Convention Season Survival Tips

Convention season is upon us! Well, here in Australia it’s spread out over the year across the country as we only have a small handful of conventions that travel to each state every few months. Our scene is still growing but events have become bigger and better even in just these past few years. But in America it’s currently full-on convention and faire season across the warmer months leading into Autumn/Fall, with my own personal and sentimental favourite, DragonCon in Atlanta today.

(Are you going to DragonCon? If you are, email me pictures and make me very jealous. I’ve been wanting to get back there since my first and only visit in 2014.)

Since attending that awesome event, I’ve been a regular at many different conventions here in Australia, namely Supanova and Oz Comic Con and the huge PAX Australia convention and I’ve since discovered that enjoying your convention time means preparation and a little bit of forethought.

So on that note, here are my tips for happy convention-ing…

Lady Lisbeth Batterbee, Steampunk Alchemist and Explorer and River Song. (AKA, me and my mate, Tracy) at DragonCon 2014.

DO: Wear comfy shoes. Trust me. You will want lightweight shoes that you can wander around all day in. Depending on the size of the convention, you may end up covering many kilometres over a day walking back and forth to different areas. You’re going to want to be wearing comfortable shoes. A convention is neither the time or place to break in new shoes.

DO: Wear comfy clothes, and if it happens to be colder where you live during convention time, wear layers. It may be cold outside but convention halls have a habit of getting quite warm. Better to tie a jumper around your waist than be overly hot or cold.

DO: Pack light but make sure you take water and snacks. Buying food and drink is notoriously expensive at conventions and chances are you’ve already spent enough money on travel, accommodation and your tickets into the place. If you are on a budget, pack a few sandwiches and snacks. If that’s not an option, get out of the convention and go somewhere else (if you can) to eat. For instance, PAX Australia is held at the Melbourne Convention Centre, right near Crown Towers and the Southbank Promenade. Take a breather and head to one of the awesome eateries available. More often than not you will pay less for much better fare.

DO: Take a backpack on the days you intend to shop. Make sure it’s mostly empty. This is a weird one but I’ve found that taking a bag that you can sling over a shoulder and not actively have to hang onto is a life-saver, particularly when you are walking through an artist alley or ten and need to fondle all the pretty things and don’t have to worry about dropping carry bags or losing anything.

DO: Take enough money that you think you’ll need (whatever your budget happens to be) plus an extra $100. Trust me. You will find something long after all your money is gone that you just have to have…. Which leads me onto…

When you arrive, DO do a reconnaissance lap if you can. Take stock of where things are – toilets, food stalls, artist alley, main exhibitor areas. Try to hold back on the spending spree until you’ve seen everything or mostly everything that is available. Don’t go nuts and spend all your money at first couple of stalls – like I regularly do. Though if whatever you’re eyeing off is in limited supply, buy it straight away – nothing sucks worse than missing out on grabbing a treasured collectable. But having a look at everything first and making notes to return to certain vendors definitely helps you keep to a budget.

DO: Have a Con Buddy. Even if you’re going on your own, make sure there is someone who knows where you are. And if you’re meeting your Con Buddy, make sure you figure out a meeting spot well in advance because phone reception can suck.

DON’T: Try to be everywhere at once.  The trick to enjoying conventions is to make plans but be flexible. Panels run over time. Events may be cancelled.  Go with the flow. Make sure you know what’s on so that you can plan ahead to join a queue at a specific time or jump into another panel if you find yourself with some spare time.

NEVER: Save spots for your friends in a queue. Never ever do this. If your friends cannot be there on time, that is not the fault of the folks behind you who were. Let them join the back of the line. (And trust me, nothing pisses off tired con-goers more than queue jumpers. So just don’t.)

REMEMBER: If you are attending a convention that runs for more than two days, the all important 3-2-1 rule applies:

Three hours sleep (minimum) a night.
Two meals (minimum) a day.
One shower a day.

The idea of partying non-stop is always fun but you will need to rest eventually. You don’t want to be sleepy or hangry during a convention – or at least more sleepy and hangry than absolutely necessary. Coffee and protein bars only get you so far. It spoils your fun and spoils the fun of those around you. And shower. I cannot stress the importance of this. Convention Funk is a real thing. Many bodies in confined spaces makes for a cacophony of body odour. Don’t be that stinky person.

Something else that comes hand in hand with hygiene is health. Con Crud (not to be confused with Con Funk) is a real thing too. It’s a cold that will inevitably get you either during or just after the event. If you are sick during an event, take some medication, drink lots of water, and cough and sneeze into your inner elbow and not your hands to avoid passing on germs when you touch things. Bring sanitizer to occasionally de-germ your digits.

REMEMBER: Cosplayers. Cosplayers are awesome people. They work hard, sometimes all year or many years, on one costume to look particularly awesome. Be nice to the cosplayers. This means that you ask to take pictures and you ask before you touch anything. More often than not, unless a cosplayer is trying to get somewhere, they will be happy to stop and pose for/with you for pictures and chat about their costumes. And use common sense, sometimes walking around in bulky costumes makes people hot and tired. They might need a break.

