Another Gen Con has come and gone, only the sore feet and tired eyes remain. I don’t know how many Gen Cons I have attended, it has been more than 5 but not as many as 49. Every year I learn some new things and refine some old beliefs. This year we expanded our working convention to include a family vacation, nothing could possibly go wrong, right?
As an aside, while I discuss situations here that may have happened at Gen Con, I am not specifically calling anyone or anything out, I just happen to have a good feel for adults at conventions and children in general. The only melt downs I witnessed were my own.
Aside the second, my experiences at Gen Con were my own and are colored by the decision I made prior to attending. Gen Con is a working convention for me. I mention several companies, products, and people in this blog, for full disclosure I have a working or friendly relationship with (most of) these people and their companies. There are other great companies and people in the industry that I simply have not yet had time to make connections with. If you have other family friendly games, products, resources, or organizations, please share them in the comments!
Children and Gaming Conventions
We live close enough to Indianapolis that our children have attended on Sunday for Family Day the last few years. This year we took them for the whole convention. Family vacations are hard on a family, even if you’re going to a place that caters to families. While Gen Con can be family friendly, it is not intrinsically a family event. That said, Gen Con has a child only button scavenger hunt and nearly every booth has a pin or button they’re handing out or some other items for new little friends. Our son called his pin ladened lanyard his “medals” and he wore it with pride. Lone Shark has their annual Gen Con Puzzle Hunt, which appeared in the Gen Con program to pass the time.
As a parent, it falls to you to make wise decisions about what you do and where you take your children. Pre-planning is the only way to handle four days of around the clock gaming. Plan light and don’t push everyone to their limits. As adults, we can be bold and stupid, sleeping less than 5 hours a night and eating fast, fried foods once a day. Growing bodies and minds don’t always navigate that kind of stress well. Some melt downs and blow ups can be avoided if you treat your children with respect and some situations cannot be avoided, best to be prepared to abandon the battle with a moment’s notice. No one wants to share a table with a child struggling with their emotions. If your child is strongly emoting at Gen Con, they’re probably pushed beyond their limits, it’s time to take a break, get a snack, and regroup while trying to figure out how many cartoon cosplayers you’ve seen. Scheduling down time is the best way to avoid disaster and allow everyone to be refreshed when opportunities for fun present themselves.
Our children are 13 and 9, they are old enough to have experienced some grown up situations, whether deliberately or by accident. Sometimes it’s adult language or cosplay of an adult nature. Given their ages, we attempt to prepare our children in advance for the things they might experience. I would rather explain ad nauseum in the privacy of our home or hotel room, rather than in the middle of a convention hall, who LeeLoo is and the plotline of The Fifth Element. We have had lengthy discussions on when it is appropriate to use four letter words – yes, we have given our children permission to express themselves, but they seem to be more well-mannered than their mother – and discussed that such language is likely to be encountered.
Without safe places to help children model good adult skills, we risk having not so awesome adults. Gen Con does provide children specific areas – like The Training Grounds, Family Fun Pavillion, and setting aside Sunday as Family Fun Day, which has reduced ticket prices for the whole family. There are more and more companies working to expand their current lines to include children. Paizo has their Pathfinder Academy/Kids’ Track, which Venture Captain Lucas Servideo puts a lot of effort into to provide coloring books and a welcoming experience for young PFS players.
The ENnie’s puts a spotlight on great family gaming opportunities every year with their “Best Family Game” category. Monte Cook Games No Thank You, Evil won this year’s ENnie in the category, however, each nominated game is worth checking out. There are many games of all types specifically geared toward children, some new players this year include: Playground Adventures produces Pathfinder compatible products that are designed for young player perspectives, avoiding super scary or adult content; Pugmire by Onyx Path allows players to portray canine adventurers, not specifically for children, but who doesn’t want to be a good dog? And happenstance put me at a table with Plaid Hat’s Mice and Mystics, which was created to help the game designer’s young son become a stronger reader, I have not played it, but it did pique my interest.
The ladies at ConTessa promoted a game night Thursday evening where all the tables were run by women of all ages (our youngest GM was 13) and all ages were welcome to play as appropriate for the table. Planning ahead can provide families the opportunity to meet up for some children only gaming experiences, it was pretty satisfying to watch our children game at a table run by and for other children. Never underestimate the fun of just sitting down and playing a game with your children, at a convention or home. It helps to hone their social skills and gives them the opportunity to learn how to both win and lose with grace. Being a good role model can be hard sometimes (see aforementioned four lettered words), but if you have children, a role model is what you are. It’s important to remember that they are going to do what you do, not what you tell them to do, so be on your best behavior.
Overall, Gen Con can be a family vacation, just keep in mind that it requires some family input. We perhaps did not provide our children with the best family vacation ever, however we learned a lot for next year and we spent the time together as a family, sharing experiences and building memories and stories for years to come.