Below is my report on Gen Con 2016 for the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games. I will be posting more from this advocacy work, which newsletter I edit. I also have some other exciting news about my various gaming interests and activities.
I would enjoy any feedback or ideas you'd like to share.
Convention Report: Gen Con 2016
This past month I had the pleasure of once again attending Gen Con, a convention I’ve watched grow and change and which I have attended more years than not since 1978, when it was in Racine, Wisconsin and held on the campus of University of Wisconsin Parkside with an attendance of a couple of thousand. Things have changed. Gen Con is now held in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, and has around fifty thousand in attendance over four, now sort of five, days.
I began on the convention’s extra day, the day before the main convention, which is now Trade Day and held in the comfortable atmosphere of the JW Marriott, adjacent to the main convention center. There are two primary tracks, one for teachers and one for business, mostly retailers. A couple of dozen manufacturers demonstrate their games in the evening.
I led three one-hour workshops, one each for using board games, card games, and roleplaying games as educational tools. I had had fifteen to twenty-five people at each, and the responses were positive. Skipping over the general benefits of games for minds young and old, I discussed the obstacles and solutions to using these particular game formats. I used Fluxx, Infection, and Fate as my example games, and we explored how I’ve used them and how to use them and such games more generally. Most attendees were eager for specifics and the nuts-and-bolts logistics of using such games. I am thinking that when I have a chance to present again, no sooner than 2018 due to the convention calendar, I am likely to offer one or more workshops in finding particular games for individual teacher’s needs and developing the reasoning for the games’ use and their deployment into the learning environments.
Trade Day, at least the education track, had more women than men and some diversity. Since I presented for three of the six hours and ended up in several hallway discussions, I saw only a few of the other offerings, but it was clearly a rich exchange of ideas, and participants enjoyed it. I recommend attending Trade Day if you attend Gen Con in the future, and I would be happy to put anyone in contact with the organizers. If you present at Trade Day, you get a free badge for the rest of the convention!
While Trade Day attracted no more than a couple of hundred attendees on Wednesday, the next day saw the arrival of thousands and thousands of eager gamers, and the numbers and intensity of the convention grew steadily into the weekend. As of this time, I haven’t seen final attendance numbers for Gen Con 2016, but it was humongous. A diverse crowd of all ages thronged the vast convention center and more than half a dozen major conference hotels in the surrounding area, most of them connected by skywalks. Aging white males like me, who probably also came into the hobby in the sixties and seventies were present, but so were young families, grandparents, young women, people of color, all enjoying their many colorful and playful overlapping interests.
Board games and card games are huge these days. People of all ages were playing Pokémon Go throughout the area, and there were even dealers selling access to mobile-only games and other digital materials for games. Roleplaying games, Gen Con’s bread and butter of many decades, were certainly visible, though Pathfinder seemed to be the only RPG going on in the main convention center. Everything from the latest indie games to truly OSR games like Bunnies and Burrows and everything in between had their sessions in the various gaming areas of the sprawling downtown meeting spaces. Small demonstration games, one-shots, and major tournaments were in play. The venerable Chaosium, now restored to financial health, sponsored scores of Call of Cthulhu games. It was all going on all the time. Wizards of the Coast, now owned by Hasbro, hasn’t been directly present at Gen Con for years, but sessions of Dungeons & Dragons were matched in number only by Pathfinder.
The Exhibition Hall reflected these many interests and approximately their popularity at the convention. Hundreds of companies, large and small, touted their board games, card games, family games, and party games. Roleplaying game publishers were fewer in number than in the past, and many of them had non-RPGs for sale or in development. That said, there were new RPG products and re-sales of old ones at every turn. Roleplaying games are alive and well, even flourishing in new ways, but as I discussed in my Wednesday afternoon workshop, they are a way of play that requires more investment of time and energy than most other types.
I had a wonderful time. I was able to catch up at length with several friends, and I attended some interesting seminars and presentations. I was able to play in terrific games all day Saturday. I enjoyed the new Runequest rules through my Storm Bull character, and it was a pleasure to visit Harn again in my role as the pilot during a fraught voyage up the Thard River. I look forward to my next Gen Con!