Gen Con 2007

Gen Con LogoI had a great time at Gen Con this year. It was probably one of the best years ever for me. I really couldn’t tell you why, either. I had a bunch of awesome seminars, a couple of quirky, fun games, and met a lot of great, interesting people.

As far as games go, my experiences this year were generally great. It seems that every year I have one game where the gamemaster doesn’t show up and this year it was a game of Little Fears (an RPG where you play kids fighting closet monsters and other terrors of childhood), which was highly disappointing. I love Little Fears, but it’s not a game I get to play often. Last year no one ran it at the Con at all, so I didn’t even get my one game a year fix of it! This year I was really excited to get back to it, and it didn’t end up happening. Oh well. On the other hand, I had two absolutely awesome Dungeons and Dragons games that I will probably never forget. I will write up both of them in the next week or so and add them to the “Gaming” section of the site (I’ll post when they get added, so if you’re interested, you’ll know when they go up).

I always look for “women in gaming” seminars because they are always fun. There are more and more women at Gen Con every year, but we are still in the minority and some of the guys still kind of ogle like this is the only time of year they ever see a woman. There are a lot of women for whom the Con is the only place they get to interact with other women gamers. The thing is, even though there are a lot of women gamers, they tend not to advertise it and even their friends often don’t know (my husband didn’t know I was a gamer until maybe four years after we met and started dating, so I’m as guilty of that as anyone else). This year there was a great roundtable style seminar held on the subject by the Gamer Wenches, a group of women gamers that has been formed on the internet through forums and their website. We did a bad job of staying on topic, but so much interesting discussion was happening that I’m not sure it really mattered. The women in the room played a wide range of game types and while some had been playing for years, others were comparatively very new to gaming. Everyone was very welcomed and respected, though. It was definitely one of the best women gamer events I’ve been to.

There was supposed to be an event about Women and D&D run by Wizards of the Coast, but it didn’t happen. WotC moved it without telling the convention, which meant that no one knew it had been moved and 30+ people showed up for it, but not where WotC was holding it. This was frustrating, to say the least. Several of us did everything we could to find the damn thing, including going to the “right” room (where no one was by that point) and WotC’s booth in the dealer hall. The people in the dealer booth were very nice to us and apologized, but that really didn’t make it less frustrating. And they certainly didn’t endear themselves to all the many people who *didn’t* get an apology either. I’m not sure what happened on their end, but they really should have managed that one better. I had been thinking about buying their new book on women and D&D at the Con, but after that I decided not to.

WotC did an absolutely fantastic job, however, with the other official seminar of theirs that I went to. It was on Kids and D&D and it was run primarily by James Wyatt. He had a lot of really interesting things to say. He discussed some of the tools WotC makes for D&D and how they can been used to play with kids (the Basic Game,, Miniatures, etc.). He has a kid who enjoys playing D&D and so he had lots of personal experience and stories to relate. It was great! He also brought up Mirrorstone Books and discussed the various books they publish and even some that are coming out in the future. The parents in the room hadn’t heard of Mirrorstone (which I think reinforced to the WotC people there that the marketing for Mirrorstone isn’t so much working in many ways, even if they are doing some things right), but they were all really excited about the books as he talked about them. He didn’t know that they hadn’t brought any with them, but I had previously talked to some of the people in the WotC booth about this. I think maybe this seminar could help reinforce the idea that Gen Con *could* be a good place to bring Mirrorstone books. There were parents there who all had really interesting things to say. One couple was even working on incorporating gaming into homeschooling and had some great thoughts along that line. I was really impressed. Everyone was really open minded and had great things to say, and everyone really seemed to want new ideas and suggestions from everyone else. It was awesome. James Wyatt mentioned that he thinks WotC should try and get the rights to make an RPG based on Avatar: The Last Airbender and I think that would be the best idea! It’s the perfect world to set a game in and would draw in kids and adults alike, which means kids could play with their parents as easily as they could with other kids! And it’s just such a great world with so much rich material to draw from. I hope that he can convince the company to really consider it!

The fourth seminar I went to, although it was actually before the Kids and D&D one, was this year’s Games and Learning seminar from David Simkins. Every year for the last couple of years he’s done a seminar discussing his work and the work being done at the University of Wisconsin – Madison on games in education and the theory behind games and learning. It’s pretty academic at times, but that’s probably part of why I like it so much. It’s always really interesting. This year he talked about the research his department has been doing on World of Warcraft. I found the study of how players show and use scientific reasoning and discourse to be fascinating. There were a number of interesting parts of the research that I would love to have known more about, but given the time constraints there’s just no way he could have gone into them as much as I really would have wanted. Besides, I actually found the second part of his presentation where he discussed his own research into games and ethics even more fascinating. He looked at video games and how they built ethical worlds and presented the player with ethical dilemmas and consequences for their choice. It was really interesting and I hope that in the next few years he keeps working with it. I just find his work and the work of the whole games and learning community really interesting.

I did get to play a few fun games at this convention. Probably the best board game I found was Mystery of the Abbey, which is like a complicated whodunnit where you are trying to identify which monk committed a murder based on clues and questioning other players. Another good game I found was a kids game from Front Porch Classics called Adventures in Oz. I actually bought myself a copy of this one, although I have my doubts that I’ll be able to get anyone to play it with me. It’s a simple game where you need to collect the things listed on your character card, then get what the wizard promised you and get home before the Wicked Witch of the West shows up. It’s all based on the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and is bright and fun. They have a similar game based on Cicely Mary Barker’s fairies. Michael bought some decks of the World of Warcraft CCG and got me to play it. Other than the fact that the deck I played with was not really well balanced for playing one-on-one and I wasn’t getting good hands (when I had a hand at all), it seems like a good game with a lot of potential. I think I need to try some different decks or build one from some of the other cards we have and try again.

The convention had more videogames than ever before, but they were all MMOGs. That was fine. It gave me the chance to learn a little more about some of the games Michael’s been excited about that I haven’t been sure of. I was totally not sold on Pirates of the Burning Sea, but after talking to one of their really nice employees and getting her to show me around the game a little I am actually kind of excited to play it. It has some fun new elements to combat, a rather interesting overall system for determining world-changing events, and interesting (if somewhat complicated) ship-to-ship combat. I liked that you can be totally involved in the world-changing events, helping your side take over ports and such, or you can just play by yourself and still be helping your side with all that important stuff just by running missions against the enemy side. It’s really pretty cool. I’m still not terribly sold on Warhammer Online, but I’m less against it now. It does have some cool, interesting elements. I just don’t really think it’s for me.

One of my favorite things at this convention was getting to meet Emily Fiegenschuh, the illustrator of the Knights of the Silver Dragon books, and her husband, Vinod Rams (the illustrator of Mirrorstone’s Dragonlance books). I always really like meeting authors and illustrators, but I was really excited to meet Emily because I loved the Knights of the Silver Dragon series so much and her art was a big part of that. She and Vinod were both super nice and I really enjoyed talking to them!

I had a great Con overall. I got to spend time with friends, play some awesome games, hear interesting ideas and have stimulating discussions in seminars and meet some wonderful new people! I missed some friends who were absent this year, but their absence didn’t keep the convention from being great! I’m glad it was such a great experience. Some years are just not as much fun as they should be, but this is one year I’ll remember for a long, long time because it was an absolute blast! I hope I can keep going for many years to come!

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