GenCon is North America’s largest annual tabletop-game convention — this year’s attendance topped 56,000 people. The con started in 1968 Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (that’s where it got the name), but has been held in Indianapolis since 2003. This year was my 9th GenCon, and, as always, I had a great time.
What exactly does all that that mean, you ask? Well, the convention’s focus is on games that you play with friends around a table — things like role playing games, collectible card games, and board games. But there’re lots of other things to check out, if games aren’t your cup of tea. There are anime events, a cosplay competition, and a writing symposium, to name just a few. Years ago, I took a crocheting class to learn how to make amigurumi, which are adorable crocheted dolls. I’ve also constructed my very own chain mail dice bag and (kind of) learned the dance for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” There’s also a dealers hall, filled with games and books and toys and clothes.
This year, I just played games. For those of you who haven’t played a role playing game before, here’s how it works. In most games, one person serves as the Game Master, or GM. The GM is responsible for creating the world and plot of the story — they’re like the video game console, presenting the game as you play through it. Everyone else at the table plays one individual character. Conflicts are (usually) resolved by rolling dice. There are more rules systems than you can shake a stick at, and tons of different shapes (and pretty colors) of dice. Some systems do away with the idea of a single GM, and everyone at the table shares the responsibility, or they take turns.
Role playing games are limited by nothing but your imagination. Most people have at least heard of Dungeons and Dragons, which is a game set in a classic fantasy world. But that’s not the only game out there — not by a long shot. There are games like GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) that can let you do pretty much anything, or games centered around a specific intellectual property. Do you love Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, or Lord of the Rings? You could play in any of those worlds. There are games that get rid of dice completely and one game uses a Jenga tower to preform actions instead.
And all of that is just one aspect of the convention. The convention sponsors a charity every year, and this year they raised about $40,000 for Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana’s BackSacks program. As part of that, volunteers build a city made out of old cards called Cardhalla. They work for days, then at the end of the convention, people donate spare change by throwing it and seeing what they can knock over.
GenCon is over for another year, and I’m already counting the days ’til next year. Maybe I’ll see you there?