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Discovering Gifts Through Loss: Remembering Brian “Big Mac” McCarthy of Indie Boards & Cards

It isn’t often that we learn lessons from people that we never personally knew. Sure we can look back on history and be inspired by some of the great leaders and unsung heroes of our world. But what about on a more local, close-to-home level? How many times are we enlivened and encouraged by a complete stranger? For me this happened recently while scrolling aimlessly through Facebook as I stumbled across a post with a picture of a delightful-looking bearded man, arms stretched out to his sides welcoming folks to his convention booth. This was Brian “Big Mac” McCarthy of Indie Boards & Cards. This photo seemed to sum up Brian’s life well.

Brian passed away on March 12, 2019, and while I never knew Brian personally, I was greatly moved by the outpouring of comments and interactions. Whenever I hear about someone’s passing I wonder how they spent their last days and about the lives they changed. As a person of faith, I think about the purpose God had for their life. With Brian being so involved in the gaming scene and because of the many years I’ve spent doing outreach in the gaming community, I was touched by his passing. I not only wanted to identify Brian’s gifts and find a way to absorb them, but also pass them on to the many people that never had a chance to encounter him. My search for information led me to Nick Little, Vice President of Production & Development for Indie Game Studios, who was kind enough to take some time and talk with me about Brian.

Let his example of inclusivity, love, kindness, approachability, and compassion motivate us all to love ourselves, laugh a lot, and step out and welcome another person, no matter what.

Welcoming, kind, compassionate; these were just a few of the many words that Nick used to remember his best friend of nearly two decades. Nick and Brian, like many of us, met over playing games. Magic: The Gathering, in fact. One game of Magic sparked a future of laughs, appreciation, and friendship. Brian and Nick were not the conventional career types. It was always a dream of Brian to work in the gaming industry, so it didn’t take much convincing for Nick to hire him on to his existing company, Action Phase Games, which was later bought out by Indie Boards & Cards, with Brian being a part of that acquisition.

Brian’s infectious laugh was just one of the characteristics that made him approachable and easy to trust, something that Nick remembers well.

Brian would always look at prototypes and take the time to talk to someone about their game or play their game. Even if it was not a game for us, or it was unpolished, he would always take time to give them feedback and encouragement to help lead them in the right direction.

Nick recalled how his best friend always wanted people to feel welcome and included. “Talking to people at his funeral, a lot of people had those stories of wandering into a game store and not knowing anyone, hearing him giggle, then he would turn around to introduce himself and invite us to play a game.”

It was obvious how Brian impacted not only the gaming community, but most everyone he met. “A bunch of us friends got together shortly after he passed and we started realizing how many of us knew each other through him and how he connected people to other people like him.” It was this profound comment Nick made that resonated with me the most. I started considering the countless connections we form in life and about all the ways we bring joy to people simply through our existence. We can’t always comprehend it, but every life has value and contributes joy in some way.  

As humans, it’s important to confront our mortality, not in a grim way, but in a way that keeps us humble. Surely we shouldn’t go around dwelling on our limited days, however, our days on earth are numbered and we should be seeking out ways to maximize our time. Brian maximized his. He was compassionate and kind and wanted everyone to feel like they belonged. As nerds of some form, we all know what it’s like to feel marginalized, teased, and disregarded for the things we love. But it’s people like Brian who help us embrace who we are and build a like-minded community.  

I figured there’s a good chance that if I’m not going to be the one to approach someone who appears to be lonely, no one will. When I feel that urge to initiate with someone who looks like they might need a friend, I really should be better about taking that first step to say hello. Even Nick realized that he needed to work on this about himself:

I need to be better about being that welcoming person that he was. I would let the long days get to me and get impatient, but I need to remember how he was always able to put a smile on his face for somebody and be there for them and include them. . . .  There’s always someone that can do something better than you can do it so if you can take the time to figure out how to improve yourself by learning from them, then I think that’s what becoming a better person is all about.

There’s a lot of lies that I tell myself when it comes to approaching people. I say things like, ‘they probably want to be left alone.’ or ‘I will just come off as creepy’ But then I wonder… have I ever even tried? I believe that when we don’t approach people it’s sometimes because we haven’t fully embraced the unique and beautiful person that God has made us to be. We’re not confident in what we can bring to the lives of others enough to allow another person to experience it.

… it’s people like Brian who help us embrace who we are and build a like-minded community.

I’m sure Brian, just like the rest of us, struggled with how he’d approach people. But the big difference between him and myself is that he did it. We live like we have all the time in the world. We don’t. Nothing wrong with taking a vacation, but what is your purpose? What are your gifts? What can you uniquely offer into a person’s life? For me, I believe that striving to use my gifts for the benefit of others should flow out the grace I have received, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s grace.”

Looking back on Brian’s life is a challenge to each of us to take self inventory and open ourselves up to positive change. We don’t always get second chances, and we may not always have the same openings to approach a person. Why wait? Even though you never knew Brian “Big Mac” McCarthy, remember him. Let his example of inclusivity, love, kindness, approachability, and compassion motivate us all to love ourselves, laugh a lot, and step out and welcome another person, no matter what.

Chris is a board game designer and reviewer. His reviews can be found on Winter Moon Games on YouTube. His first board game is called Pandemonium Estate—follow the game's development on Facebook at @PandemoniumEstateGame and on Twitter at @VergeMansion.

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