Love Thy Nerd
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4 Ways That Volunteering at a Gaming Convention Changed My Life

Albert Einstein once said something clever about time and space being folded and being near to each other. Or something like that. I can’t remember it, and using the internet is hard. But I’m pretty sure that the Facebook Memories feature is based off of this theory.

Right now I’m looking at memories from this time last year, when I attended my first ever gaming convention, PAX Unplugged. A few months prior, one of my favorite gaming companies had posted on Facebook saying that they were looking for volunteers to help run demos in their booth. It was a game that I owned, knew how to play, and had taught to some other people before, so I figured that it would be fairly simple work. Little did I realize what was involved in running game demos, and how that convention experience would change my life.

In no particular order, here are some of the things that I have discovered in this new realm:

The Library Effect

I grew up in a small town, population 692. But between the tiny town library and my school library, there were still more books than I thought I could ever read. Then, I walked into Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon for the first time. The place was a monstrosity—the libraries that I had grown up in could easily fit in the check-out area. My universe had exploded with possibilities.

Fast-forward to 2018, and my game universe experienced the same thing. Sure, I had been on Kickstarter and in my local game stores, but when I walked into this convention hall and saw row after row after row of booths filled to the brim with games that I had never seen or heard of, I realized that I had not even begun to scratch the surface of what was out there. Any style, theme, art, or player count, you could find it there. Mind. Sufficiently. Blown.

Community (No, not the TV show)

Having worked in several industries where customers visit you because they have to, but don’t really want to, it was refreshing for me to be in this space where the people are coming because they want to be there. They’ve chosen to spend their time and money to come to this convention. The air is filled with excitement, smiles are prevalent on the majority of faces, and people are genuinely eager to see what you have on display. People set their differences aside to focus on this shared love of gaming.

It was refreshing for me to be in this space where the people are coming because they want to be there.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Mr. Rogers will always be a shining example of how to build relationships with others. Out of all the things on this list, this means the most to me. Some of the people who I’ve met since I started attending conventions are now some of my closest friends. In a simple, unassuming Fred Rogers way, they have opened up their lives and allowed me to become a part of them. We don’t live close to each other, and we don’t get to see each other in person often, but we do find ways to communicate with each other and play games from a distance. And now we look forward to the next convention where we get to see each other in person. The value of finding a friend, or neighbor, can’t be stressed enough.

See a need, fill a need

Opportunities abound at conventions, and not just to learn and play new games. There are so many ways to contribute that I have only seen and experienced some of them. One moment that stands out to me: I was explaining the game to someone and my voice was failing. (It may have been about two hours in on the first day, not gonna lie, but more on that another time.) The people learning the game noticed that I was struggling and asked if they could get me a bottle of water.

The value of finding a friend, or neighbor, can’t be stressed enough.

Now first off, if you have ever purchased water at a big public event, you know it isn’t cheap. Second, for them to offer to take time out of their day, fight the crowds, and bring me water . . .  that struck me. They didn’t know me, they weren’t going to get any added benefit of helping me—they just seemed to genuinely care. And I realized that this was another thing that I could do. Whether it was a bottle of water, a helping hand as people are juggling bags and boxes, or even a simple smile and a word of encouragement, I could affect other people’s convention experience in a positive way.

* * *

As Einstein’s space-time continuum continues to unfold (or stay folded?) throughout my life, Facebook will probably continue to remind me of each of the conventions I’ve been to. Over the last year I’ve attended PAX Unplugged, PAX South, Dice Throne Con, Gen Con, PAX West, and Essen SPIEL. This crazy roller coaster ride has been exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time, but I suppose that is how a roller coaster is supposed to make you feel.

I treasure the people I’ve met and the stories we’ve created together. Chances are that whenever you’re reading this, I’m either preparing for, headed to, or coming back from my latest convention adventure. In fact, by the time this is published, I’ll be at my second PAX Unplugged. Maybe one day I’ll get to share these experiences with you!

Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in volunteering at a gaming or nerd convention but aren’t sure where to start, send a message to our Chief Outreach Nerd. We can help get you connected with companies and organizations that are looking for help at a convention near you. You might even be able to do it as part of a Love Thy Nerd outreach team!

Aaron lives in Spokane with his wife and two children. And when it comes to Crazy Ivans, you can always expect him to go starboard in the bottom half of the hour.

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