other option might be to wait until so many people in the population have had the disease that a true herd immunity effect becomes demonstrable, rendering it much less likely that the remaining population are likely to have the disease transmitted to them. It’s not clear how long that would take and, even then, there would be some risk.
All of this goes to say that ASLers should not rush to organize, or to attend, ASL events, just because they legally can. Everybody has a responsibility to protect themselves, other ASLers, and anyone they come into contact with from the coronavirus. We have already seen instances where gatherings like funerals and conferences have resulted in extensive coronavirus spread. We need to make sure that it is not an ASL event that ends up in such headlines in the future. We owe it to each other and to everybody else.
Every ASLer is eager to once more see carnage on the cardboard battlefield again. But ASLers must be cautious, conservative, and responsible in “re-opening” ASL play, lest the casualties not be constrained to those engaged in fictional fighting.
John Mundie says
No truer words were written … but you should not have to say this.
I like to think ASL has a fairly high bar for entry: you have to be smart to play the game. Alas, intelligence is not always evidence of common sense.
You are just reinforcing what should be absolutely obvious, but it is very good you did. Thank you!
Roll low (when you next get the chance, whenever that may be!)
Nadir Elfarra says
As I understand our current information, taking a person’s temperature isn’t an effective screening method due to the frequency of asymptomatic infections that have been found recently. Short of an accurate test for the virus or antibodies, there is currently no way to know if someone is infected/contagious.
Gregg Wieland says
In the absence of any effective screening test, “Social Distancing” hand washing, etc. is the best method of not contracting or spreading the virus. This virus is not more deadly than any other virus in “modern times”. The death toll is still roughly 3% of those who contract the virus. What makes this virus so deadly is the rapidity with which it spread. It is highly contagious and easily contracted. No country’s government has been able to respond in a timely manner as they have in previous viruses, which happen about every two years. Thanks Mark for addressing this to our community
Lindsey Murillo says
I whole-heartedly concur. YOU can do everything right. It’s the “other guy” you have to worry about. You have no control over him, his spouse, or his kids. You don’t know if they’ve been exposed. A player will undoubtedly touch many of the same counters as his opponent, and touch is a primary method of transmission.
I am in the Danger Zone simply due to age, and I also have three of the “underlying conditions.” I’ll probably isolate until a vaccine is developed. I have plenty of other games on the shelf to solitaire. Heck, I might even have to learn VASL if i crave a ftf game.
Alan Findlay says
Nicely written and reasoned.
Some small edits:
“In an ideal world, lockdowns would last as long as possible, but we don’t live in an ideal”
“The average age of”
Second last paragraph
“We have already seen instances where gatherings like funerals and conferences”
Sam Belcher says
Very well put. I agree that we must act responsibly. And the fact that we play a complex game does not mean we all understand what that means in this environment.
Thank goodness for Rodney Kinny and the folks who work to support VASL. A tip of the hat to them, and to you, Mark. You provide a great service to this community.
John Farris says
Excellent commentary! If the graph ends up like the 1918 Spanish Flu the follow on spike comes in Sept-November. Yes… VASL is a way to bridge the gap till next spring or so.
Paul Synnott says
Great post – informed and full of common sense. It’s a pity that the Internet is so full of nonsense about this dangerous illness.
Peter Palmer says
Excellent points raised here, nit just for ASL but equally applying to my other gaming interests such as table top RPGs, board gaming and miniatures conventions and tournaments. I think we may have seen the high point of international tournament attendances and perhaps even the end of regional tournaments that had significant international travelling participants such as the Asia Pacific tournaments held in Siem Reap, Singapore, Chengdu and Manila.
I’m highly doubtful that NZ for instance will reopen its borders to foreign travel unless a quarantine period is enforced on all incoming travellers. That will almost undoubtedly mean the end of international travel for myself.
At least I can take part however in the various online tourneys for my tournament gaming fix, but i will certainly miss catching up in person with friends I have made through ASL. Coming to terms with the new normal is something I will struggle with in respect to ASL.
Tim Hundsdorfer says
Microwave counters for 5 minutes between turns.
Hi Mark, good points, I am 65, was very sick with heart and other problems from the tick bite 2 years ago so was being careful anyway, and was so looking forward to Albany this December but unless we have something to really battle the disease by then I’ll probable tell Joe and Steve I’ll take a rain-check and go next year after I get vaccinated. Better to be safe than sorry and VASL does make it much safer to play at this point, you stay safe and well, Vic from Dispatches.
I live in Canada, pretty much every event is cancelled and for the most part everyone here has become a cave dweller, which is the right thing to do. And if it stays that way life might get back to some kind of normal, but it is the idiots who do not that may cause this virus to rebound. I for one want this to be done right so we can get back to our lives, not have to rehash the isolation thing for another 3-6 months. So to everyone; stay safe, stay home we are all in this together, until then, play VASL, drink beer and enjoy your home, ROLL LOW AND PLAY ON!!!
Peter Shelling says
Two months in, and anyone in Ohio can now be tested:
Some progress, anyway.