So I was going to write about the serious Impostor Syndrome I’ve been experiencing lately in pretty much every aspect of my life, including con-related things, but then I figured the world really doesn’t need another melodramatic post about someone’s insecurities, so instead, how about a writeup of my first time at GenCon?
GenCon, which bills itself as “The Best Four Days in Gaming”, is a gaming convention (tabletop, RPGs, dice and card games, some computer games, and so on) that also encompasses a lot of sci-fi/fantasy enthusiasm: costuming, writing, crafting, etc. They have panels on everything from Pathfinder, WoW, and D&D, to writing urban fantasy, to make-and-take craft projects. This year GC had 180,000+ attendees over the course of the weekend and 56000+ unique attendees total, which makes it the biggest con I’ve been to by far (ACEN pulled almost 30000 unique attendees this year). I’ve also heard that GC is the second biggest moneymaker for the city of Indianapolis only after the Superbowl, and GC is an annual Indy event, so it may even be making more in the grand scheme of things. Take THAT, football!
I’ve never gone before mostly because I’m really not much of a gamer. My family tends to play really simple games like Hand and Foot, Cribbage, Scrabble, and Apples to Apples, and I haven’t been in a tabletop RPG since college (I played a French exchange student. Ask ThatGameGirl about my French accent. Suffice to say, it wasn’t always French. :P) I’m also one of those people who doesn’t like to invite herself to things, but this year desire not to feel left out trumped discomfort at inviting myself along, so I did. And I’m really glad I did!
Rather than give you a day-by-day rundown, I’m going to just talk about some of the big things, both in terms of importance and in terms of the differences between GC and the average anime convention.
NB: All photos watermarked Crash Bang Labs are, obviously, taken by Karmada, and are pulled from her writeup of GC, which can be read here.
Not all cons are well organized, and even the best can encounter glitches or unexpected swarms of people. ACEN 2011, I believe it was, was a nightmare for Will-call; I heard stories about people standing in line an entire day waiting to pick up their badge. Autograph signings and big industry panels are also places you find Big Lines, and sometimes people will stand in them for hours only to have the line cut off in front of them.
Not at GenCon. Karmada, her husband Aris, and Kristy from ThatGameGirl and I carpooled down Wednesday evening and arrived at the convention centre to get our stuff at about 10pm, because apparently they had Will-call open all night. Even at 10pm, the badge line was huuuuuge:
This is just a small fraction of it, but we climbed in at the end anyway and then realized no one had thought to bring along any form of entertainment. Except Karamda, whose 3DS batteries turned out to be dead. Whoooops. We were in the line, I dunno, maybe 15-20 minutes? It was incredible how fast it moved. They clearly have it down to a science (SCIENCE!): tons of stations open at Will-call with everyone working efficiently. Gold stars!
The con’s method of preventing line build-up during the con is to distribute tickets to their panels in advance, via their website. Want to attend a seminar on writing urban fantasy? Go to the GC website, find the writing panels, and get a ticket for the panel in question, then bring it to the panel and they let you in, no fuss. Some panels cost money (for supplies, or honoraria for the guests), but many are free. I’ll admit, I found this all terribly confusing at first since they have about 10 different panel types (seminars, workshops, “spouse activities” for the non-gamers, gaming, etc.) and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing, but once I got the hang of it it was really handy. An added bonus is that having your tickets with you means you can reference them at any time, so you won’t have trouble remembering when/where your panels are.
It turns out that most of Indy, or at least the part around the convention centre, isn’t afraid of geeks! They even had signs!
Many of the restaurants have themed menus for the weekend, and the priest at Mass said he and his fellow priests were gamers and had been attending the con (seriously, hearing that was one of my favorite parts of the con and it wasn’t even part of the con! Fr. Sean, you be awesome.). Bee Coffee Roasters across the street had quite possibly the best coffee I’ve had this side of the Mediterranean, as well as an awesome sign:
and Enterprise crew members brewing espresso:
I also got a free Bee Coffee die from them for filling out their special GenCon weekend punch card (yeah, I bought a loooot of coffee there):
(Bottom left; yes, that middle die really is that massive. AND PRETTY!)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there was a Colts game Saturday evening (is that football? I don’t even know…) and many of the “sports cosplayers” walked right past the con site. Most of them were completely floored, if the looks on their faces were any indication. I heard that one cosplayer was going around asking Colts fans for their photos. LOVE IT. Me, I snapped a few photos without asking:
Speaking of local stuff, how about some
Food trucks are AWESOME. Rather than getting stuck with overpriced hotel restaurants, or local places (which in downtown Indy are not a problem but at other cons are often too far away to walk to), we had our choice of an array of food trucks which pulled up along the curb across from the con centre. They rotated throughout the day — either two or three cycles (lunch, dinner, and maybe late-night dessert/snacks?), so we had a ton of variety. I had Indian twice (because I LOVE Indian) but from two different trucks, as well as a BLT, gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese, and an amazing ginger mango popsicle. Here’s a rather poor shot. The food trucks are running along the right side of the photo; the tasty Indian food is in the green truck:
They weren’t cheap, but I wouldn’t say they were overpriced, either. I think my Indian was around $8 or $9 and my mac ‘n’ cheese was similar. The desserts were kind of pricey, but I think that’s going to be the case anywhere. Anywhoo, food trucks, you need to come to ACEN! And other cons! FEED ME!
