Last week I was in Indianapolis* for my first ever Gen Con. For those of you who don’t know, Gen Con is the world’s largest role-playing gaming event. (Oh, I am a nerd. You know I’m a nerd.) So if you’re thinking about going, or are just curious about what 70,000 geeks do to a city, here are some observations:
1. First, Indianapolis is a great town. I lived in Indiana till I was ten, and I had a major flashback to a fourth-grade field trip when I saw the capitol building. And in that flashback, I remember thinking that the big city wasn’t that great. Well. Since then, Indianapolis has gone green. You’ve got solar power and electric-car plug-ins. And there’s this drunken Flintstones bar vehicle, that has a square, pub counter in the center and pedals attached to the bar stools. You can hear this thing before you can see it. There are lots of sloshy whoops. The pedal bars go about as fast as the horse-drawn carriages—and this leads to some sloshy whoops about horsies.
2. The restaurants love us. They paint dragon-fighting scenes on their windows. The bars turn off the baseball and show us The Hobbit. They change their menu items into dishes like Gandalf Guacamole (ew) and Flying Monkey Wings. They convert all the dollar signs to gp (for gold pieces).
3. This is the land that heroes tread! Get Con has a fairly substantial cos-play element, so we saw barbarians, steam punk scientists, Jedis, Death on stilts, Pikachu, Master Chief, Link, Solid Snake, Ursula (with some really cumbersome tentacles) and a fully-armored Hoth Trooper who interrupted his menace long enough to catch a child who ran into his arms.
4. It’s a family event. You’ve got old timers who went to the first Gen Con in the year I was born, and who most definitely are the bulk of the people who buy the fist-sized twenty-sided die of effortless reading (+2). You have parents who bring their kids, and who play in the games with their kids, so that among all the fun, there’s the occasional awkward moment, when the ten-year-old says, “I kill my mother,” and chortles with glee. And then there’s the far cuter (and less-Greek) version of that same event, when Dad, dressed as Friday the 13th’s Jason, stops to look at something, while his eight-year-old Jason Mini Me backstabs him with a plastic machete.
5. And just in case you worry that we are raising monsters instead of slaying them, I’ll confess that even I was impressed with the amount of openness among the Gen Conners. On the whole, geeks have faced their share of social exclusion, so there are lots of advisories about everything from how one must ask permission before hugging Ursula, or Dobby or whomever, to some flat-out legal notices about acceptance of all peoples, regardless of origin, creed, ability, sexual orientation, or appearance. Seriously. If you want to learn how to best welcome all, look to the outcasts.
6. These “outcasts” are really freaking smart. The point of Gen Con is to play games. There are thousands of these to choose from—including a stadium-sized Real Life Dungeon. I suppose that if you wanted, you could find the one game that was all kill kill, loot loot, rinse and repeat. But the games I played were more like improv. In one scenario, I was a modern-day detective with family problems, who had to figure out that someone was summoning a demon in the precinct’s basement. Among other things, this scenario touched on police brutality. In another game, I was part of the first crew to colonize Mars. By chance, I was the commander—and at times I had a table full of people who were asking me what to do. And in the meantime, the author of this scenario had learned all kinds of things about Mars, from what fire does in the atmosphere, to how a space suit would patch itself, to what the temperature would be like under the dunes. These games were exercises in strategy, acting and empathy. James was the cop who committed police brutality—and he was startled at how easy it was to slip into the role of the power-trippy Alpha male. These games require thought—and by consequence, they teach.
7. Like any good festival, Gen Con is both ever-changing, and recurring. We’re already planning to return to Indy next August. If you want to come too, I’d be happy to give you an even longer list of details.
*If you live in Indy and if I didn’t contact you, I do apologize. The schedule was somewhat frantic and mostly not my own.
(Originally posted August 10, 2016)