GenCon A “Bukkake-Like Spray Of Cogs And Crinolines” By Kevin Lovelace

Posted by August 11, 2010 Comment

Steampunk wheelchair, photo by Felicia Day.

Kevin Lovelace writes for Bleeding Cool:

GenCon Game Fair 2010 has come and gone, leaving in its wake gutters full of dice, hungover gamers slow to escape the bars and a lot of grinning downtown Indianapolis merchants.  For the uninitiated, GenCon is the largest gaming convention in the U.S.  For 4 days in August, Indianapolis, Indiana becomes the pen and paper and dice set’s version of San Diego.  Founded by Gary “creator of Dungeons and Dragons” Gygax, himself in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (Hence the “Gen” in the Con) GenCon pays host to celebrities, performers and gamers of all stripes. This year, despite the economy, early projections put attendance comfortably in the neighborhood of 28k.

One attendee I spoke to wondered if this was the year that Steampunk-as-cosplay would peak, and someone else described this year’s con as “where Steampunk goes do die.”   Neither were far from the mark as the Steampunk trend that has been hot for the last few years in  geek circles exploded over this year’s event in a bukkake-like spray of cogs and crinolines.  Every other company was showing a Steampunk product, it seemed, and you couldn’t throw a spanner without hitting historical figures with Gatling guns, vixens in bustles, or top hats adorned with one too many pairs of goggles.  I swear to God, there was one vendor selling gears with extra gears glued on to make the gears more Steampunk-y.

Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit about that last one.

Still, if it could be Steampunk-ed it was, for better or for worse. I’ll be honest, the idea of “Steampunk-as-cosplay” makes me wonder what it would have been like if Cosplay had been a major thing when I
was goth.  Would people have been cosplaying as goth? (Outside of Vampire LARPers or the endless swarms of guys dressed as Eric Draven.) We used to call people who did that “poseurs.”

High attendance numbers don’t tell the whole story, though.  That the pen-and-paper RPG and gaming industry is in flux isn’t a secret, but there was a really strange vibe to this years con on an industry level.  The next few years are going to be passing strange for those in the industry.  CATALYST GAME LABS, publishers of BATTLETECH and SHADOWRUN had a large showing even though they’re currently recovering from an embezzlement scandal, accusations of not paying freelancers, as well the loss of creator-owned games CTHULUTECH and ECLIPSE PHASE. Industry veterans and the company that made Emo Werewolves and Vampires cool for suburban kids long before Stephanie Meyer, WHITE
WOLF had a minimal presence with no new products – or any products for that matter.  While they threw their trademark roving event THE SUCCUBUS CLUB, after dark on Saturday their presence was a far cry from what it had been historically. Of course, the rumor mill was abuzz that this confirmed that WHITE WOLF/CCP was scrapping traditional RPG publishing in favor of an MMO.  When asked about this prospect, a staffer-to-remain-nameless asked me if I was going to be at their Grand Masquerade in New Orleans next month, by way of an answer.  Speaking of video games, notably absent was EA/BIOWARE – strange given their huge presence last year.  WIZARDS OF THE COAST, as always, was there in full strength, with a healthy showing for DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (in its MMO-inspired 4th ed incarnation) and MAGIC: THE GATHERING.

(As cynical as I am, and as often as I’ve been to these things, the sight of an elderly gentleman in a suit, what looked to be a housewife, a young teenager dressed as Naruto and a little kid playing a pick-up game of MAGIC in the hallways still made me grin like an idiot.)

EDEN STUDIOS was there, launching their new HACK/SLASH card game.  In other comics tie-in news, MARGARET WEIS PRODUCTIONS launched their SMALLVILLE RPG – the latest in a line of television tie-ins for the publisher.  (They also produce the BATTLESTAR GALACTIA, SERENITY, and SUPERNATURAL RPGs with LEVERAGE coming soon.)  MUTANTS & MASTERMINDS publisher GREEN RONIN PUBLISHING released their DC UNIVERSE game.  The first book is essentially MUTANTS AND MASTERMINDS 3rd edition and is the first in a four book licensing deal with DC.

The thing seemingly on everyone’s lips was PAX.  From publishers who chose to save their major or only appearance for the Seattle-based Penny Arcade eXpo to attendees who admitted that despite years of GenCon being their convention experience of choice, were skipping next year’s GenCon in favour of PAX.  It seems that PAX. with its appeal to all kinds of gamers is a major threat to GenCon remaining the premier dedicated gaming event.

Still, despite the changes and confusion evident in the industry and the meandering shift in focus – for gamers I talked to – from the socially awkward stereotypes of THE GAMERS, THE GUILD and CODE MONKEYS to the part-time, stealth and weekend gamers – the refrain was the same: “GenCon is like visiting family.”  To a large extent it’s not about the corporate presence, it’s about the events that are run by gamers for gamers:  Steampunk cotillions, pole-dancing classes,speed dating, belly-dancing, armor making, cosplay, anime dubbing and gaming – lots and lots of gaming, 24hrs a day for 4 days.

My Final Tally:

New games I fell in love with: BULLY PULPIT’s Cohen Brothers movie simulator FIASCO, and Elizabeth Shoemaker-Sampat’s BLOWBACK.
Old games I continue to love: ECLIPSE PHASE
Steampunk Abe Lincolns: 1
Women in Chain Main Bikinis: 4
Sexy Darth Vaders: 1
Booths selling soap: 1
LARPers I caught having sex in an elevator: 2
Writers who can’t shake the word “blackface” from popping into their minds when surrounded by people cosplaying as Dark Elves and feel more than a little uncomfortable: 1
Gamers without hotel rooms trying to sleep in one of the Anime rooms: 10
Women dressed as Codex from THE GUILD who were not Felicia Day: 3
People trying to pretend they had just something in their eye at the end of Wrath of Khan on the big screen: All of them.

(Last Updated August 11, 2010 12:29 pm )

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