Kenny Klein with Stapler

Kenny Klein with Stapler

Monday, August 20, 2012

Freaks And Geeks: Gencon!! (Part 1)

Most of my readers know that I'm on tour at the moment. In fact, I am in the final week of my tour. In a week from today, I begin my journey back to NOLA. And I cannot wait to be home!
But the tour is a good one, and I just came from a pretty amazing event; Gencon. Lauren and I spent four days and nights in Indianapolis, Indiana at the event that gamers call “The Best Four Days In Gaming.”

Geeks who read this will know immediately what Gencon is; the world's largest gaming convention. By gaming I mean role playing games, (either played with cards and dice, like Dungeons and Dragons, or LARPs, Live Action Role Playing Games), computer games, empire-building board games, even games familiar to non-geeks like Risk. The con was originally created by Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons And Dragons. It is now run by Gencon LLC, who do a pretty amazing job of hosting one of the greatest conventions I've ever seen.

Now to someone not familiar with gaming this may sound odd; why would people attend a convention for games? But to people who were there (all 40,000 of them!) this is about the biggest event in their gaming lives. People have the option of playing their game of choice with thousands of other players; they can visit booths in the stadium-sized dealer room and try new games; they can attend workshops that teach new games or new gaming skills; they can play familiar games with completely new players; and game companies time the launch of new games to this convention, which allows gamers to get “hooked” by playing the game for hours.

In a convention center the size of some cities, and in adjacent hotels, constant gaming goes on everywhere. Huge halls are devoted to gaming, and hundreds of people will play a single type of game in a hall the size of a gymnasium. Games go on in rooms throughout the convention center, and in rooms of all the adjoining hotels. There is almost nowhere one does not see games. And players will play literally around the clock. One year I saw a game in the lobby of the hotel the con had put me up in. That game was going when I left the hotel on Thursday to play in the halls; when I returned Thursday evening; when I left the hotel Friday morning; when I returned Friday evening; The same game, with the same players, went on fairly continuously until Sunday. That's how Gencon works. 
 As if that's not enough, “pick-up” games break out in hotel lobbies, in hallways, and in food courts. The mall, which is attached by a skyway to the convention center (as are all of the hotels) has pick-up games going on in its hallways and food courts. And LARP players are everywhere, using the city of Indianapolis as their environment for gaming.
 Above and below, games being played in enormous halls at the convention center.

Games being played off-schedule in the food court (above) and the hallway (below).

 A game at a dealer's booth.

People with other focuses are there too. There is all sorts of entertainment: I am one of about a dozen performers hired by the con to play for attendees. I play fiddle and banjo in the hallways, (as well as providing programming for my fellow doll collectors: more about that later). Other acts also perform in the hallways, and some play scheduled shows in rooms of the convention center. Movies are shown every afternoon and evening of the con, both science-fiction/horror films, and anime (Japanese animation). There is also a masquerade ball held on the Saturday evening of the event.
Lauren, Kim and I playing in the hall.

Dan The Bard

A Klingon band (above), and The Great LukeSki (below).

Pirate singers Marooned (above), and the brilliant juggler and comedian Rusty Bawls (below).

Another focus of the con is science-fiction, present in some of the movies shown, in the costumes of attendees, and in the hiring of speakers. In fact, the guests of honor at the con this year were Star Trek alumni Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher of STNG), and Nichelle Nichols, original Star Trek's Uhura (the first AA female to hold an officer's rank on television). Other sci-fi characters are represented throughout the con, such as British sci-fi series Doctor Who, and the American movies about the comic superheroes The Avengers, as well as the usual Star Wars and Batman/Dark Knight portrayals.
Yes, that's a storm trooper in a kilt...

The Tardis, the time travel spaceship of Doctor Who. 

 Guest of honor Wil Wheaton.
Lauren fends off Doctor Who's arch-nemesis, a Dalek.
There is a HUGE Anime presence at Gencon. I've been in the con scene for maybe three decades, and I remember when there was the stereotype that all gamers were nerdy guys who couldn't get a girlfriend, or even speak to a girl. (I honestly do remember a conversation years ago in the con-suite, the VIP room of a con, where several men sat in a circle and spoke about which Star Trek female was the hottest: it broke into a discussion of how you would not be able to mate with a Vulcan girl because their blood is copper-based. All this occurred while a scant few actual human females sat on the edges of the room, alienated from the conversation). Anime is one of the elements that has completely changed that. The Anime scene has brought scores of young women into the science-fiction/gaming community, often with their boyfriends or boy friends. Now, probably half or more of the women you see who are under 30 are dressed as Anime characters at cons. This is especially true of the girl teens and kids. I had conversations about this with several friends and con attendees, and the general consensus is that anime is the first medium to consistently have strong female characters, something you did not see in my generation's comics and movies (example: in classic Star Trek, Uhura outranked Chekov and Sulu; every time Kirk left the bridge in the command of one of these two characters, he should have left it to Uhura. The show's producers feared that audiences would not respond well to a woman being in command of the Enterprise). Role playing games have also started creating strong female characters (examples, Lara Croft, and Alice of Resident Evil, both role playing games that inspired movies with female leads), and women over twenty-five are responding to these portrayals. 
Just a few of the Anime costumes sported by young women at Gencon. 


  1. LukeSki! We met him at Con on the Cob in Hudson Ohio last year! AWESOME!

    Okay, knowing YOU go, now I need to make this one a priority (we go to Origins Game Fair in Columbus every year, but GenCon has gotten much bigger over the past several years).


  2. Weird Synchronicity: Running into Kenny at GenCon after we had both performed at Starwood at Wisteria the past two summers. . .

  3. Weird Synchronicity: Running into Kenny at GenCon after we had both performed at Starwood at Wisteria the past two summers. . .