Friday, January 30, 2015

A Story About Understanding the Culture Shock of Gen Con

Geek culture is currently the in-thing. Whether it's superhero movies, anime, video games; all the flavors of geek are being eaten up by mass culture. A generation ago being a fan of Doctor Who would have gotten you beaten up, but these days it might just help you make friends with everyone in your class.

I was part of the previous generation. The one where people made fun of you for reading sci-fi, or who snorted up their sleeves if you were a fan of comics and over the age of twelve or thirteen. While I was never really a victim of the kinds of hazing my fellow geeks have talked about (being the big kid in your grade comes with decided advantages), I never really found compatriots who shared my interests. Being a geek was in a very real way about isolation for me, and I just assumed that was how things were supposed to be.

Then I went to Gen Con.

It's like this, but with black tee shirts and more D20s.

A Brush With Culture Shock

I had never been to a convention of any sort before being invited to Gen Con by two veterans from my gaming group. I'd heard stories of the great things that could happen around every corner, and I was jazzed. Even being tossed in the deep end as my two guides went off to game without me didn't deter my enthusiasm. I wandered the dealer hall, played demos, took some pictures of displays, browsed booths full of old novels and new gaming books, and stared around like a tourist trying to look worldly.

I noticed a problem though... I wasn't actually having fun.

The convention engaged me and I saw all kinds of shiny things I wanted to own, but it was more like walking through a physical representation of the Internet than it was stepping over the border of a magical kingdom. I was surrounded by cosplayers and gaming tables, but I didn't feel like I was really a part of it. The harder I looked for the magic I'd been told about the harder it was for me to find.

Bloggers don't get Perception as a skill.
By mid day I was a little footsore, but mainly I was hungry. So I went with another virgin member of my party (neither of us knew that the hell we were doing), and we set out to find something to eat. We passed a dozen restaurants with lines around the block, and when we turned a corner into a street that had no vehicular traffic we found a Hooters. It was tucked away out of sight less than a block from the convention center, and the little side street seemed immune to the convention devouring the downtown blocks all around.

Then It Hit Me

Outside the restaurant was a patio with a half dozen tables. This being August one of the tables had four men sitting at it. They were exactly the sort of men you'd expect to see at a Hooters for lunch; big, burly, middle aged, all wearing sports jerseys. I held the door for my friend, and I caught the spirited conversation the table of sportsball enthusiasts were having.

They were arguing about a dungeon crawl.

The fellow in the blue jersey was laying out the deeds and accomplishments of his paladin, and another man in red was smirking as he countered with his rogue's tactics. The other two nodded, wearing that slightly amused expression gamers always have when these kinds of discussions come up between party members. I couldn't have stood there for more than a few seconds, but in those few seconds the full weight of Gen Con finally hit home. I was standing in a place where you could go to a sports bar in the middle of the day and even the armchair quarterbacks were talking about Dungeons and Dragons in broad daylight for anyone walking by to hear.

That was a powerful moment. It wasn't enough to make me turn towards Indy and pray three times per day, but it was enough that the next day I set aside the reservations I had and threw myself back in with renewed verve.

In the end I'm very glad that I did.

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  1. If you had gone to Gen Con back when it was held in Milwaukee you prolly would have liked the "Safe House"

    1. I have heard stories of the place. It sounded like a lot of fun, though I probably wouldn't have gone more than once or twice. Alcohol and I don't mix, so I tend to avoid facilities where it's the main attraction (no matter how awesome the accouterments are).