GenCon: Day 2 – In Comic Con’s Great Shadow

Every year GenCon is more popular. With better than 50,000 this year, the event is on track to be the largest ever. I’d like to think it’s because the things that we love to do – playing games – are more popular. Geek fair’s stock has never been higher.

And that comes with good and bad. Greater popularity means more products that we get to try and, for those with the ambition, more opportunities to earn a living doing something they love. It also means a far better chance of finding people to play with when you go home. One of my great laments every year is how many purchases I make that will never be played.

But that popularity also comes at a cost. TJ and I discussed at some length if GenCon could ever be too big. The annual struggle our sisters and brothers in geek pursuits face during the great pilgrimage to San Diego Comic Con is a passing interest to us. It is nothing short of what I imagine hell looks like.

The lines. The waiting. The endless hours in an amazing city camped out hoping to see/get some swag. I usually draw comfort from the differences between these two conventions. Where SDCC is about seeing celebrities and sitting in on panels, GenCon is a game-driven show – the guests reserve their events ahead of time. Theoretically, GenCon can expand infinitely and because most of the events are run by businesses trying to promote their products we’ll never see insane lines. As consumers grow, events should grow with them.

And it’s a comforting thought until you try to buy something from Fantasy Flight on opening day. Words cannot describe this line. I could tell you how long it is in minutes (3 hours) or feet (thousands) or people (also thousands) or Cthulhu sanity points (10), but it doesn’t really express what your mind experiences when you walk the length of this line. And those lines are becoming a more regular thing.

And there’s the other stuff too. Gen Con’s opening ceremony this year included a lengthy (and obligatory) notice about harassment. And there are those moments when you step out of the charm and you see the people for who they are. While exploring the exhibits today, one of the cosplay girls schilling sexiness for a business looked down at her bust line (which was quite low) and made not-quite-a-frown. I couldn’t help wondering what she was thinking.

Was she reflecting on the outfit? Or maybe thinking about how much money was changing hands or how sex sells? Maybe she was checking for a nipple slip or just wanted to go home. I’ll never know, but up until that point, I only thought of her as scenery.

As our pastimes become more popular andgen-con-logo more mainstream, it raises the profile on what our communities do, right or wrong. If we’re good, it’s an opportunity to face those questions. Will we drive the money, or will the money drive us? How can we be better? What kind of community do we want to be?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I’m busy buying loads of swag, but I think GenCon’s next 10 years are going to show what we’re made of.

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