Gen Con Bingo

Every year, I join an incredible sociological experiment. I travel to a far off land, and see sights not often seen by mortal man. What started as a pilgrimage has now become a yearly ritual, a return to roots. Wandering the sacred spaces, my path will cross that of a fellow seeker from time to time.

"Dude, I got chainmail-bikini-chick and studly-guy-with-no-shirt! A double!"

"I got the Magic game in the bathroom. I win."

Founded in 1968, Gen Con has never strayed from its original formula: get a bunch of guys get together to play games. Over the years, it moved about its home state of Wisconsin, and finally moved to Indianapolis when it had exhausted the ability for anywhere in the badger state to host the teaming hordes of geekdom--some 25,000 men, boys, women (few) and girls (very very few).

When I was but a lad, Gen Con's Siren song rang out from the advertisements in Dragon magazine, wedged in a quarter-page next to the epic comic panels of Fineous Fingers. "Lake Geneva," sang those naidian voices, "is the promised land. Come. Join us." Of course, to the 13 year old son of an alcoholic English teacher, such an extravagance was not to be. For two decades, that dream hung there in the wind--a specter of grace--until finally a dear friend twisted my arm and assisted in my continued denial of 1 Corinthians 13:11.

I'm lucky enough to have been to most of the major geek-gatherings in my time on earth. I've seen the costume ball at the World Science Fiction Convention. I've wandered Tron-like through the Consumer Electronics Show for 3 days, never once crossing my own path. I've been to the insanity that was once E3.

But Gen Con is different. Whereas E3, CES, and their ilk are about selling things to people, Gen Con is about the people who show up. And unlike a traditional "fan" convention -- Comic-Con, Wizard World, Star Wars Celebrations, Trek conventions--Gen Con isn't about showing up simply to say "I like this stuff" and then buy the evidence to prove it. It's about actually doing something. I don't go to Gen Con to ogle booth babes. I don't go to Gen Con to listen to panel discussions. I go to Gen Con to play games.

It also differs from the many small game conventions that grace college campuses and b-list conurbations of the countryside. Gen Con is Mecca. Thousands of people get to go once, and only once. They save their pennies, they make their Hajj. What they see and do when they get there is entirely up to them. There are gamers who spend 12 hours a day locked in small windowless rooms, huddled around 8-tops, playing Dungeons and Dragons non-stop. There are gamers who are, in every waking moment, playing Magic: the Gathering tourneys. There are the "grognards", craning their necks over miniature battlefields so huge you actually have to take a walk to take a turn. Increasingly, there are renegade video-gamers who will live on the sponsored LAN, engrossed in pixelated violence. Gen Con is simply so big that any marginalized subculture of gamers ceases to be a village of wierdos, and becomes a mighty city.

This focus on the doing, not the selling, makes it worlds apart from that other icon of gamer gatherings: E3. At E3, I've waited an hour for a 2 minute shot at the new hotness. At Gen Con it's highly likely that I will learn new games not from a demonstrator, but from the games' designers, over a period of hours. Gen Con is an in-your-face, tactile experience. And if I do buy something, it will matter; 10,000 copies of a new game is success. It's personal.

Of course, getting personal with 25,000 like-minded weirdos engenders the bizarre, which leads us to Gen Con bingo (a game that is actually played among my friends). So grab a piece of paper, mark it off five by five, and start filling in squares. Here's a sampling of my card before I pack up.

The Sad Booth Babe
There are no real booth babes at Gen Con. Instead there is an archetypal "daughter ashamed of her geeky dad and why did I have to come to Gen Con this year" babe. She's 16, freckled, annoyed, and dressed in Jeans and a T-shirt. The fact that she merits such individual attention on this list is also evidence of another unfortunate Gen Con peculiarity: there are hardly any women there. Oh sure, there's the occasional stereotypical Live Action Roleplayer with vampire teeth and an attitude. There are various couples who married in college because of their shared love of Dungeons and Dragons. But average, every day "hey, I just like games" gamer girls? Very very rare.

Gamer Funk
I keep promising to come loaded with an baker's dozen of deodorant sticks to hand out as door prizes, but the martini shaker always seems more important. Gamer funk has become such a part of Gen Con that there are T-shirts about it. All of the online Gen Con guides talk about it, and implore attendees to bathe. But I believe there is a counter-revolution of gamers who deliberately cultivate a stench simply for the challenge. We call these people "pigpens."

