Convention season is upon us again. Even as we speak the GAMA Trade Show is going on in Las Vegas as the unofficial start to the year's gaming convention season. Over the next few months we have a number of gaming stretching from the Old School conventions of Gary Con and the North Texas RPG Con, to the larger conventions of Origins and, of course, Gen Con. The next few months are going to be a swirl of activity and work, as companies big and small ready their releases and presentations for the upcoming year.
Tomorrow I leave sunny, and warm, Florida to head to my first convention of the year, the science fiction convention in New York, I-CON. The convention itself starts on Friday, but the last few days have been a whirlwind of prep for the travel and the panels that I will be a part of. This is why conventions are on my mind as I work on my piece for this week (that and sleep deprivation as my body tries to get used to the change of Daylight Savings Time).
We all go to conventions for different reasons. Some go to game. Some go to meet up with friends that they only get to see at conventions. For professionals it is a time to work, perhaps to sell their material and to get a chance to network face to face. As someone who writes about gaming, and attends a lot of conventions because of that, I have only had a couple of conventions over the last few years where I wasn't spending my time working. This isn't to say that going to conventions can't be fun for professionals, but that the things that a lot of people take for granted at gaming conventions are why everyone is there.
I am going to talk more about Gen Con in a future column here at EN World, once we get closer to that event, so most of this convention talk is going to be generic.
If you've never been to a convention before, what really can you expect from attending one? First, expect a lot of people. Convention attendance can be anywhere from a couple of thousand people to tens of thousands at a show like Gen Con. Not everyone likes big crowds, so if you don't there might end up being problems for you if you don't. Not only are there going to be crowds, but the crowds are going to be made up of people who are different from the people that you might normally be used to from local gaming groups and stores. People will be younger. People will be older. Some people will be more social and outgoing than others. There will be women, and people of color. For Americans in particular it will be important to remember that you might be encountering people for whom English is not their primary language. Despite what some may think, gaming isn't a monoculture and there will be a lot of different people to deal with.
The picture at the top of this column is from a Gen Con that I attended a couple of years ago, taken while we all waited for the doors to open one of the days of the convention. I'm not sure if it really demonstrates the scale of how many people are there, but I'm sure that seeing that wave of humanity will make some of the people reading this uncomfortable.
The reason why I bring this up is to point out that, if you have never before attended a gaming convention, the crowds that you understand won't just be the people with whom you are used to dealing in larger numbers, there will be a lot of different people.
There will also be a lot of different games that are being played. Some of which you might not have heard of, outside of posts on blogs and internet forums like this one. Gaming conventions are great places to experience new games, and different styles of play, than what you might get to normally see back at your home games, and stores.
People who go to conventions are also the same ones who bring back the "new" games to their home groups, talk about their experiences at the conventions, and spread their enthusiasm through their local communities. These are the people who facilitate shifts in taste and interest in a community, even in small ways. This is also why it is important for people to check these things out, and wiggle out of their comfort zone from time to time.
No gaming store can carry everything that is available for tabletop role-playing games. It just isn't possible. Honestly, even at conventions you aren't going to find everything that is available from all of the RPG publishers, however you are going to find a lot more than you will at your local stores. Even for games like D&D and Pathfinder, there is going to be things that you find at all levels of conventions that you might not ever see at a store. I am in touch with a lot of the happenings across gaming, but I am always finding things that I have never heard about when I'm at conventions. I am usually most surprised when I run into other local gamers selling their wares at comic conventions that I am attending. It is a great thing.
However, it just goes to demonstrate the utility of attending conventions.
This also doesn't include the other things that go on at gaming conventions besides just gaming. There are panels that allow gamers to hear the designers and publishers whose games that they play. You can hear the announcements of what is coming out in the future. There are also social opportunities, and the opportunities to try new restaurants and new food experiences from things like food trucks.
This gets back to my earlier point about people having different reasons to attend conventions. When I go to a convention, my schedule tends to be very busy and this usually means that I don't get as many chances to actually game as I would often like to. More than once I have had people ask me why I would go to a gaming convention and not game (or not game constantly). I love going to conventions of all different types, and getting to see the things that I have only ever heard about online, or more importantly the things that I would not normally get to see. If it weren't for geographic issues, I would attend more conventions than I already do.
Convention season has started for table-top role-playing games. What will you be doing for convention season?