As long as I’ve been alive, I’ve always considered myself to be a bit of a nerd. I’ve always been playing different video and board games, and I’ve always had my nose in some fantasy or sci-fi novel. During my teens, I went through an anime phase that involved many a late night of watching Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network (back when Adult Swim had anime on it to begin with…). But despite all that, nothing could prepare me for the event simply known as “Gen Con”.
Now, growing up, I knew of Gen Con. My family and I would hear about it every year when it came to Indianapolis, and generally it wouldn’t take too long before my parents (mostly my mom) would start making fun of it and its attendees. After all, her friend’s brother, who’s very, very strange (and that’s putting it nicely) was a regular attendee, so surely everybody who went must have something wrong with them, right? What normal, sane individual would go up to Indianapolis and hang out with a bunch of nerds all weekend?
Well, how about almost 36,000 individuals? That’s how many people attended Gen Con last year, and my guess is that that number has only grown for this year. I finally got a chance to go this year, and I have to say, I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Set in the Indiana Convention center, Gen Con is a four day even that encompasses anything and everything that’s considered “nerdy”. You got your steampunk, your anime, your sci-fi and your fantasy. You have your card games, your board games, your miniatures and even some video games. You can see giants of the industry there, like Wizards of the Coast or Fantasy Flight Games, and just a couple of booths over you can see a small group of friends who’ve created a game by themselves, just trying to make an impact in the industry and to make a name for themselves.
While I first got up to Indianapolis on Thursday, by the time I got my badge the exhibit hall was closed. But, just because that one section of the convention was closed for the day that doesn’t mean that everyone had to go home! Many of the big gaming halls, where people could play against other individual in various board games and TCG games were still open, and would be open all weekend. However, my compatriots and I didn’t hit that up as we had another event in mind: the Wizards of the Coast Keynote speech. I have to admit, despite having to start half an hour late, Wizards did a really good job with their keynote, and though they only talked about what’s going on in D&D Next, you got a feeling from what they were saying that “everything is going to be alright”. Many people know of the missteps Wizards took when it came to releasing their 4th edition of D&D, and they don’t seem to keen on repeating those mistakes. The company made sure to stress that D&D Next will not be coming out anytime soon, as they want to have as close to a perfect product as possible when it is finally released.
That giant keynote, with its glitz and glamor, was just the tip of the iceberg for me. When I arrived at Gen Con the next morning, with Raine and his wife Kae, that’s when I got the true experience. Remember when I said that at least 36k people showed up last year? You can definitely believe it, as it was about as crowded as it could be in the exhibit hall from open to close all day long. There’s only been one place I’ve ever been to in my life that’s more crowded, and that was at the Taste of Chicago that I went to a few years ago. There, everybody was literally on top of everyone else, and had I not left my wallet at my friends house that day, I would have been pickpocketed 20 times over. Thankfully, as I’ve said Gen Con wasn’t quite that crowded, but it’s still not a place for people who have anxiety issues in large crowds. Despite the crowds, I did manage to get around without too much difficulty, and before long I had made a huge convention rookie mistake.
That’s right folks, I bought way too much stuff way too early. It didn’t help that my girlfriend wanted me to get her favorite author Patrick Rothfuss to sign a couple of her large, hard-covered books, but I still take full responsibility with the sheer amount of stuff I purchased. Before 11:30 had hit, I ended up purchasing the newest game from Fantasy Flight Games, the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game. Despite the sheer amount of tokens and cards that come with the game, it’s actually really quite simple to play. Later on, I’ll be doing a full review of the game, but here’s a bit of a spoiler for the review: it’s good, really really good.
Another new game that I ended up purchasing was the card game “Cards Against Humanity”. Now, it’s quite similar to Apples to Apples, but this game is meant to be quite raunchy. For instance, when Raine, Kae, and myself were playing later that night the card that was drawn said “Lifetime presents _________, the story of ________.” I proceeded to answer it with Grandma, and Natural Male Enhancement. This definitely isn’t a game for kids. If you like what you hear about it, though, you can always check out their website here.
As the day went on, I made a few more purchases (some t-shirts, and some Magic boosters), but nothing else of note really happened. Saturday, however, is where I saw the true spirit of Gen Con. It isn’t about the shops selling (sometimes) overpriced items, but rather, in the end it’s the camaraderie. I got to participate in a special D&D Next roundtable discussion/playtest (which I will be writing about later this week), and while I only knew these people for at most a couple of hours, we instantly bonded because of a shared passion: gaming. I exchanged business cards with them, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to soon talk with them again. During the convention, I saw the “weird” people all dressed up in costumes, and groups of people would gather around to take pictures and to interact with them. At one point I saw a guy dressed as Deadpool attempt to answer some riddles from another random guy dressed as the Riddler. In the hallway I saw a guy dressed up as Chewbacca, though he was on stilts, and I also saw a little kid, probably no older than 3 or 4 dressed up as a Jawa. There were plenty of Klingons, Doctor Who’s, and more Stormtroopers than you can shake a stick at. Perhaps one of my favorite interactions, however was a jovial guy dressed up as Doctor Who who had a fully functional Dalek that he interacted with. The only bad thing about this interaction was the sourpuss who started yelling “IT’S JUST A STUPID ROBOT COME ON MOVE IT”. I can assure you, however, that he was perhaps the loneliest man in the convention if he was trying to break up one of the best displays I’ve ever seen.
So, despite spending way too much money this weekend, being absolutely sore, and probably getting some sort of illness, I had fun. I got to meet tons of new people, some I’ve exchange cards with, others who we talked in line for a few minutes before going our separate ways. I got to talk to authors and do silly things with them, like take a “sexy” picture for my girlfriend. I played games with their designers, and got to see the pride and joy they have when they see a group of people who seem to love their game as much as they do. In the end, I’ll always remember the faces and the smiles of Gen Con, and I’m already looking forward to next year. If you’ve never been to Gen Con, or any convention for that matter, take my advice: don’t be afraid to try something different. You’ll see tons of games and people here, and it does you no good to limit yourself to just one thing. Broaden your horizons, and try out some games you’ve never heard before. If you like it, great, tell your friends! If you don’t like it, then hey, better luck next time, right? After all, 36k people can’t be wrong, eh?