The gamers of Gen Con

Last Thursday my husband and I headed to Gen Con.  We spent four days there together playing games, checking out new games and related merchandise in the exhibit hall, meeting other people and doing a bit of work.  Our coverage of the event ran in the newspaper and hopefully drew some local folks to the Indiana Convention Center to check out Gen Con.  For us, Gen Con has become a regular event.  We’ve gone for the past seven years or so.  We missed last year in the midst of dealing with our second baby and a slew of other things, but we were happy to return this year.  Along the way, we’ve learned more and more about Gen Con and how to navigate its waters and about the people who attend.

My husband and I all ready for day one of Gen Con 2014.

In my life, I have mentioned going to Gen Con to others who have no clue what I’m talking about and still think I’m a bit crazy or maybe even weird once I explain it to them.  That’s OK.  I get that.  I lived that.  I wasn’t always a gamer.  I wasn’t always this woman who sits around a table with six other people (give or take) pretending to be someone else in a fictional situation who’s movements and decisions rely on rolling the right number on dice.  I spent years as a gamer’s wife.  And that was OK, too.  But, slowly through the last 15 years of being a wife, I have evolved into a gaming wife.  I’m glad.  I enjoy playing games with my husband and seeing his creativity.  I enjoy getting a peek at how his brain works outside of our regular daily life together raising two small children.  This transformation took place during the Gen Con years, in fact.  The first year we attended, my goal was to write about the event as a journalist since my husband was interested in going anyway.  We went only one day.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve learned.  I’ve become a gamer and we’ve learned the ins and outs of Gen Con.  We know how to get into games, we know where to park based on where we’ll be, we know where to go for food and we know where the press room is.  My husband has spent time working in downtown Indianapolis and, in living an hour away, we’ve visited there often, so we’re quite familiar with the area, but navigating Gen Con is sort of its own beast.

While the games draw me to the convention, the people also do.  And by people, we’re talking more than 49,000 of them.  Gen Con attendees flood downtown Indianapolis.  They fill up all the hotel rooms.  They take up seats in the restaurants.  There are lots and lots and lots of gamers.  They interest me nearly as much as the games.  My view of them has shifted through the years as well.  The first year we went to Gen Con, I had no idea what to expect and had preconceived notions of finding mostly a male crowd maybe in their teens and 20s.  I anticipated awkward, stereotypical, geeky gamers.  I now hang my head in shame for that notion.  Gamers are so much more.

I’ve learned that gamers come from all walks of life.  I’ve encountered people of all ages at Gen Con from babies to college students to fellow mid-lifers to senior citizens.  Some are married; some aren’t.  Some have children; some don’t.  Some are working professionals; some are students.  Some have traveled across the country; some have traveled mere minutes.  Some of them dress as their favorite characters; some wear their everyday clothes.  But they are all there because they love games of some kind or all kinds.  Gen Con is a draw for people who play role playing games, board games, card games, video games, computer games and pretty much any game you can think of.  There are rooms upon rooms of people sitting around playing games.  There are even rooms of people acting out games.

This statue of Drizzt and his panther, Guenhwyvar, has been at Gen Con for the last few years. I fell in love with Drizzt in R.A. Salvatore's book series about him. I still swoon the first time I encounter this statue each year. I'm anxiously awaiting the next novel due out next month.

While all the gamers are different in many ways from gender to age to religion to occupation, they are all the same in so many ways as well.  I’ve never met friendlier people.  I say that as someone who was born and raised by southern influenced folks and who has spent a fair amount of time in the friendly state of Tennessee.  Gamers are friendlier.  The stereotypical gamer is a quiet person who might not be all that social.  I fall into that category.  I’m quiet.  I’m a total introvert.  I don’t seek out people I don’t know to talk with.  That’s not my personality.  But that doesn’t matter at Gen Con.  Conversations happen all over the place, all the time.  There was the grandma who I chatted with while waiting in line to get into the Paizo booth.  We talked about my children and her grandchildren while we watched an adorable little 1-year-old go crazy for a man dressed as Gandolf from Lord of the Rings.  There were the two gamers from the East Coast who we chatted with while waiting to get into a game about the new Dungeons & Dragons system and what our commutes were like.  There were the fellow attendees who chatted with us when we ventured over to a movie theater to watch a screening of the 1986 movie “Aliens.”  (My husband was beside himself to see that movie on the big screen since he was too young to see it on the big screen the first time around.)

Gamers are helpful.  This is true both outside and inside of gaming.  We had an unexpected adventure with a few other gamers coming up in the elevator from the parking garage when the door to get outside was locked early on Saturday morning.  We worked together to figure out where we were going and how to get out.  Another gamer offered advice when he overheard my husband and I talking about the new spinning dice ring my husband had purchased.  During different game sessions when players had questions about their character or the game mechanics, others were quick to offer help and advice.  It makes sense to me because so much of gaming, especially of the role playing variety, is based around helping people out.  Gamers are fighting in-game for the common good of a population.  That extends in real life so that when I was playing a wizard and didn’t know what all my spells did, other gamers at the table were happy to help me with information.  When that same wizard had some bad luck thanks to the roll of the dice and ended up dead on the bottom of a pit, those same gamers used their characters to come down and save me.  Later one even gave me his health potion in-game when my character was failing yet again.  Gamers are good people.

Gamers are polite.  Usually in a crowded space like the exhibit hall is, people tend to push and shove.  They tend to bump into one another and not acknowledge having done so.  I’ve not had that issue at Gen Con.  It’s busy.  People are everywhere, but they remain civil and cordial and pretty darn polite.

Gamers are nice.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone make fun of someone else at Gen Con.  I have heard a vendor or two talk negatively about gamers before (I didn’t patronize those booths). Most vendors are gamers themselves who love fellow gamers even just for the fact they are buying their products.  But for the most part, gamers are nice to each other and don’t laugh at the way someone is dressed or what they’re doing.  Of course we may laugh at someone’s antics in game when they do something crazy, but never in a derogatory manner.

I think overall that these people, these fellow gamers — my people — are a big part of why I enjoy Gen Con so much.  For four days we band together.  We fight imaginary battles.  We right imaginary wrongs.  We take breaks from being who we are the rest of the time.  I take a break from being a mom of young children (our kids don’t go with us, but there are definitely plenty of kids to be found at Gen Con).  I still do wear my journalist hat somewhat in doing interviews and writing while at Gen Con, but I also get breaks from that.  We come together.  We share laughs and victories.  We share common interests.  We spend four days running around the convention center and adjacent hotels and restaurants wearing ourselves out and having fun.  We make up the people of Gen Con.  I have become one of them and I am honored.  Game on!  Time to start thinking about Gen Con 2015.  Who’s with me?!

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