I mentioned the array of panels GC offers above, but just wanted to share a few that I went to. Not being a gamer, I stuck mostly with “spouse activity” and writing panels. SA panels are designed for spouses who don’t game but come along (or get dragged along!) anyway. I get the impression they’re mostly for women because they involve a lot of crafts (knitting, crochet, bookbinding), activities (yoga, how to dance Thriller (yes, really)) and tours of local Indy shops and markets, but both of my bookbinding panels had men in them, too. I learned two different forms of Coptic stitch binding from the owner of Indy Upcycle, one for hardback journals and one for leather. It was coooooool and I will be making more, because I somehow managed to acquire a surfeit of leather while making Kit’s sheaths.
Aside from those, which both cost money to cover the cost of supplies (leather, yo!), I went to a lot of writing panels. One on constructing realistic biospheres for your fantasy novel (plants!) and one on writing short stories, just to name two. I also ended up in a panel with guest author Jim Butcher for which I didn’t have a ticket — if there are open spots they will let extra people in on a first-come, first-served basis, and I managed to squeeze in and stood in the back because by that point, I was really sick of sitting on my tail and two swords. 😛 Which brings me to…
I’ll be honest, I was underwhelmed by the cosplay scene. I was expecting a lot of people to be there dressed as their RP characters, which turned out to be the case, but it also turned out that many of the people dressed as their RP characters were, to me, virtually indistinguishable from Renaissance Faire-goers. I saw more men (and a few women) in kilts on Thursday at GC than I usually see at the Michigan Ren Fest. Which is all fine — I am a Rennie myself and love garb, but I was expecting a lot more of this:
World’s best hat(s), hands down. Which is not to say there weren’t some awesome and creative costumes there (I saw everything from a Lego Batman to Bunsen and Beaker from the Muppets to part of the cast from Recess):
…just that in a con of 55K+ people, I thought there’d be a lot more! On the other hand, I spotted many, many nerdy t-shirts, all of which were awesome.
None of that prevented me from cosplaying, of course. I was Kit from Fey Winds on Thursday and Saturday, Kim Possible on Friday, and Angry!UniKitty from the Lego Movie on Sunday:
As you can see, Karmada and I tried to have “Red-headed Heroines Day” on Friday, except it turned out that we’d both scheduled so many panels and events that day that we were able to see each other for about 5 minutes. Whoooops. Oh well.. we patrolled more of the con for evil villains and alien threats that way! 😛 Didn’t find any.
In fact, if I had any complaint about my GC experience (other than a cosplay/body-image crisis on Thursday) it would be that I didn’t actually see as much of my friends as I’d have liked. Now, on the one hand, that’s good, because we each have our own interests and want to get different things out of the experience, and following someone to a panel I didn’t want to go to, or dragging them to one, just because we’re friends would have been worse. The fact that we don’t need to hang out 24/7 at cons is great, and the more experiences others have the more you get out of the con as a whole, even if it’s just by hearsay from a friend.
On the other hand, I think I’ll try harder next year to go to at least a few panels with other people, because it’s fun to be able to share experiences and bounce ideas off each other and scare our neighbors with inside jokes. *cough* On Sunday afternoon we all just sat in the hall as the con was winding down and watched people walk by, posed occasionally for photos (Sunday is family day and lots of kids recognized Karmada and Samaru), and just talked and drank coffee, and it was actually a lot of fun. Granted, I wouldn’t spend a 4-day event doing just that, but I’m definitely going to try to experience more actual con stuff, like panels, alongside other people next year.
Shout-out to Alena from “…And Sewing Is Half the Battle!” for letting us stay with her Wed and Sunday nights, and also for letting me play with her heat gun and Worbla. Worbla is straaanngee. I also played my first Pathfinder RPG on Sunday evening with ASIHTB and Friends. As a goblin. Who liked to stab things. Two words: RECKLESS ABANDON!!
P.S. I slayed a Dalek: