I didn’t know what I had said yes to when my author friend, Christine Nielson, asked me to come to Gen Con. She had been going for a few years and I knew she always had a good time, so I said yes without thinking.
I had done very little research on what this con really was, I just figured it was comparable to any comic con I had participated in. I mean, it’s a con, right? I was warned it was a gaming con, so I thought video games. I put some serious thought into how to make this con special. What I didn’t realize was that this con was already special.
Gen Con, in my own words, is a gamer’s pilgrimage to Mecca.
People flock to the center of the US, being seductively called by the river sirens, for the chance to play games, and ONLY games, for four continuous days. There was no celebrity draws, no movie releases, no photo ops (besides the cosplay girls- shielded from view might I add), only gamers EVERYWHERE. Rows and rows of tables and chairs cluttered with games: new ones, kickstarters, card games, board games, RPGs, dice games, you name it. JUST GAMES! There were tournaments happening in C Hall (a room the size of the room where they hid the arc of the covenant) for Magic the Gathering and Pokemon and who even knows what?! I was flabbergasted.
Being an author there felt rather special, but also really out-of-place. This con was not about books, but the celebration of creativity. And that’s what made the con special to me. Everyone I spoke to was so genuinely themselves.
This con let you be you without judgment. I tweeted snippets of what I saw and experienced (find on Twitter @cjtwrites). Many gamers are introverted, yet here they felt comfortable being with other introverts. The con sold out with a reported 70,000 attending (Indy Star Link). I was impressed.
And even though the Exhibition Hall closed at six, the con didn’t stop . . . at all. The arcade and retro console rooms didn’t close until midnight. The tourneys ran through the night. Hotel lobbies and even the Indiana Convention Center was continually packed with gamers playing until the morning.
As much as I love playing games, I’m not a gamer, not anymore. There are some things that I unintentionally gave up when I dedicated my time to being an author, and unfortunately, games was one of them. Here though, I got a chance to forget about story building and remember the seeds that started my epic journey. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was fourteen, playing with my older brother and his high school friends. This was a huge foundation for my character development, world building, and my imagination.
But honestly, I didn’t feel complete until I found the retro video game console room and completely flipped out when I saw the ColecoVision. I made a serious impression on the guys running the room. (Nick and Kyle – I’m looking at you!) Here I found my nerd and my people, and spent hours playing Coleco, NES, the PS2, and Sega Dreamcast, because sadly, their Genesis didn’t have a cord. Here is where I found my Gen Con heart.
It was good for me to get away from my bubble and experience a con away from those I know; to meet people I would never have met before; and have the freedom of being nerdy without reservation. It was rejuvenating to my soul and healthy for me to remember my roots, and that fun and refreshing it is to just play games.