The Inappropriate Card Game
Ever see 12 year old boys playing Magic in a public bathroom? It's not pretty. Ever since I've been going to Gen Con (not forever, but long enough that I consider myself a veteran) there has been an entire subculture of teenage boys who will play Magic, or whatever the collectible card game of the moment is, anywhere, anytime. Their therapists say they have "boundary issues."

Chainmail Bikini, Klingon, Vulcan ears, Vampire Teeth, Storm Trooper, Darth Vader, Browncoat
I can never figure out whether these adornments are simply self-expression or some bizarre mating ritual: "Dude, that chick is SO checking out your ears!" But Gen Con (like all collections of subversive subcultures) represents an opportunity for freedom of expression not often found in daily life. I personally don't own a perfect Han Solo replica blaster, but if I did, Gen Con would be one of those few places I could get away with wearing it. Each excentricity leads to a world of untold personal stories, and somehow this makes me happy.

The Porn Star
There's always one sad woman whose publicist convinced her that Gen Con was her target audience. Unlike your average visitor to E3, most of the Gen Con attendees will be embarrassed and give her a wide berth. She's usually located next to "Bob's House of Recycled Lead." She's the more interesting avatar of a trade show subculture all her own: the misguided. Like the Porn Star, there are dozens of booth denizens who have saved up all they can just to come tell the world about their (board game, card game, fuzzy Cthulhu puppet) only to look discouraged by Saturday, and suicidal by Sunday morning.

Giant Lego Thing
Gamers are cheap bastards. Inevitably somebody decides "Heck, I ain't paying for no hand painted pirate ship when I can just build one." $1,200 in Lego pieces later, he's successful. Casual gamers just play games. But there's a species of hardcore gamer who invest their heart and soul into the games: painting miniatures, building terrain, laminating every bit of their favorite game, searching endlessly for that missing card from the 1999 print run of Ebola Monkey Hunt.

Of course, there's no doubt in my mind that I am on someone's bingo card. 40 years old is rapidly approaching that age where upstart youth will begin referring to me as "beardy"--an old guy who thinks he knows everything. There's a 16 year old kid out there somewhere who has a square labeled "Balding Guy in Black T-shirt."

I just hope I'm the center square.


Is the funk at these conventions really as bad as people say? I remember the months leading up to E3 even the major gaming sites were cracking half-serious jokes about the masses of unwashed people that attend these functions. I'd like to visit a con one day, never having been to any, but the more I hear about the funk the more my nose says "no way, Jose!"

Gamer Funk

Rabbit, this is actually a serious health issue. Last year I went to Gen Con (just for one day) and developed a respiratory infection the following day which then turned into pneumonia which lasted 6 months and cost me several hundred dollars. Don't play around with gamer funk. Pump your body full of vitamin C and carry a can of anti-bacterial lysol with you. Also, there is medicine designed to take before stepping on an airplane. Well, Gen Con is one giant, windowless room, so that medicine might also work there.

On a lighter note, if you go to see the premier screening of The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising on Friday at 8:00 in the Capitol I room at the Westin, I'll see you there! Look for the guy carrying a can of lysol.

Re: Funk at GenCon
Until you've been to GenCon, you have no idea how bad the Funk is. The sad thing, its not the Con that causes it. People waiting in line for Badges have the Funk. Thats why I Always Pre-Reg, If you have enough prior planning ability to figure out how to do that, usually you figure out how to bathe and do laundry.

Seriously, just being around that smell will cause it to cling to your clothes and take it to your hotel with you. I've been attending GenCon for about 10 years now, and the only thing I've know to get the stench out of your clothes is a Pet Stain Carpet Cleaner spray.

As an aside, one year I was leaving a gaming hall at about 1am so we could head out and get some drinks downtown (god bless Indy the bars there stay open Late!) and we saw a Masked man with a scarlet cape creeping down the hallways looking for people passed out along side the walls. (Very common with younger males) He would sniff them and if they failed the test, out came the febreeze and he hosed them down. We were about to call the cops on him till we figured out what he was doing. That masked man was my Hero.

PS Julian - How can you play bingo and not have a square for the Duct Tape Bikini Girl?

