Convention Stories

Followers at Games Day

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A worldwide celebration of board games called International Table Top day took place on April 11th, 2015. As part of the big event, a number of communities and stores within my hometown of Winnipeg put on events. As I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for a card game in May, I was determined to attend as many events as possible on this day. What followed was a 15 hour odyssey that took me to five separate events.

One of these events was held at a bookstore called McNally Robinson. By this point in the day, it was 6:00 P.M. and I had been going hard for nine hours. After demonstrating the game at a table the store had graciously provided me, I got up and doggedly began to shuffle towards the exit.

As I walked, I pulled out my smart phone and observed my social media activity. I am still new to social media and have yet to fully appreciate the finer nuances of followers. General crowd funding theories state that engaged followers are fundamentally good and generally nobody argues that gaining followers is a bad thing as long as they are a human and not a software algorithm. The more people following you, the bigger the audience that will view your content.

When it comes to Twitter, follower numbers are the most straightforward (if somewhat crude) metric for monitoring your effectiveness. Looking at my phone I was disheartened that I lost several followers since earlier that day despite posting multiple times about audience-relevant board game materials.

Darn, losing followers sucks.

As I was dwelling in my little emotional pit of social media ineptitude, I was surprised when a woman that had played my game a few minutes ago approached me. She asked me where I was going to now. I replied that I was attending another gaming event to show off my game. Then she dropped a more unusual question on me.

“I know this is awkward, but do you mind if I come with you”, she asked?

“Sure”, I replied. “As long as you can help me find my car.”

It is worth noting that I have incredibly poor navigational skills and what she initially took as a joke led to a fifteen minute ordeal as I wandered around a large parking, searching for my generic silver Corolla.

We eventually found my car and were off to the next board game event. I had been to event earlier that day and one of the organizers raised an amused eyebrow when I returned with a follower in tow. When the question came up, I simply replied that while I struggled to gain and keep digital followers, I was much better at gaining physical ones.

On reflection, I realize that face-to-face conversation is my preferred means of communication. The immediate reasons are that I like to be outside, my day job looking at a monitor and my weak wrists don’t lend to extended typing sessions on a smart phone.

Beyond that, with social media I find it difficult to share in the same type of communication. The nuances of body language and vocal variety are obscured in the text. While readers can imagine the tone of the text, this can quickly lead to misunderstandings. With the internet being the internet, these misunderstandings quickly lead to thermonuclear emotional meltdowns and ensuing flame wars.

It is much rarer for such incidents to happen during conversation. Take the rest of Table Top Day for example. I ended the day playing board games with my new found friend and exposed her to a hobby that she was relatively new to.

We went for coffee after and discussed everything from Chinese-Canadian culture, pursuing a degree in the performing arts to communal living and the roles of our political parties. I learned that she lived in Ontario where she taught performing arts at a local university. To celebrate turning thirty, she was on a journey across Canada via railcar, stopping at the major cities (and yes, I will defend to the death that Winnipeg is a major city). Most of all though, we discussed the question that we all wonder about, what to do with the limited time we have on this Earth.

Each of the aforementioned topics was a conversational minefield that if posted online, would recreate Chernobyl within the residents of my little corner of cyberspace. In person and within a relaxed setting, I was much more comfortable to glide between these topics, knowing that a misstep will result in an immediate que (hopefully not a slap) as opposed to being vented as a vitriolic text wall.

With all that being said, I shouldn’t discount social media followers. After all, I owe very real connections with board game designers and publishers to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to me social media has always been a jumping off points to more significant forms of communication. Twitter is great for Q&A, Facebook feed can provide helpful news and updates; but discussing the meaning of life is something I have always struggled to fit into 140 characters.

Rediscovering Childhood at PAX West

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The hotel ballroom is dimly lit and filled with row upon row of standardized chairs, the kind that were cheap to make but meant to look expensive with deep blue cushions surrounded by metal frames. I manage to grab a free chair during the ensuing game of musical chairs as all the attendees scramble for the limited resource. Though thankful for having a seat, I am now forcibly pressed against the man next to me. He is middle-aged and heavy set, dressed like in he came straight from a job in an accounting firm to the convention, his tie and dress pants contrasting with the majority of attendees, dressed in video game themed clothing showcased heavily-armed robots and shirtless barbarians.

Despite his formal dress, I am assured that the man pressed against me along with everyone else in this room is a game enthusiast. The room and presentation we are preparing for is part of the Penny Arcade Expo, a massive games convention that takes place in Seattle every August. The presentation in question is for a game called X-Com: Enemy Unknown, an unreleased game the presentation promised to showcase a previews of.

To say X-Com is a misnomer, the original game had come out in 1994. The trouble was that since that game came out, no remake had been developed that matched the critical impact and success the original made. The new game promised to remedy this and hence the crowded ballroom.

Looking to break the awkwardness of our forced contact, I attempted conversation with the man next to me that I was now partially sitting on.

“So…are you excited about X-Com” I asked?

Receiving no response and wishing to fill in the dead space, I answered my own question: “I can’t wait; I have been waiting for this game for a couple of years!”

The man’s head turned slowly towards me at a pace roughly equivalent to the head turning scene in the Exorcist. His face was calm and reserved as he responded with a single sentence.

“I have been waiting seventeen years for this game!”

His response synched with the dimming of the lights and the beginning of the presentation and I was left reflecting on the man’s response as he clasped his hands on his lap and returned to his reserved posture (as reserved as one could be with another man practically on your lap).

