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Close to the Edit

Going To GenCon

by Ross Winn
Jul 26,2004


Going To GenCon

Going to GenCon is a big deal for gamers. It is a pilgrimage, or a Hajj, and in my mind there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Your opinion may differ, and that is fine, but mine is what it is. My first GenCon was a religious experience for me. Now that sounds bit trite, or maybe even a little scary, and it was. I mean, let me draw a picture of myself then: a guy, a husband and a father, arguably socially functional, sitting on a cement bench outside the rental car place, hyperventilating because he's about to leave on a trip he's dreamed of for years. The trip was both the best and the worst experience of my life. I guess that is the reason behind this column. Don't make the mistakes I made.

There are a lot of people at GenCon. A whole lot of people. A 'metric assload', of people. All of them are going to the same place, at the same time, and they all need to buy tickets. So what would possess anyone, besides those who only find out at the last minute that they can go, to completely ignore the convenient pre-registration? If you are going to GenCon and you do not pre-register, you will be angry. Any system with that many variables is prone to break down. If you go to a sporting event, or a concert and expect to buy tickets, many times you are simply turned away. At GenCon you aren't turned away, you simply wait.

Why will not pre-registering make you angry? As an example, take last year. (Please.) Last year was the first year in Indianapolis, and there were some other issues at hand as well. Because of that, the registration on-site was extremely difficult. Well, that is an understatement. It was horrid. Many people were so disgusted that they walked away. While GenCon LLC admitted that they had made mistakes, and went so far as to actually refund Saturday registration costs to anyone who felt they had been wronged, those people still missed out. Now, refunding registration costs was a pretty classy thing to do. Finding companies that admit their mistakes, and then actually do something to correct them (without litigation) is something in this day and age. But people who didn't pre-register, refunded or not, still ended up with less than stellar con experience. Don't let this be you.

So anyway, pre-register if at all possible. If I could suggest something to Peter Adkison (the president of GenCon LLC) it would be to continue to take pre-registrations for four-day badges up until the Sunday before the Con. Not for event registration mind you, but simply to go to the show.

Indianapolis is an eight hour drive from over half the population of the United States. It is a cinch that thousands will drive to the show. If you are driving this year you may be more affected by fuel prices than you have been in recent years. You should also expect parking to be slightly higher than it was last year. Wherever you park make sure you are parked legally, and make sure you have money set aside to pay for parking. Free places to park were few and far between last year. If you are staying downtown you will probably not even visit your car while at the show. Frankly there is so much to do that looking for a parking space three times a day is a waste. What you save in food by leaving downtown to eat you will lose in missed games and frustration.

If you are flying into Indy I think you will be very pleased. The airport is clean, the people are nice, and a shared limousine service into the convention center area is only eleven dollars plus tip. Frankly I hadn't ever had as easy a con traveling experience as I did to Indianapolis. I was stunned to find direct flights from most major cities, and spent less than $140 on a round trip of direct flights.

So after deciding to go to the show, and after pre-registering, you have to decide how to get there and what to take. This isn't as trivial as it sounds. I spent five years working in the retail luggage business, and while there I learned that packing isn't just taking your entire wardrobe in a bunch of bags. There is actually some thought to the process. There are goals, and there are better ways to go about it. Now there are a couple of different types of convention goers. There are gamers, there are pros, and there are cosplayers. Cosplayers are costume-players, and they usually bring an order of magnitude more clothes to a con than non-costumed people. This bit of business will definitely not address the cosplayers, and will really focus on the gamers. The pros should understand the point by now, (and if they don't, please tell the rest of us so we can point and laugh during the after-hours poker parties) but we may give them a hint or two.

So what do you need for your GenCon wardrobe? If you go for the entire show you will be packing for five days. Basically one day of travel and four show-days. For each of these days you will need clean underwear and socks, something to sleep in, and your outfit for the day. Pajamas may be something you don't normally think of, but if you are going to be sharing space with three or four people for the show in a hotel you may want to. (Editor/Wife's note: Those of you who run to cold may want to add in a sweater, since turning up the A/C may well be the reaction of some restaurateurs to the influx of sweaty gamers.) It is not OK to wear clothes again without having them laundered, but we will get to that in a minute. You may want to bring one extra outfit for a 'special occasion', and you may want to bring a swimsuit for the hotel pool.

