Rolling towards acceptance: A game store’s journey creating community in Eastern Kentucky

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When Alex Salisbury opened Kaiju Games in 2019, he was reigning Kentucky Bourbon Bears Cub and “Community Dad” just looking to create a space for friends to game. Opening a niche store in a small community is risky enough, but Salisbury seemingly had both the will and the way. And it has paid off.

Alex Salisbury opened Kaiju Games in 2019

Rather than move to a larger market with a more established clientele, Alex decided to open Kaiju in Morehead. It’s the place where he loved, the place where he grew up, and — most importantly for him — the place that needed a game shop the most. After witnessing the effects that addiction can take on a community, having a late night sober space was vital to him. Salisbury said he was turned off by the club culture he saw in queer circles while also loving evening hangs with friends. He established Kaiju as a space open to all until the wee hours—sometimes even playing until 2am.

“In the end, I decided that I wanted to build the community I never had growing up and that my [former life] would have never given me. [I wanted to be] the support for people in Kentucky who weren’t the cis white males that always had a [place at the] table and for the people who couldn’t afford to participate in hobbies or anything else that would keep them clean and out of all the places they shouldn’t be.”

Traditionally, gaming is depicted as a cis, white male hobby. Players are straight, nerdy, wear glasses as if they were somehow a negative personality trait. And, yet, true to form, the tables are often turned in real life.

Kaiju in Morehead

Gaming has a long-standing, but often underground, history within queer culture. It’s an easily accessible, sober, community-based experience. In many ways, it highlights the familial mentality that we hold so deeply. Sitting around a table talking, play fighting, and challenging each other is about as queer as it gets.

Kaiju Games has capitalized on this mentality in the most beautifully un-capitalistic way. Their practice of turning a blind eye to any entry fee that can’t be paid, of spending just as much time talking as selling, of gathering things for anyone in need—these are the reasons this small town game shop has survived.

“At the end of the day I’m here to give everybody that sense of belonging, community, and care that I never had. I want to be the person they can come see at 1 in the morning when things aren’t going as planned and for them to know that I’ll always have a place to keep them fed, warm, safe, and out of harm’s way if they need it.”

Shortly before the pandemic hit, Alex stared a program, Roll for Acceptance, to encourage and invite queer, BIPOC, neurodivergent, and any who wouldn’t traditionally feel comfortable in a gaming space to come and learn. To come and commune. Alex’s main mission was to create a safe place within his community, one where anyone who needed acceptance had a place at the table.

As someone nuerodivergent himself, Alex started the program as a reaction to what he saw as a lack of space or inclusion in the worlds he bounced between. He asked himself, “What makes me uncomfortable? What makes me feel better? How can I apply that reflection and self care to my players and be more aware?”

“I always grew up hearing that home was where was the heart is and that in Kentucky, your family can be anywhere. Well, I want to be the heart of the community and do best to show people that even if it’s late, and even if you’ve never been here before, you’ve got a home and a friend at Kaiju Games and with me. I may not have a front porch but it doesn’t mean I can’t keep the door open and the lights on.”

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