Gen Con 2010 Wrap-Up

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know I’ve been involved with the Skeptical Gamers at Gen Con Indy from the start. That start was two years ago, when I attended an Indiana Ghost Hunters panel alongside the Action Skeptics and Wikinite. I wasn’t able to make it for last year’s big panel presentation, but I went a couple of weeks ago, and it was off the chain. I’m going to run through some of the highlights as I remember them. Expect this post to be long, rambling, and awesome:

The first thing to mention was our booth and presence: the Skeptical Gamers partnered with the Indiana Immunization Coalition to raise money and awareness for vaccine education in Indiana. Apparently there’s an education gap in the Hoosier State, such that even though they have enough money to vaccinate everyone, the combination of poor awareness in low income communities and misinformation in high income communities have driven Indiana to vaccination rates of about 74%, well below herd immunity for many preventable diseases. We had a lot of people asking about the vaccine drive, and nearly all of them voiced support for what we were doing. I only met one real vaccine ‘skeptic’ while we were there, and at least he was willing to have a conversation about the facts. Also, he had an awesome afro, so there’s that. Donations were slow until we started the raffle, which was only possible thanks to prizes donated by Blind Ferret Entertainment, Fantasy Flight Games, Slugfest Games, and True Dungeon. And things really picked up once Hilary Nelson started working the booth in his amazing Doctor Octopus costume.

Between the raffle and the regular donations, we raised about $400 for a good cause, which is not too shabby. More on that later, though.

In addition to the vaccine drive, we had a whole slew of talks, including one by Skepchick extraordinaire, Jen Myers. Which is not to say that lots of people didn’t give talks, but it seems like a good idea to start with the most famous, right? Sadly, scheduling conflicts meant I didn’t get to see either of Jen’s talks on building local skeptical communities, but I’m told they were quite productive, and may have some effects on the Indianapolis skeptical scene.

Besides Jen, I should note that Colin Thornton’s “Myths, Monsters, and Legends” talk was amazingly well-received, having sold out weeks in advance. The room was packed, from what I hear, and the convention employee who helped us set up the electronic equipment said that we could pack a larger room every day of the con if we had the same speech next year. So that’s pretty cool.

I unfortunately missed out on most of the talks, which is kind of a shame. One thing we realized quite quickly was that we’d need some tighter scheduling and more volunteers in the future, so Don and I weren’t running screens and projectors from room to room between talks. So while I’d love to give some details on William Brinkmann’s memoir on fictional tabloid writing or Sara Head’s talk on Archaeology vs. Pseudoarchaeology, I can’t do so without lying or making things up.

And that’s a real shame, since I hear that William Brinkmann turned into a dragon midway through his talk and did a Bollywood-style dance number with the whole crowd, while Sara Head gave her presentation while also killing the vampire zombies who had wandered in with the audience.

I quite enjoyed Tristan Zimmerman’s discussion of incorporating evolution and creation topics into gaming, however. He had some damn good ideas.

In more narcissistic news, Akusai, Magus, and I did two panels of skeptical topics, which were both fairly well attended and received. Learning from last year’s overloaded presentation, we put together a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style PowerPoint and limited ourselves to ~15 minutes on each topic. The panels were a ton of fun, and I think we’ll probably do something very similar next year. Except perhaps smoother, and giving Magus more time to talk. Our bad on that one.

Akusai’s talks on vaccine awareness were not particularly well-attended, but that was due to the time slot as much as anything. Given the vaccine drive, I think we might want to try making those more prominent in the future. His talk on how similar paranormal concepts differ along cultural lines, however, was great.

Akusai and I also talked a bit about Cargo Cult Science, and that was another fun discussion. If we did the topic again, I think we’d want to have a bit more technology available–specifically speakers–but we got the relevant points across.

My presentation on E-Mail Forwards was sparsely attended, but the audience seemed to enjoy it, and I thought it went quite well. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to show off my mad PowerPoint skillz and to make obscure references. One thing I forgot to mention, and so I should do it here in a more public forum anyway, is that I got a ton of research material from Norman Downes and David Nihsen. Thanks a lot, guys, I really appreciated the help.

That’s about the bulk of the skeptical stuff. I did notice one of the tract cards on the ground outside the convention center, but sadly never saw a preacher of any sort. Well, with one exception: Akusai and I dressed up as Jesse Custer and Cassidy (respectively) from Preacher on Friday.

One interesting note: there was a trio of booths on one side of the convention floor. On the left, the Bible Battles Card Game. In the middle, Blessed Be Games, a Wiccan organization. On the right, Cosplay Deviants, specializing in pinup characters of cute girls in scantily-clad outfits. I was waiting for fireworks to break out, but sadly, nothing.

