We are a mere 3 weeks out from the first day of Gen Con Indy 2010, the center of the gaming universe, and pretty much the most awesome thing I get to do all year that isn’t related to my kid’s first words or something. I’ll be starting some of our Gen Con coverage with a short list of Do’s and Don’ts that first-time or less-experienced Gen Con goers may find useful. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, just a topic-starter; if you’re a cagey old Gen Con vet, feel free to add your own wisdom below. (I left out “DO SHOWER”, because the people who would listen already shower, and the ones who wouldn’t never will).
-Do a little homework.
I know, I know, you’re there to have fun! Who wants to do homework, right? Really, though, a little bit of research on the web can fill you in on new releases at Gen Con, find out which booths have the best swag (a dwindling number, sadly), and which vendors will be there (and at which booth numbers). One of the things I like to do is write down booths, events, and contact information in a PocketMod. It’s fun and quick to make, recyclable, and is a really handy quick reference when you’re trying to remember where to visit Reaper Minis (booth 1521) or Tabletop Adventures (booth 530). See? With my PocketMod in hand, that was a snap!
-Don’t stuff your schedule.
Gen Con is huge. Like, really, amazingly, tremendously big. I have been going for years and I still haven’t done and seen and played everything I want. It’s very easy to look at the massive list of events and fill up your schedule so that you have no time for anything else.
Give yourself time to do demos, sign up for games on-site after trying them out, and to walk that magical dealer room floor. What I do is have a list of events and free seminars I could attend over the course of a day if I find myself with nothing to do. Leave yourself time to be spontaneous.
-Do get one good meal in/dine selectively.
The food in the convention center can be quite good, if by good you mean “canned instant diarrhea”. Bring a couple of snacks, avoid the immediate vendors whenever possible, and walk over to the Circle Center Mall or one of the nearby restaurants for at least one meal. If that doesn’t work for your budget, well, a nice peanut butter sandwich will do the trick nicely. I've found having a solid breakfast lets you keep your energy much more than a big lunch, which can make you sleepy. Having a nice meal with good friends while talking gaming is an all-too-rare pleasure in this life. Take the time to have a sit-down meal—your body, mind, and digestive tract will thank you. Oh, and bring a water bottle you can fill. Drinks are overpriced, and hydrating will keep you going longer.
-Don’t Touch Things or Take Photos Without Permission
Last year, I watched a fat-fingered gamer grab an expensive sculpture and promptly drop it, breaking it into tiny, expensive shards. Another guy was taking pictures of a young girl dressed like an elf, and niether she or her kilt-wearing dad looked too happy at being bothered about it. We’re not animals, guys and gals. Many items on display are fragile or limited editions for display only. It never hurts to ask before handling something, especially if it looks breakable. If you’re wanting to take a pic of someone in costume, be nice and ask permission first. Besides, you get better poses that way! Basically, remember your manners—our hobby doesn’t need any additional rude, grabby jackasses.
Gen Con fills a dizzying array of skywalks, hotels, and various nooks and crannies of the core of downtown Indianapolis. Take a couple of hours one afternoon or evening and just walk around. You’ll find singing pirates, movie screenings, impromptu games and demos, roaming bands of gamers heading towards fun activities you’ll want to tag along for, and if you’re like me, you might even find yourself an unwanted guest in a LARP of some sort (sorry, vampires and Victorians). To me, seeing more of what Gen Con holds can give you a much better appreciation of what it is. Gen Con is alive 24/7, and you want to experience the maze-like mysteries it holds.
-Don’t Judge A Booth By Its Cover
Some of the best games I’ve found were off the beaten path, at small 10’x10’ booths that might escape the notice of many busy conventioneers. Listen to some of the pitches, be polite, and give their game a chance. Big ideas start small, and the next diamond in the rough might be in the next booth over. Of course, if you aren’t interested after hearing about it, be polite and move on.
-Do Take Advantage Of The Free Stuff
C’mon--$8.00 to sit in on an RPG game you aren’t going to like? Basically all the seminars at Gen Con are free, and many booths with games with have free demos in the dealer room for you to enjoy. Limit those 6-hour marathon blocks you’re paying for to the ones you really know you want, and look on ENWorld, RPGNet, and even the Gen Con boards for free gaming events. No one’s saying ditch all organized play or anything, but be aware you do have options out there if you’re trying to do the “Poor Man’s Con”.
A smart fella could arrive at the convention with only a crisp $10 bill and the clothes on his back, and end up with the same $10 unspent when it’s all over (granted, somewhat smellier, but that’s normal for Gen Con). I don’t recommend trying it, but it is possible.
-Don’t Forget To Enjoy Every Minute
It may happen, that between games, in your caffeine-addled state sometime on the evening of Day 3, you begin to feel a wee bit tired, cranky, or--although I scare can credit it--fed up with Gen Con.
This is nonsense. You’re in the greatest convention our hobby offers, surrounded by thousands of people who love what you love! You’ve come home! A game designer who made something you love is probably within 300 feet of where you’ve collapsed! Love, treasure, and enjoy every moment. Every Gen Con is different, and only comes along once. Get a nap if you have to, rest your eyes, drink a beverage, and get back in the game.