I fly in Thursday morning, and out Sunday night. So in my bag will be: Four pairs of socks, four sets of underwear, four pants (two jeans and two khakis), five shirts (two t-shirts, two polos, and one collared dress shirt),a light jacket (in case of rain), one spare pair of shoes, my Dopp kit (toiletries), and a large beach towel. I always take a towel with me; it can be used for many different things, and makes great packing for fragile items on the way home. I also always bring an extra empty bag, so that my pile of loot is not limited by space.

If you're driving, you won't have the same baggage constraints. So yes, you could bring along your entire wardrobe, but your roommates will hate you.

So that's my packing list. In a dire emergency I can always send something out to be cleaned if something untoward happens. However, to reiterate, you should never wear clothes multiple times without washing them. Which brings to mind a contentious point.

OK. At some point you knew this was coming. It is one of the stereotypes that we deal with as gamers. The reason it is a stereotype is that it is, or was at one time anyway, generally true. We need to bathe. Gamers have an awful stigma as overweight, smelly, socially inept people. Since few of us are going to make a life change simply because of a five day jaunt in the Midwest, a break in your normal pattern is probably as much as we can hope for.

Doubtless there are readers who will take offense at this and I am OK with that. Every year I begin to think that we have reached a point where we can drop this subject, and every year I walk though clouds of gamer funk so thick that my eyes bleed at GenCon. Wash yourself daily, wear deodorant, brush your teeth, and wear clean clothes. Some day you will thank me.

Where to stay?
GenCon takes place in the center of Indianapolis' convention center/ downtown development. There are a lot of hotels very close to the convention center. There are national chains and boutique hotels, and nearly all of them are good. Last year we stayed at the Westin and were very pleased with the service and the accommodations. This year I will be staying at the Marriott directly across from the convention center, which will be even better, but a bit more pricey. Not pricey when you compare it to many places in the US, but pricey for gamers. I will be sharing a room with three other gamers, the room will cost us each about $45.00 a day. Meals will probably equal that amount, and I prefer about ten bucks in wiggle room, so I should expect to budget $100.00 a day for essentials. Anything I expect to purchase will be over and above this, and it also doesn't include the occasional beer or four while arguing about the relative importance of eyeliner in the World Of Darkness.

One other aside, when you stay in a hotel you have to expect to pay hotel prices. A pack of smokes are six dollars, a burger is ten, and generally everything else is about thirty percent more than you would expect to pay. That is what it is, and I really regret having to say this, but you still have to tip, fifteen percent minimum for foodservice. My bartender gets fifty cents to a buck a round, and the valet should get a few bucks if he parks you car. You may also want to tip the maid service at the hotel, especially if you have left five days of detritus, potato chip bags, empty Pringle's cans, Mountain Dew bottles, and Balance bars all over the place.

As for where and what to eat, I wonder if I should even bother to suggest things with tastes so disparate. I will say that if you expect a quick bite that going to the Steak & Shake downtown is not a good choice. As a matter of fact I didn't have a quick meal all week, at a restaurant. There are thirty-plus-thousand of us, and we all want to eat. Have patience wherever you go and others will have patience with you. I did enjoy the Ram's Head or something like that (they even had a late night gamer menu), and there is a great Indian place. There is a Shula's at the Westin, if you want a great piece of Steak. I didn't have a bad meal all week, but I did need patience.

A budget?
I guess my point is that GenCon really isn't something that is fun on a shoestring. As a matter of fact it is probably the absolute worst way to experience the show. GenCon is a big deal, there are a million things to do and see, and having to worry about a few extra bucks for foods and drinks is pretty lame. What you will have to budget is time. Because there are only so many hours in the day.

I think that you are doing yourself a great disservice if you don't spend at least one entire day from 10 AM until 6 PM in the main exhibit hall. There are hundreds of companies and thousands of products to look at, you can even demo some right there with the creators. For the rest of the time I look for parties and spend time with my friends, though you can also play in one of the few thousand events available at registration.

Have fun at GenCon Indy 2004, and look for me there. I'll be the fat guy in the black t-shirt...

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