Edit: I can't spell

I've never been to Gen Con, but I've been to dozens of Magic tournaments, and the funk is astounding. Who are these people who do not wash? Are they unaware of their condition?

The problem is compounded often times by the venue; frequently, the Tournament Organizer gets the cheapest place possible that will still hold the number of people that he expects. This often results in a very cramped playing space and not enough AC to go around. There's one place here in Houston called Midnight Comics that has a second floor gaming room with very little AC. Anytime but the dead of winter, it's a boiler room, even without a hundred stinky people in it.

I digress; the point is, gamer funk is REAL, and it is terrifying. I personally think they ought to post guards at the entrances and turn away stinky people.

I am still a little jaded about them moving Gen Con. There were two years during college when I lived downtown Milwaukee where I WALKED to Gen Con! Grrrr... Whatever. I went to Indy once. It was still good. Have been to busy to return.

I am still a little jaded about them moving Gen Con.

As a fellow Wisconsinite, I feel your pain. Last year was the first year since 1993 that I haven't been at Gen Con. I don't like it in Indianapolis, but I went anyway, and last year my game company partner and I couldn't swing it. And we're not going this year, either (it's making me itchy, to be honest). However, we already have plans in motion to go new year and run games non-stop like crazy people.

The Gamer Funk is there, to be sure. Usually you can spot it from a distance, and avoid it if you're paying attention. And I've seen the Sad Booth Babe, but I disagree with your assesment that there are no women there. We've noticed a steady increase of women at the con over the years, and we've also noticed that there's a disproportionate of red-headed women (which is fine with me). We believe that red-headed women are just more prone to gaming for some reason.

I'm one of those guys that paints miniatures and makes terrain, but I'm even worse than that: I'm also a game designer. Admittedly, it's a hobby press, not a full time job, but it's still our Mecca. And God willing, we'll be there again next year, showing off our games.

Zaphod, if you want a gaming fix in October, you could check out OshCon 2006. October 6-7 at the River Center at UW-O. Hit the web site and take a look:

I hope it's clear that I fall into pretty much all those categories. I have boxes of Ogre minis sitting right in front of me (stacked behind the monitor), and while I do bathe, I've been guilty of plenty of ill advised transgressions over the years.

If anyone is going and wants to meet up just for a howdy-do, drop me a PM.

I have only attended the local con here in the ATL (DragonCon) and it was enough for me to know that although I share a lot of the same interests as the folks in attendance, I did not feel as if I belonged. I will one day soon start attending some Warhammer Fantasy tournaments and though I am sure that many of the participants of those events also attend the cons, I'm hoping that the very nature of the event will make it less ... ummm ... geeky. Although I wear glasses, people are always thrown off when my wife jokingly tells them of my "doll collection", because I have neither the look or demeanor of a wargamer/roleplayer/gamer. I'm a closet nerd ...

ugh no thanks.. E3 funk was enough.. at least there was enough room to immediatly remove myself from these people.

I know exactly what it was like to be a kid flipping through Dragon magazine, seeing the ad, and dreaming of going to Gen Con. I imagine I could swing it now, but really, I get plenty of table-top rpg'ing on a regular basis, so I wouldn't be going to the con for con games. And really, I've heard far too many con game horror stories for me to even be interested in one. Maybe it's just that people tend to talk about their bad con game experiences more than their good ones. I don't know. Still, it would be nice to go and meet the "celebreties" that make it to the con (Larry Elmore and Peter David were two Gen Con regulars that I've always wanted to meet).

I actually almost never play "con games," but I do think I'm an outlier. I tend to spend 8 hours a day doing full playthrough demos on the floor, then spend 4PM-2AM gaming with friends.

I have been a gamer for a long time but have only managed to get to Indy the last few years. As my gamer pals and I have gotten older, like Rabbit 40 is a reality, we use GenCon to reconnect and play new and old games together. We are flung out all over the U.S. and it is easier to all go toGenCon, hang out, game, catch up etc...Then to get together anywhere else. There are no spouses, no kids and we can focus on us and gaming. All that being said the Funk is real and best avoided by keeping a sharp eye at the aisle ahead. We avoid a lot of funk by renting a one bedroom suite known as the 'Sweet Suite' and game there when we are not checking out new stuff on the con floor. Essentially from 7pm till the wee hours the suite is the place to be. We game, drink and eat in that order and its a great time.

