The word conjures up many different images for many different people. A lot of those images involve sweaty, overweight guys living in their mothers’ basements, blurring the lines between the real world and their level 35 Chaotic Good Half-Elf Barbarian D&D character and whose main weakness is against soap.
Now, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t happen. The truth, however, is that it isn’t as common as you may think.
Walk around the convention floor and talk to people and it’s obvious that a lot of them are really into what they do. The miniatures gamers choose their game, be it Warhammer, War Machine, Monsterpocalypse, Wings of War, Star Wars, or any other and build their armies. They spend hours upon hours painting each piece in painstaking detail, many of them with a mastery that would blow Michelangelo’s mind. They have carrying cases for the armies and/or vehicles, each one having its own place in foam trays. They have rule books, tape measures, protractors, and bags of other miscellaneous accessories. They set the armies up and get ready for tiny dice-controlled combat. They’re out for blood. The games can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Then the battle ends and everyone’s friends again.
It’s the same story with CCG (Collectible Card Game) players. Whether they’re playing World Of Warcraft (not just online anymore!), Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic: The Gathering, or any of a few dozen others, once the competition is over, they’re trading cards, talking strategy, or just watching other games.
The Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall E is 40,400 sf. about 1/3 of that was dedicated to ongoing games involving various miniatures, the rest was dedicated to a massive tournament for both Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic. A non-stop series of WoW CCG games was happening in several large outlying ballrooms. There were pickup games happening on tables in food courts, on the floor in the hallways, and anywhere else with a flat surface.
Cosplaying (costumed roleplaying for those watching at home) is incredibly popular as anyone who’s ever walked through downtown during Gen Con weekend can see. Some of them just like dressing in costume. Some go a little farther and actually become the characters they’re wearing. Of these, some do it for entertainment and some do it because they’re actually LARPers. For those not in the know (and who have never seen Role Models…) LARP is Live Action Role Playing. Instead of using figurines or pen and paper to keep track of stats, they become their characters and engage in battles. They are, in essence, the pinnacle of role playing games.
These are the ones that tend to receive the most scorn. Sure, it’s escapism…but so is watching a movie, a TV show, or reading a book. Theirs is just a more active escape. When they’re not in costume, they’re just like anyone else. Go to work, pay bills, deal with real life, then escape.
Of course, there are a whole bunch of other types of gamers out there…board gamers, puzzle gamers, tabletop/pen & paper gamers, and video gamers. It’s all the same story.
The biggest draw about something like Gen Con is that, more than being a gaming convention, it’s a community. A lot of the serious gamers catch a lot of flack from their peers for being nerds. The reality is that they just have a hobby they’re very interested in and serious about. It’s not really any different from any other hobby. Gamers in general are very intelligent, have jobs, families, and social lives. Those social lives just happen to revolve around gaming. Some people have social lives that are entirely centered on bars and clubs, some revolve around sports.
People will travel to be around their own, to feel that sense of community. The draw of Gen Con for these kinds of people is so strong, they’ll cross oceans. Think I’m kidding? I met a guy that came from London. There was a contingent that came from Japan. I spoke with someone that had a friend come in from The Netherlands.
Very simply put, all these gamers can get together with about 27,000 people that share their interests. They know they can be themselves and have a good time in their own way without being hassled. Seems like a pretty good deal to me. When talking to service staff at bars and restaurants downtown, every one of them said they love Gen Con weekend. Coming into work is like dropping into a Halloween party in August.
What kind of person could really have a problem with that?