Here I am at home, recovering from another trip to the Best Four Days in Gaming. That’s right, I was able to attend my fourth GenCon in Indianapolis this year. It was an amazing experience to say the least, and probably my favorite con attendance ever to say the most. Let me tell you a little bit about why, and maybe I can make you even more jealous than you already are.
First off, as I said, this is my fourth time attending this amazing gaming Mecca. My first year happened in 2010 when I was unemployed and had spent lots of my time helping a local game store owner open his first shop. As a thank you, he gave me a badge to the con that he had received in a package from Alderac Entertainment Group(AEG). My wife, knowing how much it would mean to me to go, performed a harrowing feat of budget fu and made it possible to make the two hour trek to Indianapolis for the convention. My sister in law helped by allowing us to take her car, as it was in much better shape than any vehicle we had, and much more reliable.
That first year was filled with awe and wonderment, but I barely had time to even scratch the surface of the convention. I spent nearly 100 percent of my time in the Vendor Hall with my lovely wife demoing games, checking out new releases, ogling at all the awesome gaming paraphernalia and periphery. My wife is not a gamer, but she loves me more than I deserve and she stood by my side all day as I gushed over things and she merely smiled. She knew this was what made me happy and she would endure as long as I was satisfied. I honestly think her favorite part was watching all the people, and finally realizing I wasn’t as big of a dork as she always thought I was. We left at the end of that day and headed home, and while my smile stretched ear to ear I felt… incomplete. I knew there was more that I could have seen and experienced and my trip felt in a way unfinished. I vowed then to make it back the following year and take in everything the con had to offer.
In 2011 I did make it back to the shining metropolis of Indianapolis, Indiana. However, even after a brief stint as a working man, I still found myself among the unemployed. So again, I could only make the trip for a single day. This time I got my badge as a result of this very blog and Mr. Stu Venable who graciously allowed me to be their press correspondent at the convention. With preplanned questions, itinerary, and camera in hand my wife dropped me off at the Indiana Convention Center on the corner of South Capitol Street and Maryland Avenue. This year she intended to go shopping with her sister while I went to the con. I stood there staring at the brick facade liberally peppered with gleaming glass windows, and smiled. I was back, and it was finally time to feel whole and satiated.
I immediately made my way to stand in front of the doors of Hall J where I knew the Paizo booth stood, and I waited as the minutes crept by slowly. When the clock finally reach the ten oclock hour the doors opened and the rush began. I, and hundreds upon hundreds of others rushed through the doors. Where they went in search of ways to throw money at this mammoth beast of gaming retail, I went in search of journalistic plunder. I interviewed person after person, gathering loads of gaming tidbits from industry insiders and outsiders alike. I dug deep into the steaming entrails of the beast I had just entered and came away with loads of great story material. I again left, and with the glittering glass of the convention center fading from view in the car mirrors I sighed. I still felt unsatisfied. I had attended the country’s largest game con for the second year and still felt as if I was missing something. I wrote my articles, and answered questions about the trip all the while feeling empty.
When 2012 rolled around I was finally gainfully employed and making decent money again. So this was the year I would go to GenCon for the full four days and finally be happy. My wife and I planned intricately our trip. We were too late to get a room in the GenCon housing block so we got a room about 30 minutes outside of the city. Knowing we’d be driving in every day on top of the two hour drive to the city we opted to rent a car. I had a full weekend’s badge, my wife opted just for the Saturday badge. She even signed up for a few events, albeit non-gaming related ones.
I’m a roleplayer at heart, don’t get me wrong I love board games and card games, and just about any other kind of game there is, but roleplaying is where it all started and where I will always be happiest. So my events were almost completely rpg oriented. I planned a few old standbys, some new games to try, and I even dipped my toes into Indie gaming at the urging of Christopher Stone-Bush(HyveMynd on the internets). I was completely unprepared for the outright exhaustion of my plans. By midday Saturday I was completely spent. I found myself sitting on a bench outside of the vendor hall talking to my wife about my next event and falling asleep mid-sentence. We left the convention early that day, me even sacrificing the ticket cost of two events because I was just too tired to consider staying. Back at the hotel I sleepily ate some dinner and crashed into my incredibly soft pillow. The next morning we woke up and went directly home, bypassing the fourth day entirely. On the drive home I felt much better than I had before but still felt wrong somehow. Over my three trips I had seen so many things, met so many people, played so many games, and experienced so many things. What could possibly be missing?
This year we planned early. My sister in law gave us the money for our badges as a birthday gift to me way back in January. We got in on the hotel registration fiasco and were able to get a room at our top choice of the Hyatt which connects via skywalk directly to the convention center. Every month we set aside money that went into the fund for GenCon 2014. I scheduled events in June, as did my wife. She had a friend who was also attending with her significant other and was just as excited this time as I was.
This year was different for me. I injured my knee back in December and haven’t really been the same since. My knee has near constant soreness and stiffness and has sucked away so much of my stamina to the point that I need to rest after only a few yards of walking. Worried that this would ruin my trip I at one point begged my wife to just cancel everything and we would skip this year’s trip. She acquiesced reluctantly but it didn’t matter. After pre-registration ends, you are no longer able to get badge refunds. I wasn’t about to tell my sister in law that the money she gave me for a birthday gift was wasted because I was too fat for the con. So instead I bought a travel stool and gritted my teeth for the agony that was to come.
Knowing my limitations I made my schedule very open. Giving me ample time to get from place to place with multiple rest stops in between. On day one my only event was actually in the very same hotel we were staying at so that made things very easy. On day two we had one event at 8am together which we actually never made it to because well… 8am. Instead after a lengthy walk with multiple stops we finally found a bench in the middle of a major thoroughfare and we watched. That was when I realized what I had been missing at my previous con experiences. The people. The people at GenCon are amazing. If you ever get the chance to go do not schedule every minute of your experience. Take the time to sit and watch the people around you. Its amazing what you will see.
I game a lot at my FLGS, not as much as I would like, but a good amount. I have met many people there over the last few years. A lot of these people I rarely see in our town of a few hundred thousand people. Yet in an hour of sitting on a bench at a convention of 60,000 attendees I can see these people and so many others that I recognize. I saw Wil Wheaton twice, spoke with Zee Garcia from The Dice Tower, ran into many listeners of Happy Jack’s RPG Podcast, Matt “Harry Dresden” Merback of Dresden Files Fan Filming, Jim Butcher, Teri the miniatures wargaming correspondent on Geek and Sundry, John Wick, Mike Selinker, and so many more. I got to see cosplay up close, take pictures, chat with my fellow gamers that I had never before met, and just really revel in my community. This year we planned to only stay until Saturday after our issues last year and while I think it was for the best I couldn’t help but feel sad when we left. I didn’t feel unfulfilled though, just sad to say goodbye to my now good friend.
My new good friend has gotten very large though, and quite popular. At times it felt as though GenCon didn’t have time for me, and I’m not sure how that will affect our friendship in the future. Only time will tell. For now though, just remember to take your time if you ever get to a big convention and experience your people. Its the best part of gaming.