It looks like my weekend voyage to Ohio isn't going to happen. Otherwise, I would be returning home by cutting through Indy on Sunday. I was hoping to convince my fellow travellers to stop at Gen Con. And heck, maybe even a slap 'n tickle at the Claddaugh across from the Omni. Followed by a sprint home for Sunday Night Toilet Toss. It would have been a great day, but seems very unlikely at this point.

Since my attendance is in the air, will there be an update to this post on games discovered, rabbit? And if you've never played it, stop by the Twilight Creations booth and check out Zombies!!!

rabbit wrote:

I hope it's clear that I fall into pretty much all those categories. I have boxes of Ogre minis sitting right in front of me while I bathe...I've been guilty of plenty of ill advised transgressions over the years.


I have never been, I should go next year. As I can just squirt some febreeze up my nose so I can't smell anything.

atom wrote:
I am still a little jaded about them moving Gen Con.

As a fellow Wisconsinite, I feel your pain. Last year was the first year since 1993 that I haven't been at Gen Con. I don't like it in Indianapolis, but I went anyway, and last year my game company partner and I couldn't swing it. And we're not going this year, either (it's making me itchy, to be honest). However, we already have plans in motion to go new year and run games non-stop like crazy people.

I'll THIRD that sentiment. The first year I attended Gen Con was 1981-- I won free passes from a local radio call in trivia contest (my parents gave me the answer). Back in those days, it was held at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, which to my eyes seemed huge. Flash forward, and I am going up to Milwaukee for the show (Rabbit is more ironic than he knows, as for many years GC was held *IN* the MECCA convention hall) year after year. I rarely played in any games, but liked to walk through the dealer's room, see the media guests, and jump into the occassional demo game when I could. It was cheap and easy... every night I drove home to my free bed. It killed me when the show moved to Indy, and I have only gone for 1.5 days (in 2005) since the show moved.

It is to weep.

As always, Foamy's Rules for the Masses apply.

What an irony. Only now have I realised that I have been a gaming journalist for 8 years already and never got to go to E3. Curses.

Sucky as it may have been, I'll never see it and it makes me sad...

We should do a Gencon meet up. I can't go this year since I have to pick up the lady from the airport but next year!

We should do a Gencon meet up. I can't go this year since I have to pick up the lady from the airport but next year!

I think a Gen Con Slap and Tickle next year would be a good idea. I'll be pretty busy running games (32 hours of games in four days), but I'm sure something could be worked out.

Another target for your Gen Con Bingo:

Dice-Loving Man-Mountains
Two years ago when I was there running Silent Death in the Miniatures Hall, there were these four guys playing Car Wars, and I think they were having an unofficial tourney (there were trophies). The smallest of the four was probably about my weight (240 lbs.) but he was maybe 5' 9" instead of my 6' 3", so he looked pretty thick. However, he was absolutely svelte compared to his three competitors. Neither was taller than 5' 6" and neither weighed less than 500 lbs., I sh!t you not. They were spherical.

Long story short, they played for hours and when it was all over the three DLMMs had taken first, second and third place, and "skinny" didn't get a trophy. He was a good sport, however, and agreed to take a photo of the three winners with their trophies. As he was noodling with the camera and the three DLMMs were trying to get closer to each other so they could all fit in the same shot, one of them quipped, "You better hurry before we cause a singularity over here."

Ah, geek humor. I nearly spit water all over the game table.

Yeah, so next year, you gotta go.

i am so unappetized by both the funk description, and then the fact that the funk inspired like, twenty comments agreeing with you.

you know what just occurred to me? you have to fly home, and with the world at "red alert", it's going to take you a long time at the airport, and you're going to have to throw away your shampoo. think how many funky people won't even be bothered by homeland security goons, as they have no shampoo or liquid soap to be compelled to throw away.

good luck getting home! have a good time!


Any large gathering of social misfits attracts "the funk." It's certainly not something to keep you away from the biggest RP gaming convention in the world if you're into that sort of thing.

Is someone going to print out cards for this year?

Who will click on your link now, filthy bingo-lover? No one, that's who!

Captain Drupal saves the day!

And GWJ's new anti-spam changes take their first victim.

First, get some Evercleanse, young garry. Not just any Evercleanse, THE BEST Evercleanse (important distinction). Instructions for bingo are on the back of the box.