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.

The Big GenCon Report

I’ve had the better part of a week to recover from the GenCon weekend, so I’d better start writing things down before I forget it all. In a word, it rocked. There were some serious moments of fail, and convention fatigue settled in pretty heavily by the end, but overall it was a blast. The cast of characters includes Akusai, Magus, and the Girlfriend, Wikinite, Jon, the Action Skeptics’ friend Jason, and a few assorted others. What follows is a catalog of my impressions, in no particular order.

  • GenCon was a very different experience for me, compared to my last three trips to Wizard World. Since I was there as an attendee rather than an employee, I wasn’t tied to any one spot for any length of time. While that allows for some freedom, it also meant that I didn’t have any place where I could go, leave my stuff behind, sit down for awhile, and just chill while still on the convention floor.
  • Besides that, it’s been years since I picked up dice in an RPG setting, and I’ve never been much of a board game geek or a MMORPG player. The convention, consequently, was directed at an audience slightly to the left of me. So, while at Wizard World I’m scrambling to do all the things I want to do, buying everything in sight, and getting autographs from everyone I recognize at various booths, I was a lot more laid back at GenCon. I kind of went with the crowd, stopping occasionally to admire or purchase things. While I was easily the most purchase-happy person in the group, I really only bought a few things–the five printed collections of Order of the Stick and a bunch of Doctor Who toys. I exercised restraint in the latter instance, deciding against buying the TARDIS interior playset. Gotta leave something for next year’s convention season, after all.
  • And yet, despite not really having any kind of plan or driving intent, I did an awful lot of things. In fact, about the only thing I didn’t get to do enough of was hanging out with Diamondrock. Our schedules (and my cell phone reception) didn’t allow more than a bit of smalltalk over the course of the weekend, and that’s regrettable. I think I’m going to have to make the trip out to his neck of the woods one of these coming weekends.
  • One other thing that differed between this convention and Wizard World: the prices. At WW, booths are falling over themselves to see who can offer the best deals and cheapest books. Cover price is usually reserved for the newest releases and the graphic novels at Graham Crackers; comics and books go for ridiculously low prices, which is why I buy so many. At GenCon, not so much. There were places with boxes of RPG books or out-of-print stuff at discounted rates, but most folks were selling at or over retail on most things. It wasn’t the bargain-crazy atmosphere I expect from conventions these days.
  • Indianapolis was gorgeous. It was my first time in the city (as far as I can remember), despite the fact that I spent a good portion of my formative years in Fort Wayne, and I really liked the atmosphere. It felt a bit like a smaller, more manageable Chicago, or a slightly less walkable Denver, albeit with more panhandlers-per-capita than I’ve noticed in either place before.
  • And the food! Oh, the food was magnificent. I had fish and chips at the Claddagh; I had a burger the size of my plate at a Scottish place, where I also tried a bite of Wikinite’s haggis (a bit like sticky meatloaf–not bad, because I like meatloaf, but not something I’d order for myself) and ate some scotch eggs (hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, breaded, and deep fried–the egg didn’t really do anything for the snack, but it was good); I went to P.F. Chang’s for the first time, where I learned of the wonders of lettuce wraps and tried tofu (not a fan) and lamb (for the first time in a non-gyros context). Even the place we went for breakfast on Sunday was pretty good, despite the fact that they actually served “freedom fries” and “freedom toast.” Also, the usual standbys like Steak ‘N’ Shake and the Olive Garden.
    About the only place I wasn’t happy with was RAM, a bar and grill near the convention center which was plastered with D&D and other game-related posters and such, and which had renamed many of their dishes after fantasy characters. Magus and Wikinite were unhappy that their Guinnesses were served in keg cups like we were at some frat party (the waiter brought an extra one to make up for it, to his credit); I was slightly more unhappy that I had to scrape cheese and mustard off my burger, even after the waiter repeated my special request back to me. But, you know, one bad eating experience out of the whole weekend still averages out to damn good.
  • It was wonderful to pick up dice and character sheets again, for the first time since High School. Wikinite started an Amber diceless game (which, I guess, had neither dice nor character sheets–the point stands, nonetheless) on Thursday or Friday, based on Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber series. The first book is good so far (though I haven’t made any progress in it since…well, Friday), and the game was a blast. We made our characters in something of a vacuum, which meant that my steampunk alchemist/scientist was a bit out of his league when compared to Magus’s aging Arabian assassin, Akusai’s soul-stealing mad god, and Jason’s otherworldly shadow-manipulator. On the other hand, I got to be snarky, indignant, frequently exasperated, and compared to Xander. So, you know, it evens out. I hope we can get together to finish the game at some point; heck, I wouldn’t mind doing it over Skype or something–in fact, that’d be pretty cool.
  • Akusai and Magus ran a game of Mage: The Ascension on Saturday, which was made of win and full of awesome. Wikinite played a stoner whose powers centered around marijuana; Jon was a bum who believed himself to be Jesus and had the powers to back it up; an ailing Jason played Madame Charlatanne, a psychic of the Sylvia Browne persuasion; and I took up the mantle of Zariel the Blacksun, depressing super-goth extraordinaire. The plot of the game took us up against Jack Thompson and his army of video game-destroying Furries, a gaggle of geeky fantasy authors including “S.A. Ralvatore” and “Ted Greenhood,” Charlton Heston, Robo-Hobo and his mighty bumsaber, and finally Rev. Harry Ballwell and his army of cloned Jesuses Jesii.
    For those who don’t know much about Mage, most mages have some kind of focus–a ritual they perform in order to cast their magic spells. Jon’s Bum-Jesus had to recite a Bible passage, Wikinite had to toke up, and Zariel the Blacksun had to recite terrible Goth poetry. Akusai and Magus had the foresight to print some out along with the character sheets, but I decided early on that it would be fun to do some ad-libbing. Judging from the reactions of the group, that decision was probably for the best, if only because it led to masterpieces like this (from memory–this isn’t exactly it, and I kind of wish we’d been writing these down):

