I’m going to Dragon*Con this year and predictably it has caused a little confusion and earned me a bit of teasing among my less-than-geeky acquaintances.
Explaining the concept of "gaming conventions" to a non-geek is a lot like trying to explain your involvement in an insane religious cult to people who think you're about to hack them into little pieces so that you can obtain eternal life.
It can be awkward to say the least.
You'll get polite nods, forced smiles, and the sensation that the person you're talking to truly doesn't understand your position and at any minute may run screaming from the room to summon the authorities.
Unfortunately with gaming conventions (and arguably, insane religious cults) no one can truly gain understanding until they experience it for themselves. Either way, they treat the conversation like you're about to ask them to sip from the sacred chalice of immortal awakening, or gently informing them that they've been chosen as a sacrifice for he-who-walks-behind-the-rows.
Every year I head out to at least one large scale convention (usually Dragon*Con), and every year I have to go through the same little ritual at work. I put in my time off request, send out a memo stating that I'll be out of the office and for how long...
... and then I hide everything that isn't nailed down to keep the vultures at bay during my absence.
If you've never worked in an office environment, trust me when I say that this last step is crucial.
And then, once the paperwork has been filed, your time off approved, and your GOOD stapler has been safely hidden away (seriously, these people will rob you f**king blind), the inevitable questions start popping up in the guise of good natured banter.
"Wow, a vacation in September? Where are you going?"
"So wait. You just walk around all day looking at comic books and toys?"
"Dragon*Con? Is this a ...dungeons and dragons...thing?"
That last one never fails to crack me up, especially when asked with nervous hesitation. Sure, it isn't as widespread as it once was, as gaming and geek trends have become much more mainstream - but there are still people out there who in all sincerity equate Dungeons and Dragons with Satanic worship and unholy rituals.
Which I suppose is still marginally better than having it be equated to the disappointing MMORPG that fizzled and sputtered like a wet sparkler, but I digress.
And once you get past the whole "No, this isn't a ritual sacrifice involving goats" thing, you're left with unimpressed eye rolls as you're downgraded from "possible office threat" to "guy who has never in his life touched a boob", which is a goddamn lie, because I totally have. (Really.)
Instead of listening to your words they form a mental image comprised of every bad Star Trek Convention parody they've seen as the plot base for a sitcom, write you off as a loser with Spock ears and giggle at your plans behind your back without ever once knowing the truth:
Conventions are f**king FUN, and they contain the three things that make any social gathering not centered around dungeon raids and Ventrilo servers an instant success. Namely: Drinking, gaming, and human suffering.
It’s like Christmas without that one weird Uncle who gives extravagant gifts to compensate for his years of improper touching.
Now, by “Human Suffering” we in no way mean the previously drawn upon examples of Lucifer and his demonic 20-sided dice. Our human suffering is more of a detached predatory nature, as if we’re watching a documentary and a pack of hungry lions rip through a herd of gazelle.
Or in our case, sitting around in drunken groups and watching for really crappy costumes on parade.
Costumes are a huge part of these conventions, and I myself am known to wear a few during the length of the event. The problem with this is that people really, really get into their costumes. They spend countless hours sewing, leather working and practicing makeup techniques so that they embody the character that they’re trying to recreate in every possible way. They’re so elaborate and well done that they tend to make the guy in the Spiderman mask he bought at the grocery store on the way in look, in a word, bad.
Or if you’re drunk and costume-watching with your equally drunk friends, in a word, “epic”.
I once witnessed a guy in a cheap, off-the-rack Superman costume bump into someone who may have very well been the REAL Superman. There was a long awkward pause as 250 pounds of out of shape, Cheeto dust snorting geek stood eye-to-nipple with the picture perfect personification of the Man of Steel. They locked gazes and then…
Neither said a word.
A humming bird paused, the flapping of its tiny wings visible in the painful slowness of the moment.
And then the lesser of the two Supermen collapsed in on himself in shame and defeat, his soul escaping from his mouth in a sad little breath of despair. It was by far the most beautifully cruel thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I found myself weeping like a child in the presence of its horrible splendor.
MMORPG developers and companies have a huge presence at these conventions, as they’re pretty much sneaking into the lion’s den (read: Mother’s basement) of their target audience. They’ve been known to hand out games, figures, and codes redeemable for in game item – not to mention plying people with copious amounts of alcohol in order to get favorable reviews or blackmail material for the future.
Although, not everyone can be bought. (For the record, I can be. Completely. Seriously, I come cheap and I have no self-respect or morals worth mentioning. Ask about my group rate!)
“So you get drunk, hang out with friends and make fun of people?”
Well of course it sounds bad when you say it like that…
If you’ve never been to a gathering, it is a bit difficult to explain, but these conventions are a kind of Nirvana to your average geek. No matter how good or bad your costume truly is, there is a sense of acceptance and belonging, and as long as you don’t take anything too seriously you’re going to have a good time regardless of what you wear or how well you wear it.
They’re packed full of like-minded people buying toys and obscure reference t-shirts while freely and openly basking in the activities that would earn them a supersized wedgie/swirly combo on any other day.
Of course when these arguments fail to educate, I give them a weird smile and offer them the opportunity to tag along – on the condition that they swear loyalty to Satan upon the sacred dice.
Then, as they’re running away in terror, I hide my friggin’ stapler.