Gen Con is the biggest tabletop gaming convention in North America, and if you love board games, RPG or miniatures games, you should definitely consider attending!
I love Gen Con with a fiery passion, and I’ve been going for the past 5 years. But it can be overwhelming. Last year more than 60,000 people attended the convention. This year is the 50th Anniversary of Gen Con, so it’s gonna be even more insane than usual.
Here’s a couple of tips to help you not just survive, but also have a blast at Gen Con 50:
Mentally Prepare Yourself for Crowds
A metric butt-ton of people attend Gen Con every year. And this year will be no exception. The convention has actually put a cap and sold out of 4-day badges for the first time in 50 years. They have put a cap on single day badges as well, and expect to sell out of those as well. So this year, the crowds will probably be even bigger than ever before.
The press of people, especially in the exhibit hall, can make me anxious and overwhelmed. I’m not easily annoyed or stressed by crowds, because I grew up navigating Mardi Gras crowds in New Orleans. But the press of bodies at Gen Con is extreme.
If you are not a fan of crowds, you need to mentally prepare yourself. Go into the experience knowing that it might not always be pleasant.
To manage crowd stress, take breaks. Leave the exhibition hall and go into the way less crowded hallways. Gen Con also has a designated Quiet Room, room 211, in the convention center for people that get overwhelmed by crowds and noise. Listen to your body and mind and go there if you need to. Gen Con is a marathon, not a sprint.
Focus Your Experience
There are literally thousands of things to do at Gen Con. This year there are more than 500 companies in the exhibit hall and more than 16,000 events. You can do anything from taking a class on how to make chainmail dice bags, go to a film screening, engage in some miniature paintings, or participate in a LARP.
There is also a whole Writer’s Symposium that happens during Gen Con as well. So if you’re into writers like Brandon Sanderson, Charlaine Harris, Margaret Weis, Mary Robinette Kowal, Mercedes Lackey, Patrick Rothfuss, R. A. Salvatore… Basically, if you’re into sci-fi/fantasy books, you might want to check this part of the con out as well.
Basically there is a ton of stuff going on at Gen Con. It is impossible to do everything (unless you have a time-turner. And if you do, maybe help a girl out?). Do your research before you go. Focus in on what you love and find it there. No two people have the exact same experience at Gen Con. The possibilities are nearly limitless. But if you try to pack in too much, you’re going to end up feeling frazzled, rushed, and not have fun.
And be flexible when you get there. If you stumble on something that is amazing, stop and enjoy it. Definitely make a list of things you absolutely must do, but then be open to finding new, cool stuff. There might be something you’ve never even heard of, but is totally up your alley.
Take Care of Your Body
Remember to keep yourself fed and hydrated. I usually carry a small satchel with a water bottle, a couple of power bars, and a piece of fruit with me. I normally am in the exhibition hall from the time it opens at 10 a.m. to the time it closes at 6 p.m. I don’t break for lunch. So making sure I have water and some snacks with me is essential.
There are water fountains throughout the hall, so if you don’t feel like carting a water bottle around, at least go take a sip every now and again.
Gen Con sprawls across the huge convention center, neighboring hotels, and Lucas Oil Stadium. I do a ton of walking throughout Gen Con. Besides always having a water bottle with me, I also wear super comfortable shoes. This ensures that my knees don’t suffer horribly from constantly walking around for four days straight.
Respect Your Fellow Attendees and Exhibitors
I think we can safely assume that the vast majority of people who come to Gen Con want to have fun. I want to have a fun experience, you want to have a fun experience, the exhibitors want to have a fun experience.
It’s important that as a community we work together to ensure that everyone has a fun, safe, comfortable experience at conventions. So check yourself. Before you say something to someone, make sure you’re not gatekeeping or making someone feel uncomfortable.
And if someone does tell you, “Hey what you said/did made me uncomfortable,” listen to them. Don’t get angry and defensive, just listen to them, apologize, and then don’t do it again. Maybe think about what you said or did and try to understand why it might have made someone uncomfortable.
Personally, I’ve had a few experiences that left me feeling uncomfortable. I occasionally indulge in some cosplay, and I’ve had people take sneaky pictures of me without asking. It left me feeling gross and not okay.
So remember, Cosplay is NOT Consent. Gen Con has a whole section on this under their cosplay events page, reminding you that even though people are dressing up, that does not mean they consent to you taking pictures of them. And it especially does not mean that you can touch them. If you want to take a picture, ask. If you want to take a picture with a cosplayer and would like to maybe put an arm around them in the picture, ASK.
Gen Con also has a no harassment policy. If you experience any harassment based on your gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, or pretty much anything, report it. Everyone should be wearing their Gen Con badge, so try to get the name of the person who is harassing you, and then go to Room 112 to report them. Gen Con says that they will either sanction or expel anyone who is engaging in harassment.
Let Your Geek Flag Fly
Gen Con is a smorgasbourg of all things tabletop gaming. I literally plan my whole year around it. There are so many exciting things to do and see, new games, new RPGs, shiny cool geeky merch… it’s amazing.
Don’t be shy. Get excited. Everyone at Gen Con is there because they love some part of this hobby. Wear your nerdy shirts with crazy obscure references. Someone there will probably get it.
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