I went to GenCon for the first time last year. It was an interesting, but amazing experience. This year I had the opportunity to attend the con in a completely different sort of role, the role of roving reporter. I was lucky enough to gain a press pass and to then use that pass to interview many people in the gaming industry. Ranging from actual developers like Shane Hensley(Pinnacle Entertainment Group/Savage Worlds), to podcasters like Jefferson Jay Thacker(Know Direction) and Michael Azzolino(Chronicles: The Pathfinder Podcast), and just regular old every day gamers like Josh Shrader(Dayton, OH). Doing this gave me a completely different experience than I had last year, and it also gave me some almost unique insight into the GenCon experience. I will write up the interviews and other articles soon, but first I have a few initial impressions/observations:
1. Gamers are by and large completely inconsiderate assholes.
2. Gamers are by and large incredibly kind and generous.
3. Fat guy feet are not made for GenCon.
4. Some people put a lot of loving attention into their costumes, and it shows.
5. Some people don’t put any attention into their costumes, and it shows.
6. Everyone wants to show you their game and then sell it to you.
7. Not everyone knows anything about the game they are showing you, or much else.
8. Wil Wheaton seems awesome, his guards however… not so much.
9. Lots of very expensive things to buy, some worth it but most not.
10. Slut factor 9 Mr. Sulu!
11. Many game designers are just as awkward and geeky as we are.
12. GenCon is a great place to meet cool people, even the ones you already know!
13. Stu is probably going to be a very happy person soon.
14. Gamers almost literally take over Indianapolis.
15. I can’t wait to go back again next year.
Now let me take a minute to explain some of these. “Gamers are by and large completely inconsiderate assholes.” What I mean by that is that on more than one occasion I saw people being absolutely and undeniably dickheaded to their fellow gamers. For example, during just about every interview that I conducted(which I videotaped instead of taking notes), I had multiple people just push their way in between the two of us without so much as a half hearted “oops” or “my bad.” Nothing. No consideration whatsoever. People abusing cosplayers(which I will be writing about in depth in a separate article), shoving past each other, screaming down a hallway to a friend, and so much more.
“Gamers are by and large incredibly kind and generous.” I saw many instances of amazing gamer generosity this weekend. It was incredible. I was coming up the escalator to the second floor, on my way to an interview when I saw someone crawling around on the ground picking things up and yelling “Sir! Sir! You dropped your pieces!” to someone going down the escalator. Asking what was up I started to help him pick up these little plastic purple bead looking things, he said that he noticed them falling out of the guy’s bag. Apparently they were parts to some mega popular game that I knew nothing about and that sold out in roughly two hours the first day of the con. The guy in question came back up the escalator, thanked us both profusely and then tried to pay us each $20 for picking up his pieces. We declined of course and he went on his merry way after getting a piece of duct tape from another fellow geek in the vicinity so that he could fix his bag. I saw people paying for other people’s games when they came up a few bucks short, I saw people giving away old copies of games, I even saw people giving away tickets to expensive events like True Dungeon.
“Fat guy feet are not made for GenCon.” I ran around all day, with barely more than thirty minutes of wasted time where I wasn’t on my way to do something, or trying to organize a time to meet with someone, or interviewing someone else. Being a fat guy, it took a very big toll on me. I do not recommend going to a big con like this for one day if you have a mission to accomplish. You will kill yourself. I promise you this.
“Some people put a lot of loving attention into their costumes, and it shows.” There were so many amazing costumes that I saw that were very well made, the minute detail that were included on some was astonishing. Cosplay is not something I could see myself being that into even I weren’t five eight and four hundred plus pounds, even though I am a crafty person. I do however, understand that gene that makes you want to make something absolutely the best way that you can. So these people I understand. The others though…
“Some people don’t put any attention into their costumes, and it shows.” If you’re going to wear a costume and don’t care enough to make it look even minutely good, why they hell are you bothering to wear a costume? Seriously. The guy who was wearing jeans, tshirt, cape, Thor helmet, and a plastic sledgehammer. The woman who was wearing what amounted to a prom dress and a foam ax. Ok, maybe that’s a thing and I’m not privy to it, but I doubt it. If very few people are asking to take your picture, there is probably a reason for it.
“Everyone wants to show you their game and then sell it to you.” No matter where you go there is always someone willing to teach you how to play a game, and they are usually very good at it. Excited by the game in a genuine way, and having a lot of fun in the process. They usually know everything there is to know about the game they are showing you. Its a great way to learn something new, and its usually a great way to get in on the ground floor with a cheaper price than normal.
