We are 7 days for Gen Con 2017. SEVEN DAYS till the best 4 Days of Gaming (TM)! This year is a big deal, it is also the 50th Gen Con and a sold out crowd. If this is your first time visiting Indianapolis for GenCon, you’re in for an exciting time, if you’re a seasoned veteran we hope you’ll find some helpful advice and new opportunities available at the convention. While this is an updated version of my 2016 Paizo Con post, I feel like it cannot be overstated how important it is to use your critical thinking skills at a convention, so I’m going to share it again.
A quick history of GenCon. GenCon began in 1968 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and takes its name from the shortened Geneva Convention. Originally the convention focused on war gaming, but over the years has grown to include all takes of games and outgrown numerous convention sites. Last year’s attendance was 60,819 unique attendees, making it one of the largest gaming conventions in the world. This will be the 50th GenCon.
With all of that in mind, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the offerings found at GenCon, modestly touted as The Best Four Days in Gaming, which is not much of an exaggeration. Events start early Thursday morning and roll for 24 hours a day until Sunday at 3pm. The convention is spread out over a vast piece of real estate as well. Not only does GenCon utilize every square inch of the Indianapolis Convention Center (ICC), it spills into nearly every connecting hotel and Lucas Oil Stadium.
How to have a successful GenCon
- Plan ahead.
If you have never attended GenCon or any other large convention, spend some quality time looking over the event catalogue. It is available online at www.gencon.com . There you will find a listing of every registered event, whether a game, seminar, spouse activity, workshop, or entertainment options, as well as a map. The date, time, and location are all included in these listings. Taking time to pre-plan your excursion will give you some clue as to where to start your day, when you’ll have time for breaks, and whether or not you’re going to be able to get from the that seminar in the Westin right before you play True Dungeon in Lucas Oil Stadium.
- Be mindful of your surroundings.
Don’t get so caught up in the experience that you lose sight of where you are. Be aware of your surroundings, because it can be really easy to miss a small person or someone with adaptive equipment moving through a crowd while you’re all moving like salmon in a spawning river. The Indianapolis Convention Center is enormous, the dealer hall is massive. People are milling around and space is limited, make every effort to look where you are going at all times.
- Be mindful of your fellow attendees.
Not only in a physical sense, but in a human sense. We live in a world where predators seek their prey where ever and whenever they present themselves. Harassment is common at conventions, especially directed at women and nonconforming individuals. Despite numerous blogs, videos, and commentary to the contrary, there is no such thing as a “fake geek/gamer/nerd” among the individuals who spend countless hours crafting cosplay or waiting for a game to begin or standing at gaming terminals burning it up or learning a new game at a demo table. Every person at a convention is there to enjoy themselves within their chosen fandom.
If you see someone behaving strangely, which could include having a medical emergency, or witness an actual crime in progress, call for help, find a convention employee or volunteer, bring it to the attention of people around you. Safety is something we all need to be aware of. There are reports of drinks being roofied at bars and attendees spending conventions hospitalized or worse. Practice safety at all times while traveling.
This does not, however include reporting people using the bathrooms as intended, please let those people do nature’s business in peace. #Illgowithyou pins are found here – http://www.illgowithyou.org/ and Back Up Ribbon project has event ribbons to help attendees to self-identify to end bullying and harassment of all varieties – https://backupribbonproject.com/
All of that said, do not be a hero unless you are trained in such matters. Placing yourself in danger can be more of a detriment when trained first responders arrive. Hold the space, get help, or provide help if the situation is safe.
- Respect personal space.
Personal space can be at a premium in crowded conventions, do your best to provide it whenever you can. This includes making your own personal space as neutral to pleasant as possible. Use shower facilities and an antiperspirant every day you are in attendance. Do not go too far the other way either, no one wants to be able to smell you 15 minutes after you’ve passed by. Be generous with soap and sparing with the cologne. Some people have serious allergies and triggering an asthma attack is not the goal here.
- Participate in self-care, daily.
Conventions are exciting and no one wants to miss a single moment, but no one wants to be around a bunch of cranky gamers either. Do not sleep on the floor at a convention, seek out the Quiet Room, which can be found on your handy dandy Convention map. Edited: The Quiet Room is once again ICC 211 in the Convention Center.
You should sleep in a bed for at least a handful of hours every day/night of the convention. You should eat at least two real meals each 24 hour period, not just a handful of snacks. Pack nutritious food if you must in order to save money. No one said conventions were cheap, plan accordingly. Some people use the 3-2-1 rule: 3 hours sleep, 2 meals, 1 shower – I don’t know about you, but I need more than 3 hours of sleep, but that would be a minimum.
- Know and acknowledge your limits.
As mentioned before, no one wants to miss out on the fun, but there is no fun when you’ve over exerted yourself, had too much to drink, not enough sleep, and your blood sugar is tanking. Conventions are expensive to attend, even when attended frugally. Don’t waste your convention money and time behaving like you’ve never been off the set of Animal House.
Overbooking your schedule is easy to do as you look over the events catalog. Order your tickets, especially if you’re looking at free events and plan for the best. You should feel no guilt when you have to bail on that fourth seminar in 5 hours after playing a 5 hour table top event, especially for the free events. There is no shame in realizing you just need to sit down, have a drink and a snack and take some time to recharge. That’s adulting and you’re doing it right.
For ticketed games, try to let the GM know you won’t be there, that way they can fill that seat and not wonder if you’re just running late. At GenCon, you may use generic tickets for an event that someone has not shown up for. With that in mind, purchase some generic tickets and arrive at the game you’re hoping to get in on and let the GM know before the game begins, then wait patiently and out of the way if they have open spot at their table. My own GMing gig instructs to wait 10 minutes to see if all purchased ticket holders arrive and then accept generic tickets to fill my table.
- Don’t travel alone, always have a wing person.
Unless you absolutely must travel alone, always go with someone else to all places, even if it is just to the bathroom and you’re pretty sure it will only take a minute. Several years ago I was at GenCon and I was very ill, although I did not yet realize the extent of my illness. I was walking through the concourse by myself and I nearly passed out. I will be forever grateful that a friend of mine, who also happens to be a nurse, saw me at that exact moment and reined me in. She sat me down, got me something to drink and stayed with me until I was feeling better. She even walked me back to where I was going and made sure I was safe. It was that moment when I realized I really looked as terrible as I felt, but I had a mission. Honestly, that “mission” wasn’t half as important as me remaining upright and safe. I am a confident and independent person, but in a place where no one knows your name, that’s not always a benefit. I should have listened to the messages my body was sending me all day and I should have stayed with my party. I was lucky that year. I never go anywhere without my phone and the knowledge that someone knows where I am.
- Don’t break the convention’s rules.
No one likes to be told what to do, however those rules are in place to maintain order and to provide record keeping for the convention. That means don’t trade badges or tickets that have your name printed on them. While not specifically stated in any convention rules I have ever seen, always carry some form of legal identification on your person at all times in addition to my convention badge.
- Think like an adventurer, be prepared.
You are going to be in a strange location with thousands of people you don’t know. Carry some cash somewhere other than in your wallet. Don’t carry all of your money on you at one time. Walk with purpose, make eye contact with people. Do not take short cuts through a non-convention building or between buildings. Know your exits. Keep your important belongings within arm’s reach at all times. Know who you are responsible for if you’re traveling with children or others with special needs. This might seem a little alarmist, but speaking as someone who has been evacuated from more than one building for emergency reasons, being ready to move and traveling light affords you peace of mind when unexpected things happen. You never want to have to use your emergency preparations, but you never want to be in a position where you find you needed them and were without.