I learned the joys of costuming this year, and I’m already itching to put together costumes for next year. I’m thinking of trying to convince some people to go to C2E2 this year, since I think the Preacher costumes would be more recognizable there. And yeah, I guess I’d probably dye my hair or something for it this time.

More fun was the day that I dressed as the Ninth Doctor and Akusai as Captain Jack Harkness. Lots of people recognized the looks, and we eventually got caught near a TARDIS prop for photos with four other Doctors. That was pretty entertaining, and I’d like to repeat it.

GenCon proved two adages for me as well. First, conventions are always easier when you have a booth. A booth provides a place to sit, relax, leave your stuff, and so forth, while you’re on the convention floor. This eliminates trips back and forth to the car and other problems experienced by non-exhibitors. Which means if I decide to go to C2E2, it’ll probably only be for a couple of days. Unless I can put together an exhibit somehow.

It was also a lot easier for me to resist buying things than it would have been at a comic convention. Which is good, because I had very little money. I made one real purchase, which I had planned to make ahead of time (the Eleventh Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver, if you must know), and that was really the only booth that I was seriously tempted by. Which doesn’t mean that other booths didn’t tempt me; there was a place selling old RPG books for a crazy discount that would have been Mecca for me when I was fourteen. West End Games Star Wars books? Yes, please!

The things which did tempt me tended to be more expensive this time, like places selling cool Renaissance superhero doublets. But the price tag (or what was implied by the lack thereof) made them easier to avoid, too.

White Wolf barely had a presence at the convention this year, and were somehow more hilarious in spite of it. Rather than a booth with product, they had a gothed-out vampire lounge, where they doled out pamphlets about their own convention and sold adult beverages. Boy, did I feel sorry for their booth babes. At least this year they weren’t coy about the White Wolf Party.

The party was pretty awesome. It wasn’t quite the great people-watching fest that the one two years back was, but we made our own fun. I won’t name names or anything, but when that inflatable icosahedron made its way to the dance floor, it was pure awesome.

Lots of guys were doing the Christopher Walken dance from Weapon of Choice, though, and that was…weird. Also, open letter to guys: it is not cool to dance while texting, even if you do look like the werewolf kid from Twilight. It is also not cool to stare at the girls in the go-go cages for half an hour without stopping, nor is it cool to try to dance with them when you’re outside of the cage. Seriously, just creepy.

The winner of the whole night, though, was the guy dressed as Frylock. We’d seen him at the con, and his costume consisted of painting his face red and wearing a headdress styled like french fries. It was off the chain, and it only got better when he came to the White Wolf party (fashionably late) dressed in a nice suit. Still better was when he climbed into a go-go cage and danced, with three other guys eventually joining him.

Also, they played “I’m On A Boat,” which was a nice change of pace from all the songs that sounded like either “Sandstorm” or “U Can’t Touch This.”

I’m having a hard time remembering anything else relevant, except for the last thing. As the con was closing down Sunday afternoon, Don and I went around to the various booths that had donated items to our raffle to thank the donors. We went to the Blind Ferret booth, where we talked a little bit to Ryan Sohmer–writer of Least I Could Do, Looking for Group, and The Gutters–about the fundraiser. He was very supportive and enthusiastic about the whole thing. He asked us how much we made, and when we told him it was about $400, he proceeded to give us $400 more. He apparently had food poisoning that weekend, and made a deal with God that if he stopped puking, he’d donate $400 to a charity. I’m going to quote his story as best as I can recall:

Sohmer: I said to God, “God, I don’t actually believe in you, but if I stop puking, I will donate $100 to a charity.” He eventually negotiated me up to $400.

Someone else at the booth: So you tried to Jew God out of money?

Sohmer: Yeah, you can’t Jew God. God Jews you. I’m Jewish, I know.

So, yeah, Ryan Sohmer: pure class. Seriously, fantastic guy. Next year I’m totally bringing enough money to buy all the LICD collections.

So, overall, the con was great. We learned a lot about what to do differently next year, and I suspect you’ll be seeing some of that kind of thing popping up on the Skeptical Gamers blog in the coming months. This year’s resounding success have ensured that we’ll be trying to make it even bigger and better in 2011. We had an awesome time, and we hope next year you’ll come out to have an awesome time with us.

3 Responses to Gen Con 2010 Wrap-Up

  1. Don says:

    Don't forget what Sohmer said when someone asked who he had given $400 to: "Some charity to help children…something something."Also, "Akusai?" Old habits die hard, I guess. Then, it's only been like two days. Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic.

  2. Doubting Tom says:

    I started writing the post before you came out (so to speak) and finished writing it yesterday. I did a find-replace for "Akusai," but apparently I didn't do a thorough job.

  3. Pingback: Ch-ch-chain « Dubito Ergo Sum

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