As the room went dark and the massive project screen lit up with the beginning of the trailer. As the screen was filled with firefights between human marines and aliens to a soundtrack of deep bass notes, the man next to me sprang from his seat, nearly knocking me from my chair in the process.

The formerly meek accountant now climbed his chair and began jumping up and down on top of it, his fist pumping the air as he let out an unending shouts of “yyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh” at the top of his lungs!

As I stood their stunned and scrambling to avoid his tie as it whipped around him, I surveyed the room and noticed that my neighbor was not alone in his enthusiasm. All around the room, men and women were jumping up and down screaming their support for the game.

One factor was shared by all the vocal enthusiasts however, they were not of my generation. The group that jumped up and down as the youth around them sat stunned was middle-aged. These were the parents, the professionals and the gamers from when the PC market was still on Dos.

After a few minutes of unrestrained fervor, the older members of the crowd quieted their shouting, sat back down on their seats, some fixing their hair while others simply looked around calmly as if the whole incident never happened.

Incidents such as this remind me of how games transcend age and generate such enthusiasm and unbridled joy regardless of age. This is why I and many others play games and why we will continue to do so, regardless of age.

Memories of Keycon: Drinking with a Dwarf

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As a board game publisher and an all-around geek, I attend my fair share of conventions every year. My favorite Winnipeg convention to attend is Keycon, a science fiction and fantasy fan convention aimed squarely at ensuring that its attendees have a great time. Between being able to present panels on board game design to being given homemade alcohol by fellow attendees in taverns meant to looking like something straight out of Tolkien novel, the event is always a fantastic experience.

The one downside to attending Keycon is that given the parking situation downtown, I must rely on public transit to get downtown. Normally I enjoy public transit, but on weekends buses are not my friend. Winnipeg is known for having reduced hours on weekends, with some locations only having bus service once every hour. After waiting for an hour and a half without a bus coming however, I began to seriously doubt the infrastructure of my city, as the bus simply did not come at the appointed time…or after. Eventually succumbing to the basic need of a washroom, I sprinted into a local grocery story for what could only be two minutes. As I stepped out of the store, I saw my bus pulling away from the bus stop that I had committed a significant portion of my day in.

A “hell no” resounded within my mind and perhaps from my lips as well, though I sincerely hope not given the number of elderly shoppers in my presence. My memory is a hazy at this point, as by the next moment I had entered a full-sprint, legs propelling me forward in leaps and bounds. Gone was the carefully manicured posture of a marathon runner, replaced by the lunging sprints of something more akin to the Predator. A bottle of hand-sanitizer flew from my jacket pocket as I bounded across the parking lot and down the street, though I would not until later that day.

What did break my attention was the sound of glass breaking underfoot. A half-broken beer bottle lay on the sidewalk and in my mad dash, I annihilated any remaining semblance of its structure, reducing the clear bottle to a fine powder. Looking down, I saw that no shards had pierced through my shoes and with the adrenaline I was experiencing, if glass was in my shoes, I was not in a mental state to experience it.

Traffic being relatively dense for a Saturday, I was lulled into a false sense of hope, seeing the bus constantly stopping to circumvent parked cars on the two-lane road and the jack-ass drivers that come out of the woodwork on Saturday mornings. With each stop, I closed the gap, coming within 50 meters of the bus before it would drive off again, reaching halfway to the event horizon of visible traffic before slowing down again. This continued for six blocks as I gained and distanced myself from the bus like a cardio-centric elastic

Eventually however, the bus hit broke away from his fellow drivers and began to disappear from view. I slowed at this point, accepting my fate of being late for Keycon and reflecting on how fortunate I was to be scheduled to present in the afternoon as opposed to mid-morning. Looking around at the alien environment that now surrounded me, I began to reflect on the convention that awaited me as I struggled to orient myself.

I could write a book on all the stories that came out of my two years at Keycon, but one experience will forever be mentally bookmarked when I think of Keycon. I was sitting at the aforementioned Tolkien-esque tavern, enjoying the entertainment and company fellow attendees. Suddenly, an attendee struck me on the back as a solider would his comrade, loudly proclaiming “have you tried Gerran’s Mead?” I looked up from the table to see a dwarf holding out a bottle of homebrew to me. When I say dwarf, I do not mean short-person nor do I mean a cos-player, I mean a man who looked like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. The man had a short, stocky build and sported an immense orange beard. A bald-spot featured prominently on the top of his head, but was compensated for by a ring of long hair that hung in all directions, covering his shoulders and the sides of his face. Rounding out the appearance was a tunic that border-lined being a robe and a pair of granny-glasses that gave him the appearance of a Dwarven scribe straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons rulebook.

Being a home brewer, I know how long the process of Mead-making is (2-5 years), so when a fantasy dwarf offers you a time-intensive brew of his own making, the answer is yes, god yes! The drink was sweet and well-balanced, leading to a wonderful conversation with both the brewer and promoter about all types of ales and brewing techniques.

Experiences such as these would never be repeated however, if I was not able to able to get to Keycon in a reasonable time-frame. My despair lifted however, as soon after the transit bus disappeared, another appeared behind me. Apparently, I had chased my wayward for enough to have entered the zone of another bus route, which now conveniently approached from behind. I jumped on and was back in business, ready to attend a convention that had given me so many wonderful experiences.