“Not everyone knows anything about the game they are showing you, or much else.” Some of the bigger companies on the floor however, have lost sight of what it is that makes GenCon awesome. They are more interested in selling you more and more stuff at exactly the same price as you can get it at home. They also seem to employ a lot of people who don’t really know what they’re doing or what the company actually does. There were a few booths I went to and when I asked “Is there someone available that I can interview regarding product X?”, I was greeted with a blank stare and a confused “Uhhhhh.” Not good people, not good. GenCon is about marketing first, and you fail at that.
“Wil Wheaton seems awesome, his guards however… not so much.” Well from what I can tell, Wil Wheaton is a very awesome gentleman. My anecdote to support this goes a little something like this: I was meandering through the convention hall when I see Wil doing signings. I see someone show him a Tardis bag, and watch completely geek out over it. Later, when I am in line to get my copy of Fiasco signed by him the line gets unceremoniously stopped just two people in front of me and I am told that I will in no uncertain terms “be allowed to speak to Mr. Wheaton.” I then inform the large scary man in a kilt that I have a handmade chainmaille bag and die I would like Wil to have. He takes said gift walks it over and plops it next to Wil. He looks up at me smiles and says thank you, being incredibly gracious and awesome. Then said scary man ushers me away like the trash that I am as I call out over my shoulder that he is of course welcome, then the rest is drowned out by the sound of my face being smashed in repeatedly by a meaty fist. Ok, not really, but it sounded better that way.
“Lots of very expensive things to buy, some worth it but most not.” My lord a geek could go completely bankrupt in this place I swear. Just about anything that makes your little nerd heart squee with joy is represented here. I saw some downright amazing Harry Potter style wands that I wanted to get my chubby little fingers on, but I couldn’t bite at the forty dollar price tag. There were minis galore, roleplaying stuff, boardgaming stuff, dice out the ears, costume stuff, everything imaginable of geek interest. If I’d had a credit card with me, I might just be divorced this morning. Its that awesome.
“Slut factor 9 Mr. Sulu!” Women in geek circles are already an unusual and awkward thing. Most gamers don’t know what to do with a woman, literally. So when one comes around there is usually a lot of worship going on. There is almost always a girl who sees this as an opportunity to gain her own throng of slack jawed acolytes. (Again, something I intend to talk about more in depth in a later article) Take a con this size, and a girl can quickly quadruple her adoring horde. With the right slut factor of course. Now, those of us who have actually had sex before usually have the ability to not fall victim to such petty enchantments and can see these women for what they actually are. Little girls begging for someone to show them some attention. Its sort of the geek version of a porn star. “Daddy didn’t love me, so I’ll have fifty geeks lining up to lick my… boots.” Don’t get me wrong, most of the women don’t do this because they actually have standards. I do have to admit though, that three or four girls in what amounts to a string bikini or one or two in an ill fitting bodice with their huge tracts of land girded into multiple rolling hills can destroy the work of fifty to a hundred dignified ladies. And even the dignified ladies can run into trouble with gamers who don’t understand boundaries.
“Many game designers are just as awkward and geeky as we are.” A lot of the times I was interviewing people they seemed just as shy and reserved and totally geeky as we all tend to be. It was refreshing to see that these people do what they do because they love it, not because they happen to be the one percent of our demographic that can turn on the charm. They just love what they do and they are amazing at it.
“GenCon is a great place to meet cool people, even the ones you already know!” I can’t tell you how weird it is to show up to a convention like GenCon that has an overall attendance of more than fifty thousand people, and run into the people you game with at home. Repeatedly. Hey, I love my local gamers. I really do. But that’s just strange. And even more so, the people you only meet every year at GenCon. Even those people seem to be there everytime you turn your head.
“Stu is probably going to be a very happy person soon.” I don’t want to spoil the potential surprise, but let’s just say that I have it on good authority that Stu could be very happy in the future.
“Gamers almost literally take over Indianapolis.” My wife and sister in law went with me to the con, but didn’t actually attend. Instead they wandered the city visiting various places and shopping. I am told that no matter where they went, they ran into gamers wearing GenCon badges. Indianapolis become Gameropolis for four days every year. It is a thing of absolute beauty.
“I can’t wait to go back again next year.” My only caveat is that next year, no matter how I have to make it happen, I will go for more than one day. Even though I have now been twice and seen a lot, experienced the con from two decidedly different sides and enjoyed both to the utmost, I don’t feel I have really gotten a true experience. I have never gotten to even play in a single game at GenCon. Not a board game nor roleplaying game, I haven’t run anything, nor have I attended even a single panel. The one day approach, while valid, leaves you feeling rushed and unfulfilled. I feel like I’ve only tasted a small portion of what this gamer mecca has to offer, and for once this is one place where I am not on a diet.