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Why GenCon Matters

by on August 7, 2011
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At one point during GenCon, I was standing at the McFarland booth glancing at its selection of pop-culture analysis books.

A man walked up next to me and told the man at the booth, “Excuse me, sir, I am on a quest, and your booth has sparked thy interest. May I question you for information?”

Without missing a beat, the McFarland worker started to explain their catalog.

There are several people walking around the floor in costumes, but only a few are keeping “in character.” It’s incredibly silly and dorky, but it is fun. GenCon is predominantly a gaming convention devoted to the card, board and tabletop gaming crowd, yet it’s also a celebration of geek culture. Any ironic detachment isn’t going to work in a place like this. Everyone is at a place like this to have fun.

It’s why people play games. All of the dragons and intricate building designs and experience points make them seem unapproachable. That’s only because most of them are. Those who have learned all of the intense rules for the complex games love GenCon because it’s four days to be surrounded by people who can play along. There are plenty of easier games, including the very fun ones we were allowed to test out: “The Red Dragon Inn 2” (D&D characters play drinking games after an adventure) and Tom Jolly’s “Wayword” (a competitive “Boggle”).

For a weekend, the obscure becomes the mainstream. On Thursday I went with two of my friends, Lauren Hall and Keith Jackson. I was dressed as Doctor Who (11th incarnation), Lauren was Princess Leia, and Keith was Guy Wearing a Looper Shirt. More people recognized who I was than Lauren/Leia. At one point, someone asked if she was the second Ramana to match my attire. To that, she immediately responded, “Of course,” and her picture was taken.

Then why was there such Who love? There was a giant Doctor Who North America booth and several others in costumes ranging from the 4th Doctor to Captain Jack Harkness to Idris from “The Doctor’s Wife.” During this weekend I was able to make a William Hartnell joke that worked!

People become obsessed with this show not because it’s a chance to be part of a niche group. There is a high level of quality and entertainment throughout its almost 50-year run. It’s a show worth putting the energy toward because it’s rewarding.

The same goes for the people who spent hours and hours making fantastic costumes of characters from “Batman” or “Metal Gear Solid.” They find new games to play and new people with whom to play them. It’s an event worth going to for any fan of pop culture, but there are always surprising things to find there. There is a booth selling orcarinas from “The Legend of Zelda,” a “Game of Thrones”-related game, impressive “Indiana Jones”-related art, “Conan the Barbarian” replica swords and more zombie stuff than you could ever imagine.

When my brother, Ryan, went on Friday, he was out of his element. He plays basketball, football, soccer, golf and every sport ever. The geekiest outfit he could come up with was gym shorts and an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” T-shirt. Even he couldn’t help but having a lot of fun while constantly repeating, “What is going on over here…?”

To experience genuine enthusiasm about anything is contagious. This is a conference that keeps that love simple and doesn’t bog down the day with too many panels or busyness. GenCon is a chance to experience it all. It’s highly recommended because if you’re looking at blogs and sites to read film commentaries, this is for you.