Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gen Con 2011

I'm just back from a long weekend in Indianapolis, Indiana, attending Gen Con, an awesome annual gathering of tens of thousands of gamers. I've been attending Gen Con on and off, mostly on, since the late 70s, and it's changed over the years, of course, but remains great fun and an important part of my games and education work.

Gen Con is huge. Somewhere around thirty thousand people attend over the course of four days. Events and exhibition halls filled the entire Indianapolis Convention Center and spill over into six or more neighboring hotels. The dealer's hall and the art show occupied the entirety of one of two cavernous spaces, while the other was filled with board, card, and war gamers. Roleplaying and the LARP events were mostly in the smaller hotel meeting rooms, which cut down on distracting noise.

Gen Con began on Thursday, but Trade Day, which for a small extra ticket price featured game demos and discussions of games in classrooms and libraries, preceded it. It seems to be aimed at educators and store owners. I had planned to attend this extra day, but a friend's illness prevented me from arriving in time. I hope to be there next year!

I haven't made it to Gen Con for several years, so I was struck, anecdotally of course, by some demographic shifts. There were more families and kids of all ages, and there were more activities for non-gamer spouses, including many crafts, and for kids, ranging from LEGOs to boffer wars to puzzles. There were more women and girls everywhere, involved in all aspects of the hobby, and there were more women running games.

My hotel, the Westin, was the home base for anime at Gen Con, which I had visited with my daughter in the past. While anime and manga hadn't taken over much more space, the convention itself had more anime enthusiasts than ever, and there was more costuming in general. Eager teens continue to inject their energy and youth into the hobby, as more and more of them seem to be also enjoying the gaming, and many gamers dabble in anime and manga as well. While still small, there were more people of color at Gen Con this year, and I was especially struck by significant numbers of Latino players.

My game focus, of course, was roleplaying, and this was dominated at the con by Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. Wizards of the Coast was promoting its Neverwinter setting, though as Michael Tresca has noted, Pathfinder is now more successful than D&D. Other popular RPGs were 7th Sea, Call of Cthulhu, Hackmaster, Hero, Legend of the Five Rings, Shadowrun, and Star Wars, and there were dozens of RPGs with a game or two. I ran a two-part HeroQuest tournament, set in a region of Glorantha that I have been developing, and a one-hour introduction to the same game. For every session I had players, some of whom had never played before and left having had some fun!

A highlight of the convention was running a Games and Education seminar on Saturday afternoon. It was well attended by about thirty teachers, parents, and game designers. We varied in our schools, levels, subjects taught, games enjoyed, and game use. There were several new teachers, which is very exciting. We discussed issues with convincing administrators and parents, implementing games of various kinds, and a few specific games like Pay Day for financial literacy and Forbidden Island as a cooperative game. It was a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation, and we decided to continue and open it to others with a Facebook page. Thanks, Bruce! I plan to post some of my materials as soon as I finish this blog entry.

Finally, I picked up a couple titles from MacFarland Books, an independent academic publisher. I'll write reviews of Gaming as Culture and The Functions of Role-Playing Games as I finish them. I also bought a copy of Shannon Appelcline's Designers and Dungeons from Mongoose Games, a weighty tome on the history of the game industry. David Niecikowski and I met face to face for the first time, and he was gracious enough to give me a copy of his latest project, Game Design in the Classroom. I certainly have my reading material for the next few months! I'll share what I discover.

All in all, Gen Con was a blast! It's always a pleasure to see so many game enthusiasts gather in one place, and this year it continued to be a diverse and delightful experience.

Paideia School is about to start up for another school year, and I have Dragon Con here in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, so I'll be mighty busy for a while, but as I have indicated, there's plenty to discuss here, so I'll be back soon.

Have fun!

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