Convention Review: GenCon 2012

GenCon_2012

With more than 36,000 attendees, GenCon is among the largest events of it’s type in the US, and it is the single biggest conference in the state of Indiana. GenCon has a long and distinguished history, having been founded in 1967 by the late Gary Gygax, the co-creator of the world’s most famous role playing game (RPG), Dungeons and Dragons.

The conference was originally held in Wisconsin, and changed locations several times over the years before settling into it’s current home in Indy in 2003, at the Indianapolis Convention Center. The show is primarily divided into two parts – an exhibit/vendor hall, and several large gaming areas. The vendor hall features more than 330 booths, with nearly every kind of game imaginable on display – RPGs, board games, collectible card games, and more.  Major video game companies have also had a presence at past shows, although they’ve been mostly absent in recent years.

In addition to games, you’ll find booths dedicated to live action role playing (LARPing), featuring a huge array of authentic looking medieval weapons (made of foam, but molded and painted to look like metal), armor, shields, chainmail, and leather goods.

Even if, like me, you’re not a hardcore gamer, the vendor hall still has a lot to offer including a variety of pop-culture merch, T-shirts, novelties, toys, and books. You can also find one of the largest fantasy art shows in the country, and much of the art is available for sale. There are also vendors selling costumes and accessories for cosplay, and a lot of steampunk stuff in particular.

Of course, gaming is what the show is all about, and GenCon features several different game areas spread out over thousands of square feet of convention space, as well as the 10,00 square foot True Dungeon, a relatively recent addition to the show.

From the True Dungeon website: “True Dungeon is a d20 variant that allows players to experience their D&D adventure within a life-size, walk through dungeon environment.”

“Not a LARP, True Dungeon instead focuses on problem solving, teamwork and tactics while providing exciting sets and interactive props. Players may find themselves creeping down a dark passageway and entering a long-forgotten crypt. After dispatching a lurking guardian, the players may have to solve a cryptic puzzle or find a secret door in order to gain a wondrous treasure chest. It takes two hours to explore the dungeon, and teams of ten players need only bring their imagination and quick wit. No prior D&D or gaming experience is needed. In fact, a party with an array of different experience levels usually does well. This is a perfect vehicle to let some non-D&D gamers experience the fun and thrills of dungeoneering.”

This was my 3rd year at GenCon, and attendance looked as strong as ever. Like I said, I don’t consider myself a hardcore gamer, but I always find plenty of awesome stuff to check out. I did notice that aside from the standard new game releases, the merchandise offerings this year were pretty much identical to last year’s show. Cosplay is a big part of the event, and there were some amazing costumes – although I suspect the most impressive stuff will come out later today (Saturday) during the annual costume contest. (Be sure to check out my photo gallery below for a sample.)

Food at the event is handled by the convention center, and it’s pretty tasty but on the expensive side. A bottle of water and a couple of slices of pizza will run you about 12 bucks. Parking is fairly abundant in downtown Indy, however this is a huge event and it doesn’t take long for garages to fill up. Don’t be surprised if you have to walk several blocks to get to the Convention Center.

If you’re expecting a Comic Con style event with lots of celebrity autograph opportunities, you might be disappointed. GenCon always has a few celebrity guests, but it’s not an ‘autograph farm’ like a lot of other shows. Guests at this year’s event include Nichelle Nichols, Wil Wheaton, and Wes Bently.

My two biggest complaints about GenCon are the lack of video game companies in the exhibit hall, and the crappy GenCon website.  Video games were a larger part of past shows, but in the last few years the big companies have been noticeably absent – this year, only Konami had a major presence.  I suppose I can’t fault the organizers for the video game thing, because that’s not really what this show is all about. Including video games would definitely open up GenCon to a wider audience – who might then discover a whole new hobby in RPGs – but with nearly 40,000 people in attendance, it’s not like the event is hurting for ticket sales.

The website is another story.  GenCon has the ugliest, clunkiest event site I have ever seen, hands down.  The design looks like it hasn’t gotten an overhaul since the early 90s – at first glance it could easily be confused with a 94-year-old woman’s quilting blog. There is a lot of information available, but it’s very poorly organized. Finding even the most basic details can take multiple clicks and twenty minutes of frustration. It took me at least that long just to find the show hours – in fact, I gave up on the GenCon site and ended up Google-ing it. When I did, I found dozens of other people complaining, so I know it’s not just me. Again, I’m willing to cut the organizers a little slack. With so many events and so much going on, it’s a huge undertaking to keep all that info straight. But there’s no excuse for the butt-ugly design and for not having the show hours right on the main page!

Events at this years GenCon include:

  • Costume contest with over 70 contestants
  • Life size 10,000 square foot True Dungeon
  • Auction
  • Authors Avenue
  • Anime
  • Seminars, panels and Q & A’s with industry and media celebrities
  • Family Fun Pavilion
  • E-game Arena
  • Film Festival

GenCon 2012 Photo Gallery:

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About Dave_P

Dave_P studied fine arts and film history and is a graphic and web designer, and a diehard movie fan. David has been involved with a variety film festivals including the Cinephile Film Festival, the PRIDE Film festival, and the Manhattan Short Film festival, and is currently the director of the Dark Carnival Film Fest in Bloomington, Indiana. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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