Wednesday, August 5, 2015

His First Time

Thursday, July 30th, through Sunday, August 2nd, Indianapolis, Indiana was once again the host of what is touted as 'The Best Four Days In Gaming', the 48th annual gaming convention known as Gen Con.

According to the Gen Con website's Post Show Report, Gen Con 2015 set a new attendance record with a unique attendance of 61,423 and a turnstile attendance of 197,695.

Apparently, Gen Con has more than doubled in attendance since its 2010 show.
As someone who loves gaming, and is a fan of conventions of this nature, I have attended Gen Con in a personal, and professional capacity at least half-a-dozen to a dozen times. Each, and every time I had a great experience, and I look forward to going again in the future.

For many years now I've planned to go in 2017, come hell, or high water, as that August would mark my 40th year in the gaming hobby.

This year I was unable to go, but a few of the players in my Barking Alien Gaming Group went, including my friend Will. It was Will's first Gen Con. I was very excited to hear how his trip was, and what he thought of the show.

I met Will [as well as Hans, and Steve, two of my other players, and most of my other group - Dan's Group] at a local convention here in New York City called RECESS. Sadly, RECESS is not longer being run. A very sad, and unfortunate thing indeed.

Will was expecting, hoping, for RECESS on a grand scale.

Here is what he experienced.


Me: OK Will, give us your stats. Let's have your age, gender, place of origin, and how long you've been gaming for.

Will: I'm 32, Male, born and raised New Yorker, and I've been playing RPGs for 4 years, though I've been wanting to get into it since I was 10.

Me: How did you first learn about Gen Con?

Will: I learned about Gen Con from fellow RPG gamer friends (Ray and Steve).

Me: What made you decide to go?

Will: I had grown tired of going to conventions a few years ago, primarily from Otakon, Katsucon, and NY Comic-Con. I was hesitant to go again even when I found out so many of my friends were going, but then my wife said we were going, so I signed up.

(Incidentally his wife, Emi, is a lovely, funny, and all around awesome person who is totally not into table top RPGs. She likes computer/video games, computer/video RPGs, and board games. She is also into other aspects of fandom).

Me: What were your expectations (if any) going in?

Will: I was expecting a four-day long NYC RECESS, with a dealer's room like Comic-Con, and crowd levels like Otakon.

(Note a bad description actually).

Me: What were your first impressions when you arrived?

Will: My first impression was that it was just like Otakon in crowds, though far fewer people in costume. 

(Otakon is the largest, East Coast Anime, and Manga Convention. Last year's Otakon, its 21st annual event, had an attendance of 33,929 unique memberships, and an estimated turnstile attendance of 109,000. Gen Con is nearly double its size).

Me: What was your favorite experience while you were there?

Will: My favorite experience at Gen Con was at a late-night Zombie Escape the Train game where a father and his nine-year old son were part of the game. Not only was the game good, and I got to play my character and make some epic saves, it was heartening to see a father and son game and just get into it together. 

Me: What experience did you find most disappointing?

Will: My most disappointing experience was at a Champions game where I found myself the target of [another] player's awkward sexual harassment just because I was playing a female character. I don't care if he was playing in-character, it was jarring, and I felt very uncomfortable and didn't know what to say or do about it in the moment. I hadn't expected it, and hadn't ever experienced anything like it before.

(Suffice to say, this guy was an asshat, but so, in my opinion, was the GM of said game. If you don't see one of your players is harassing another, and ruining their enjoyment of the game, AT A PAID EVENT NO LESS, you yourself are a double asshat).

Me: How would you describe your overall experience?

Will: Overall, I was disappointed. I went in expecting RECESS, and instead I found half my games dominated by old, obese, men who played their games like assholes, and the other half dominated by GMs who didn't really know what they were doing. I am told by friends that it was in part my fault for my choice of games, and I guess it's true since I'm new to RPGing and have no idea which systems, and stories will attract which kinds of players and GMs.

(RECESS was extremely diverse, with gamers of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, genders, and interests. It was the entire melting pot of New York City, NY represented in a small get together of game fans.

Upon hearing about some of Will's choices, yeah, as a veteran of many games, and many conventions I probably could have steered him clear of some of his bad experiences. At the same time, I shouldn't have to. We should be doing everything in our power to make newcomers to the hobby welcome.)

Me: What is your biggest take away from your first Gen Con experience?

Will: My biggest take away is 2-fold. First, the people, both GMs and players, are more vital to the game than anything else. Second, veteran players seems to know which games attract which kinds of people, something I was very much not privy to ahead of time.

Me: What is the one thing you might do differently if you went again?

Will: If I could change one thing, it would be to let a veteran-player friend choose all my games for me. I chose based on my interests. What I needed was to choose based on what kind of people would attend each game.

Me: Would you go to another Gen Con?

Will: Honestly, I wouldn't attend Gen Con again even if I was paid to go, but my wife is likely going to want to go again, so, I'll probably go again while trying to make the most of it by employing my previous answer.

It is my hope that Will gives it another go. Further, I hope I get to go with him.

I have always really enjoyed Gen Con, and the overall feeling Will has for the show makes me very sad. I would very much like him to have at least as good a time at Gen Con as I've had in the past.

Thank you Will for allowing me to post this 'interview'.

Look forward to gaming with you soon.

Barking Alien


  1. I am sorry the games that Will attended were less fun than he deserved. I strive for a welcoming table and a fun experience for all when I GM at GenCon (or anywhere else) and I try my best to have the preparation and focus to deliver that. Sometimes things do not go as smoothly as I would like, but I learn from problems and improve the games for the future.

  2. I have avoided conventions for years because my social anxiety always puts me off but I went to Dragonmeet in London in December and I had great fun, even if I didn't make the most of it. The thing I liked most was meeting people that I knew online for the first time in the flesh. I suspect something on the scale of GenCon would be too much for me!

  3. Replies
    1. It was indeed my direct, if ineloquent, mystery friend.

    2. Not a mystery fan then? But aside that, Gen Con sounds to be in need of a first visitor's guide. A post for newcomers and the curious alike. One look at their website told me nuthin' about what to really expect or what it was like.

  4. Everyone who comes to Barking Alien is considered a friend. It's like Cheers meets the Cantina in Mos Eisley.

    You are so right in your statement. One of the biggest mistakes modern games, and game conventions make (actually fandom conventions in general) is to assume because you are a fan, you have been there before or just know what's what instinctively.

    We're geeks, and this is a geek positive event, but we're not birds building a nest. It's not encoded in our DNA. Explain it to the newcomers. Invite them in so it feels like home.

    Stan Lee was quoted as saying, "Every comic book is somebody's first comic book". That's true for RPGs and conventions as well.