DEFINITELY REMEMBER: Another important rule is COSPLAY =\= CONSENT. Due to the nature of pop culture in general, many popular female characters in pop culture are scantily clad or wear revealing clothes. Lots of cosplayers will dress up as these female characters. Cat-calling, wolf-whistling, derogatory remarks, touching inappropriately, upskirting and sneaky dirty photos are NOT ON. Generally this isn’t an issue for male cosplayers but the same does apply to them too. Be nice, be polite and remember that cosplayers are human – not your property to be fondled or treated disrespectfully. If you wouldn’t do or say it to your mother, do not do or say it to a cosplayer.

And the most important thing: Remember to get your tickets early. Even better, if your event is ticketed by Eventbrite, the process is very easy.  Eventbrite is a great platform to set up events as they manage everything for you for a very small and reasonable fee and makes ticket purchasing very easy. I’ve bought tickets through them more than a few times.  You can register your event here.

(Post not sponsored. Just so y’know. Y’know?)

PAX AUS 2015. Another year done. I’m knackered.

So my social event of the year, PAXAUS 2015, has come and gone. It was an odd mixture of fun, frustration, and exhaustion.

The mecca of all things nerdy.
The mecca of all things nerdy.

If you’re not sure what PAX (short for Penny Arcade Expo) is, you should check out Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade started life as a little online web comic that has grown into a huge industry powerhouse simply because it’s creators LOVE gaming. The expo happens yearly all over the USA and now, thankfully for the past few years, in Australia. Even better is that they’ve chosen Melbourne as the city to host it (for the time being) which means it’s incredibly easy for me to go to. It’s a celebration of games, gaming, games development and issues surrounding the gaming industry. It includes all facets of gaming, which is what I especially enjoy, so if you’re not a lover of video games but you adore table-top games, you’re totally covered.

To be honest, I am not really a hardcore gamer of any particular game style. I dabble in indie computer games and occasionally play the more mainstream stuff like The Sims, obvs. When I feel like it, I might play a card or board game or two. That said, I do enjoy knowing about the industry and it’s various facets. So for me the panels at PAX are definitely my favourite bit and what I invest much of my PAX time in.

Hee. I got the feels.
Hee. I got the feels.

This year there was a huge number of panels that I wanted to get into but due to time and schedule overlap, I couldn’t quite see everything that I wanted to see. Sadly, with PAX and the nature of how the show is put together, you do run the risk of panels not being great. Unfortunately many of panels I chose to attend were lackluster. While the topics were awesome, some failed simply due to the lack of preparation or real direction on behalf of the panelists.

The two panels I attended about the social aspect of gaming were frustrating as they didn’t even come close to discussing the topics they advertised. One panel was supposed to be debate about social gaming (think multiplayer games) versus solo gaming (single player) and which was better. It turned out to be a bunch of gameheads talking about which games they liked to play as opposed to putting forward arguments as to which was supposed to be “better”. It could have been SO GOOD… but wasn’t.

The other panel along the same theme was “Are Gamers Social?”, which was supposed to be a discussion addressing the idea that we gamers are not just people who sit in dark rooms playing games all day, denying that the outside world exists, was extremely disappointing. It was clearly put forward by someone with an axe to grind and who wanted to whine about how people give him a hard time – and having folks on the panel who looked like they hadn’t even bothered to shower in a few days didn’t help his cause. Even as they complained about it, they had already firmly ensconced themselves idea that gamers are different sorts of people an that they were different and somehow unsociable. ARGH!

Anyway, I left that one early because it just frustrating me.

But not all was doom and gloom. I had picked a few pretty awesome panels. There were a number of panels about diversity in games – including not only women in the industry (of course, because that’s always a huge topic considering “Gamergate” last year and the ongoing saga of females breaking into male-dominated industry), but also representation of different folks from all walks of life, backgrounds and ethnicity as well as addressing the issues of physical and mental disabilities in games. Some of those were real eye-openers.

And then there were the fun ones. D&D games with audience participation; a great one being run on the last day by The Dragon Friends who put out a regular podcast, discussions about LARP (live action role-play) as art, and science versus video games presented by Tim & Phill Talk About Games which as a little bit brilliant and piss-funny too.

The business end of the panel. (The Dragon Friends.)
The business end of the panel. (The Dragon Friends.)

The main exhibition hall was definitely sensory overload and I could really only manage a few short walks around the place to look about before naturally gravitating back to the quiet of the panel theatres or the table top hall. In spite of the overwhelming visual stimulation, I did get to see a lot of games being played and I admit my trigger finger got itchy as I observed folks enjoying Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate which has all the aesthetics I like in a game. (Ye olde London? YES PLEASE.) I even got to see a live demo of a game that I have been patiently waiting the release of called Unravel which really does look brilliant.

On the whole, PAX is fun. It’s hard to describe to those who have no interest in gaming of any sort (like my work colleagues for example) but it’s nice to know that us people who enjoy games and gaming of all sorts have a place to nerd out and be with our own for a few days.