Observations on Five Years of Game Conventions
Origins 2016 is in the books. I’m home now, staring at bags of games to unpack and attempt to find places for. I could really go for a nap, and I’m dreading going back to work tomorrow. I also feel compelled to dump another stream of consciousness onto an unsuspecting interwebs! Click through for Deep Thoughts by Copac!
This year marked the 5th anniversary of my entry into the tabletop community. I’ve come a long way from my first time, when I arrived on Tuesday and had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I got lost in the maze from the Hyatt to the convention center, turning back and returning to my room out of fear and anxiety. I don’t even know if I was on BGG at the time or not, but I ended up posting in an Origins Facebook group asking how to get to the convention center. I didn’t know anyone there outside of a couple of twitter people I’d never met, and a good friend who had relocated out of state.
Then one night, after playing games in the board room with random people, I walked past a small group of people on a few tables surrounding what looked like a blue pool noodle. I learned about independent game designers and prototypes. I learned a lot that night, and stayed up till 2 am for the first time at a con. From there I met more and more people, even people who I ended up gaming regularly with outside of conventions.
I left that Origins knowing vastly more people than when I had arrived. And every year since, it’s snowballed from there. It’s to the point that even if I tried to schedule one-on-one time with all of the friends I’ve made and people I’ve met, I highly doubt I could make it happen all in one Origins convention.
It hasn’t all been roses and sunshine. I’ve been overwhelmed a number of times over the years, and made poor coping decisions as a result. (Spoiler alert: Alcohol doesn’t actually make you enjoy socializing more, it just strips away your reservations until the chemical reactions settle down and they all come rushing back like a wave). I’ve met people that I would gladly never speak to ever again. Going to conventions has replaced the “conventional” (HA! I got punny jokes!) restful vacations normal people might take.
But all in all, if I look back to what I was doing back at Origins 2012 and compare it against what I did at Origins 2016, the delta between the two Copac’s is considerable. Every year, I learn a little bit more about what I can and can’t handle.
I learn more about what’s important (quality time with good friends) and what’s not (BUY ALL THE GAMES!!!) (Ok, ok, I still keep buying all the games. That trait’s not crossed off the metaphysical ToDo List just yet). I learn that walking away, that saying “no thanks”, can be just as important as choosing to go along and to give something a try. I learn that finding the balance between those two states is not a concrete concept, that it’s an always fluid measurement, and more of a learned skill, like how a gymnast walks on a balance beam. I learn that missing out on something doesn’t and shouldn’t be some kind of albatross to bear for the remainder of the convention.
If I had to pick one thing that I’ve learned, however, and this lesson applies to all facets of life, it would be to let go and find perspective. I watched and heard countless people this past week who were filled with frustration, anxiety, or even anger. I watched as they lashed out at friends or family. I listened as they ranted about petty annoyances, or collapsing strategies, or simply overpriced concessions. Towards the beginning of the week, I felt those same emotions lapping against my heels. I had expected them to strike and tried to prepare to keep them at bay, but I wasn’t confident.
And then reality struck. Not directly to me, and not involving me. But like recent tragedies on a national scale, a much smaller scale tragedy occurred. One that was both less significant and more significant at the same time. After taking time to process the news I’d received, eventually my perspective snapped into view as if the frustration, anxiety, and anger had let go of the rubber band they’d been pulling. I saw very clearly my perspective. I saw what was important and what I couldn’t control.
It was a relatively brief moment of clarity, but it was clear nonetheless. I stopped thinking about the vendor hall, or about getting into a game, or where all of the dozens and dozens of people I knew at the convention were at that time. I sat down at a table, and I colored. And I thought. And I grieved for the friend of a friend. And I let go, if but for ten minutes time. Eventually I was ready to get back to “normal”. I felt the negative emotions lap at me again, fueled by the handful of hours I had “lost”. But I just let it go, for a time. It wasn’t an epiphany, and I didn’t figure out any solutions. I continued to try to stay ahead of the negative emotional wave, but I was buoyed by the fact that I knew that I was capable of finding my perspective. I may not be able to find it on demand, but I’ve found it before and I’m sure I’ll find it again.
Origins, and other events like it, may just be game conventions, dominated by commerce and new hotness, by “cat herding” of friends and missed opportunities to play one game or another. But I’m learning that conventions are also an opportunity to find perspective, to find and appreciate the needles of personal enjoyment and the things that actually matter amongst and within the haystack of tens of thousands of people playing games.