For Curtis Cargill, his fondest childhood memories are of games and creative pursuits. Along with building with LEGOs, he gave his G.I. Joes and other action figures custom paint jobs and playing tabletop games with his older brother, Otto.
Given this game-loving start, it's no surprise both Cargills were fast fans of Warhammer 40,000 when they found it at a tabletop gaming convention in Oklahoma.
Introduced in the 1980s, Warhammer 40K is a a British, futuristic wartime, tabletop miniatures game similar to Risk and Dungeons and Dragons — but with more rules and expensive and necessary game pieces. Its unique nature attracts both hobbyists and gamers alike.
Curtis Cargill, 33, is drawn to the hobby aspect; painting his figurines reminds him of when he would customize his G.I. Joes. Except it's on hard mode: These figurines can be as small as paper clips and as detailed as a Faberge egg.
Coming home from his day job as an assistant at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, Cargill finds it relaxing to hone his skills without the pressure of creating a original artwork.
"After work, I paint for an hour or two, I'm focused and I get into the zone," Cargill said. "And the rest of the world melts away."
More than anything, it's a way for him to spend time and catch up with his brother, as one game can take hours to play. The bonding power that Warhammer 40K has isn't exclusive to the Cargills — players regularly travel from Visalia and the California Hot Springs to play this game at Otto's Video Games and More.
Although there are other stores who sell the game pieces, Otto's is the only local store with sectioned-off tables and tournaments dedicated to the game. That commitment has helped players find a spot to gather and game.
"It's amazing what he's done with the store," Cargill said of his brother. "People can come and create new friendships and bonds."
One of those players is Anthony O'Dell, 27, who was introduced to the game when he saw his platoon sergeant looking up the figurines online while overseas in Afghanistan. O'Dell poked fun at his sergeant for being interested in glorified action figures, but eventually the mocking turned to interest for the self-described nerd at heart.
Requiring a strong knowledge of tactics, the game appeals to those in the military like O'Dell.
"I started playing with colonels and sergeants in North Carolina, when I got back," O'Dell said.
Now a dedicated fan of what he calls "plastic crack," O'Dell is fully invested, having spent about $10,000 in Warhammer 40K paraphernalia and associated tournaments since starting four years ago.
Unlike Cargill, O'Dell isn't into the hobby aspect and airbrushes most of his figurines. At one point, he was more competitive, but said the game serves as a way to relax from life's daily pressures.
"It does help you escape from reality," O'Dell said. "There was a time where I was playing three times a week and able to think of other things."
O'Dell said he could play at home, even though it would take up an enormous amount of space in his kitchen, but everyone in Warhammer 40K community is like a brother to him.
"For me, it's the memories of being in the military and playing some Warhammer and drinking some beer," O'Dell said.
The Warhammer 40K community that has developed at Otto's extends to real-life events like birthdays. Player Pierce Dawson, 22, centered his birthday celebration last year around the game. Dawson currently lives with his grandparents, helping them with their daily routines, so Warhammer 40K is his social life.
"You can definitely overplay it and become obsessive," Dawson said. "But when done right, it can be a great stress reliever."
Both Dawson and O'Dell said that the stigma behind 40K is that it's male-dominant and can be ultra competitive. Nonetheless, the community at Otto's is much more tame and accepting than that.
Keith Martinez, 26, another player at the game store, said his wife is now getting into the game.
The two scold each other when one comes home with a new figurine.
"She used to ask me, 'How much did you spend?' But now the tables have turned," Martinez said.