Gen Con 2014, Indianapolis Convention Center, August 14th – 17th
Written by Sharna K. Decker
GEN CON!!!!! (Say it with a Thundering Echo!!). GEN CON is short for “Geneva Convention.” It was originally held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the late 60’s. The event was held in various locations throughout the state for 35 years before it moved to Indiana (thank you, from a Hoosier). The first year (1968) was held in the home of Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons (and personal hero). The following year, the gathering was moved to a larger venue (similar to a local 4H Fairground) and had nearly 100 attendees. Today, the convention is a national undertaking of immense proportions.
Last year’s attendance is estimated at 49,000 (according to Wikipedia – a lot of the early facts are also from Wiki, but I knew about Gary’s house). This year there were more than 56,000 individual tickets purchased – NOT including repeat attendees (Considering parking was nearly impossible to find, I believe it). The growth is absolutely staggering.
The permanent venue of Gen Con was moved to Indianapolis in 2003. I started attending in 2005 at the request of my brother and a couple of very dear friends. I have attended, with or without them, every year since (and usually run into them anyway). The beauty of the “Con” is that even if you’re alone, you will bump into someone you know, or make new friends. (Like “Shorty,” the leather-worker.)
Now, the question on the lips of the un-initiated, the lay-person, and the non-gamer: What is Gen Con? Besides being a huge gathering of “gamers” (I will accept the term “nerds” ONLY because I am one), you might ask: What is the purpose of it? What is the big deal?
Well, if you watch the news, the main point of Gen Con is to dress up in a costume and parade around downtown Indianapolis. My co-workers and non-gamer friends think the same thing. “Oh, you’re going to Gen Con? Take lots of pictures!!” I always do.
To be perfectly honest, dressing up as your favorite comic book hero, video game character, and science fiction / fantasy character (or creature) is ABSOLUTELY the point of Gen Con. (Notwithstanding the games, seminars, play-testing, celebrity authors and artists, dice, etc.) Please, put on your Flash outfit (The Flash or Flash Gordon). Gandalf and Darth Vader are over there drinking coffee. Yes, young man, mount a pony to a hat and wear it proudly. Where are the all pirates this year? I haven’t seen the Ghostbusters, either. There goes Brave Sir Robin and his squire with clapping coconuts. Harley Quinn, where are you, my dear? “It’s me, Mario!!”
I have, from years past, two favorite pictures of characters. The first is of a Storm Trooper coming out of the men’s room. His hands are below his waistline and he is adjusting his “costume” (a.k.a. zipping his fly). My second favorite photograph is of Captain America. The Captain must have come out of retirement for that particular Con. He was still very well-muscled, but he had put on a couple pounds and was going gray at the temples.
These two images, no matter how often I see them, make me smile. Bless you Storm Trooper Fly Guy, and bless you middle-aged Captain America.
Gen Con even the gives the folks (non Con-ers) of Indianapolis an excuse to dress up. The local restaurants and services take advantage of the event and put on fairy wings or wear a Mario mushroom hat (insert Mario “1 Up” sound). Several restaurants even changed their menus to accommodate the gamer community.
One tavern adopted a “Munchkin” theme (a very clever card game by Steve Jackson that was taught to me by a young Vinny person – nod to the Vin). Their employees didn’t “dress” up, but they did print up shirts for the event. Another establishment allowed their workers to dress as they wanted. Most wore T-shirts with their favorite superhero (Superman, Batman, etc.)
[Note/Rant: I won’t divulge the names of these establishments for two reasons. One: They’re not paying me for advertising. Two: When I said, “I’m driving, I’ll have a diet coke,” it was NOT free. That used to work. What happened to rewarding designated drivers? Yes, I’m talking to you, business owner. Buy ‘em a pop! They deserve it for putting up with a bunch of drunken sots and bilge rats!!]
One business / service adopted a Mario Brothers theme. It is a rickshaw-type service based out of Texas. They pull carts with bicycles and are able to transport two or three people at a time. (More, if you’re willing to sit on someone’s lap.) Brilliant. I had a nice conversation with the mushroom-hat guy and gave him a little Mario mushroom pin. (My apologies, the photograph is a little dark.) I felt bad, though, for the fellow dressed as Princess Peach. It would be hard to pedal around town with that pink dress on… always worried about getting your frilly frock caught in the spokes…
All in all, dressing up is an integral part of the convention. Your fellow gamers love you for it. You make the rest of us “nerds” feel at home. The general public even loves it. They might laugh and point, but deep down, they’re jealous of your courage. Keep it up. Whether professional-looking “Cosplay” (thank you for that new term SyFy Channel), or homemade chainmail with a dragon painted on it, you make Gen Con a place where a nerd can be a nerd. As long as you are there with your Wookie backpack, we will keep coming back, year after year.
Sharna K. Decker