Gen Con touts itself as “The best four days in gaming.” If you’ve never attended, you might wonder exactly what makes it so great. For the uninitiated, rubbing elbows with 65,000+ people in a convention center for four days may sound… less than appealing. It certainly has plenty of flaws, as any large event is bound to. But I wanted to give you, our readers, a taste of exactly what we at Love Thy Nerd find so special about the largest tabletop gaming convention in the US (and other conventions like it). The following are six stories from members of our 2019 Gen Con outreach team and some of our convention friends.
This was my first Gen Con, and I had no idea what to expect. I was blown away by the community I found at the convention, and I couldn’t be happier that I went with the Love Thy Nerd outreach team. In today’s politically polarized world, Gen Con felt like a breath of fresh air, where people of drastically different perspectives and purpose in life could come together over a shared love of games. My Love Thy Nerd shirt sparked an overwhelming number of meaningful conversations with people who had vastly different beliefs than me, and at the end of the day, we walked away friends. I look forward to sitting down in future years to play together again.In today’s politically polarized world, Gen Con felt like a breath of fresh air where people of drastically different perspectives and purpose in life could come together over a shared love of games.
One of my favorite experiences was a midnight Uber ride back from the convention center. Although the drive was only ten minutes, we ended up having life-changing conversation. We drove (off the clock) for another thirty minutes just so we could get some time to talk about some of the deepest struggles in both of our lives. We both walked away changed men.
Through my first experience with Love Thy Nerd at Gen Con, I have been sucked deeper into the board game world. The community, the conversations, and the fun tap into something I think believe were created for!
– Chistopher Kaspar
It’s a Small, Small Nerd World
On Saturday I was getting lunch at the food court before a game demo I had signed up for at 2pm. After buying my food I found room at a standing table with one older man eating a salad, and I asked if I could join him. After a few minutes of conversation we got on the subject of making almond milk. I asked him what he was doing at the con and he told me he was a designer, there to promote a new game. I told him I was developing a game of my own, and he gave me his card.
Right then, a man and woman who I recognized as Melissa and Kevin from Tantrum House walked over and embraced the man in a huge hug. I told them that I love what they are doing with the show and that I supported their Kickstarter this year. It was getting close to 2 at that point, so I grabbed a photo with them and finished my food.
As I was collecting my stuff, a familiar-looking woman sat down on the floor nearby to eat her lunch. I kneeled down next to her and asked if I knew her. She didn’t think we had, and introduced herself as April-Lyn, one of the founders of Love Thy Nerd. The only person I knew from LTN is Madeline [our assignment editor], the woman who hand crocheted the dwarf bard helmet I was wearing. I showed it to April-Lyn and her face lit up! Apparently, she is good friends with Madeline and saw pictures of my helmet as it was being made! Small world!
After the con, I found the business card I received from the older man. His name was Bill Eberle [designer of the 1979 Dune board game, Cosmic Encounter, and many others]. And I didn’t know until a few days ago.
– Michael Riddle
Your Story Matters
I was trying to explain the podcast that I co-host for LTN, Humans of Gaming, to someone who I was hoping to have as a guest on the show. I was talking about how we have conversations with our guests that go deeper, and are a lot more personal, than typical interviews with games industry people. I told this person how we even get into the guest’s religious background and talk about what they believe about things like God, life, and purpose. They politely stopped me and said, “You wouldn’t want me on your show. I have a lot of baggage—you wouldn’t want to hear my story.” It broke my heart to hear this because I am sure they had some bad experiences with Christians that left them feeling like they didn’t measure up, or didn’t matter.
I simply responded by saying, “Actually, I really would. I would love to hear your story. In fact, one of the things I love most about Humans of Gaming and the work we do at Love Thy Nerd is the opportunities it gives me to listen to stories of people who have different backgrounds and experiences than me. Your story matters.” We didn’t go much further than that, but I noticed their countenance change after that exchange. I don’t want to read too much into it, but my hope is that this small exchange made this person feel valued. At the very least it was an opportunity for me to try to tell a better story than the one this person had previously heard.