    Spirits, we invoke thee, using the power of three
    Three, a number of great power
    Three, the number of cuts in the perfect suicide
    One across, the classic
    One down, for practicality
    One diagonal:

    And so forth, reciting in the most pretentious, self-absorbed, overly-serious voice I could muster. I reached down into the deepest depths of my teenage angst and poured forth some hilarious poetic dreck, and it was good. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to play the character again, and I hope I get the chance.

  • The costumes worked out pretty well (pictures forthcoming). On Saturday, Magus and Akusai went as Dante Hicks and Randall Graves from Clerks II (respectively), and I went as Silent Bob, with a costume that was a bit of a hodgepodge of the various View Askew films. It’s a shame Jon couldn’t get a Jay costume together, but things worked out pretty well. We had several people hit us up for pictures, which is pretty exciting since I spent a grand total of, like, $45 on that costume. Akusai, the Girlfriend, and I went to Lafayette’s finest costume shops in search of a wig on Wednesday, and the Girlfriend was probably right in the one she pointed out, but the one I ended up buying actually worked pretty well…after Akusai and I took a knife to it Saturday morning.
  • I bought my first pack of cigarettes for the costume–I just bite it; it’s for the look, I don’t light it. On one hand, I totally get why people would carry them around. It was very handy to have something to gesture with, to fiddle with absentmindedly in my hands, and so forth. It felt very natural. On the other hand, it started making my lips numb whenever I held it in my mouth for more than a few seconds, and the sweet tobacco smell became sickening after a little while–especially with the way it lingered all over my hands and stuck in my mouth. I inhaled once with the thing unlit, and I about choked on the awful taste–I can’t imagine how or why people can stand it on a regular basis.
    To split the difference, I’m seriously thinking about taking up bubblegum cigarettes. Failing that, I may finally invest in a bubble pipe.
  • I’m going to leave it there for now. The various fundies and the EVP presentation will probably be the next post, and at some point I’ll talk a bit about the White Wolf party. Stick around!