– Drew Dixon
For Gen Con this year, I had special badge ribbons printed for a new personal encouragement ministry I started called Wheelchair Charioteer. My wife has Multiple Sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. I assist her as a caregiver and push the wheelchair for her. This idea of being a charioteer popped into my head at Gen Con last year, so I made these badge ribbons and website in preparation for this year.
Each encounter was special, but one stands out. My wife and I were in line on Wednesday evening at the Special Services Desk (provided specifically for those with accessibility needs) and we noticed a woman starting to cry as she struggled to maneuver her wheelchair into the line. While my wife saved our spot, I walked over to introduce myself and ask if I could assist. I helped her get into the line and passed her a Wheelchair Charioteer badge, offering my encouragement to her and her husband, who walked up as we talked.She moved from tears to a smile as we talked, realizing that others had managed Gen Con in a wheelchair and she could as well.
Talking with the couple, I learned this was her first Gen Con using a wheelchair, due to increasing back issues. We had a wonderful conversation discussing how to manage the con in a wheelchair, where to find accessible bathroom locations, and how a caregiver can assist with the crowds. She moved from tears to a smile as we talked, realizing that others had managed Gen Con in a wheelchair and she could as well. What made this encounter special was that moment of meeting led us to recognize each other throughout the convention. We would catch each other’s eye as we passed in the convention center halls, and she would smile and wave. Our small encounter encouraged both of us through the convention.
Having these ribbons to give away at Gen Con provided me so many opportunities to meet and talk with others in wheelchairs or power chairs, and their caregivers. It was wonderful to be able to encourage people and let them know there are others, like Angie and I, who understand and empathize with the challenges of accessibility at a convention. I definitely will be taking these with me any time Angie and I attend conventions or other large events with badges.
– T.R. Knight
This was my first Gen Con, and it was an overwhelming experience for me due to its size alone. It was important for me to connect with my internet friends, and many of said friends are in the LTN community, some of them on the outreach team. After I had worked hard the entire day on the expo floor, I knew that I could hang out with my LTN fam each night, bonding over games.
One of the highlights of the con was this photo (see above) that I took with Matt, Bubba, and Chad at the end of the convention. After they all stopped at the booth where I was demoing, I wanted to get a picture with them. But I had my camera on selfie mode when Erin volunteered to take the photo instead, and in the moment, there was confusion as to how to take the picture. I could not stop laughing in frustration. This moment is an example of why I love the LTN community. I could make a fool of myself and not feel as bad as I might have otherwise—I had my family around me each day to keep me going.
– Jeff Jackson, Jr.
Burning the Midnight Oil with Rising Sun
One of the best parts of any convention for me is the pure enjoyment of meeting new people and cultivating relationships. Depending on the con this can come in any combination of ways: walking the exhibition floor, catching up with industry friends, going to panels, or playing/learning new games. For Gen Con this year it was all of the above; however, my favorite interaction came from learning a new game. For those who may not be indoctrinated into the insanity that is Gen Con, once the exhibit hall closes at 6pm most nights, the remaining hordes of tabletop gamers flock to one of many locations to play games en masse into the wee hours of the morning. It was one of those nights that a father and son asked me and another Love Thy Nerd team member if we wanted to learn how to play Rising Sun.
Rising Sun scratched a miniatures-gaming itch I had been looking to fill. However, this isn’t about the game, but rather the people. In meeting this amazing pair, we all played, laughed, and shared our lives with one another for nearly four hours, and no one grew bored or tired, or felt excluded. Did you catch what I just said? Complete strangers sat at a table playing a complicated game late into the night, and we simply enjoyed one another’s company. For me, this is why I go to conventions. Nowhere else in recent memory have I experienced a place one can walk into a crowd of 65,000+ people and feel at home. We are all nerds who just want to love the things we love, play all the games, and just be human beings together. All it takes is a willingness to play, teach, or learn a new game and just be you.
If that wasn’t enough to reinstate my faith in humanity during such a time as now, the father reached out to us here at LTN over Facebook after the convention was over to thank us for the game and the chat. It just goes to show that all it takes to make a connection is a willingness to play, teach, or learn a new game, and to just be you.
– Chris Poirier