It's convention season again. Here in Seattle they're starting off with Emerald City Comicon. Pretty much every weekend between then and Labor Day, some place in this native land a large group of freaks and geeks are going to gather and celebrate whatever particular brand of geek/freakhood they practice. I'm a geek of the sort that attends conventions, and I help out at several. I have quite a bit of experience in nerd-herding.
We'll have GWJ-specific news and information here on the homepage as we get closer to some of the bigger goodjer draws, but there's a lot going on this summer. I have a few bits of general advice I'd like to toss out there for everyone heading off to one of these affairs.
- Bandwidth of all forms will be at a premium. We're geeks. We have a lot of tech. When you concentrate that many electronic devices in one place, whatever internet or phone service feeds the area is bound to be stomped down into the bedrock. The PAXes in particular are a giant bandwidth-sucking pile of PCs, game consoles, phones, laptops, tablets, and hand-helds of all descriptions — and that's before you even get to what the attendees bring. The carriers do the best they can, but there are only so many towers and only so much wire under the street. Be patient and think ahead. There will be times you can't get through. Download useful things to your device's local memory, and check into other sources like your hotel's wireless.
- Dressing for success here means planning for a long hike instead of a boardroom meeting. Rabbit's sartorial elegance aside, good shoes and a light backpack are in order to handle all the trekking up and down you're going to do in the course of a day.
- No hitting. Samurai/ninja/pirates/futuristic alien soldiers need to stick to Rock-Paper-Scissors. If you're feeling the need for elitist accuracy, get that girl over there in the abbreviated Gothic dolly costume to explain Jan-Ken-Pon. Maybe if you're really lucky, she'll play, too.
- Pirates vs. Ninjas touch football was an interesting idea, but the only winners in that sort of thing are the guys running the First Aid booth.
- "Cool Maneuvers" are probably not. I understand how hard it can be to withstand the impulse that moves you to tempt the great god Darwin with all that you are. But you cannot do that here. Or, to say it most simply, "If you think you might need a landing pad, it's a bad idea."
- Convention games like Assassin can be loads of fun, but play responsibly. Check to make sure of the local house rules. In games that are played in the wild on the convention floor, make sure your opponents are also signed up to play the game. Nothing pisses off the local populace like getting slapped on the back with a target sticker they didn't sign up for.
- Co-ed glomping is allowed, as long as there are no strikes that would be illegal in Judo. Both the glomper and the glompee should watch out for pointy costume pieces. Your bishie crush is probably not going to get the right message if you put an eye out.
- Waiting in line is a given if you decide to join in on some of the more popular activities. Tearing off your shirt and screaming, "Hulk SMASH!" will not shorten the wait. Nor will starting a filk of "Henry the Eighth." I wish I'd remembered to ask him if he knew the second verse of "The Weird Looking Thing With All The Eyes and the Asteroid Miner's Daughter." Oh well. Anyhow, a poker deck for card games that you can play in your hands or a pass-and-play board game on your tablet like Ticket to Ride would be a better choice.
- And speaking of lines, I've never promoted the death penalty for Queue Frogs. Keelhauling is much more appropriate to the offense. Do not cut in line, or you will face my wrath.
Costume Do's and Don'ts:
- Don't get your cape caught in the intake. Or the escalator, the revolving door, or the pointy bits on that other guy's costume.
- Wings and robot chassis must be no wider than the escalator.
- Don't loose your cool, or anything else. Make sure everything that's part of your costume is securely fastened. Velcro and personal adhesives are a girl's best friends.
- If you're staying in a hotel and you're going as Mystique, make sure to bring your own towels. Housekeeping will notice when the entire stack of white towels she dropped off yesterday is a thin aqua color the next day.
- If it looks like a weapon, think twice before bringing it. You may have a really cool replica Lancer, but if you start freaking people out with it, security will ask you to take it back to your hotel room and leave it there. If you have any questions, ask a staff member and they'll tell you the specific convention's policy. If it's PAX, find an Enforcer and they'll hook you up with the right people. Don't worry, I'm not bringing my Keyblade or my broadsword this year, either.
- Let's have a little dignity here, folks. What looks good drawn on a 2d representation of an anime girl may or may not look so hot on a real human. The odds decrease with age and body hair.
No matter where you go or what you do while you're there, taking care of yourself is key. Keep The Four Hs in mind.
- Hydrate: Once we get into summer, it’s going to be hot. Getting dehydrated under these circumstances is a bad idea. And it's not just heat. At large facilities, the HVAC will be cranked up to deal with the mass of people inside, even in the middle of winter, and those machines dehumidify. You may as well be schlepping across the burning desert for all the moisture in the air there. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, so make sure to drink at least as much of something like Gatorade or plain water as you do coffee, energy drinks or rum. You're going to also want to have a chapstick on hand for dried-out lips, and maybe some hand lotion (especially if you're using the recommended amount of hand sanitizer).
- Hygiene: You’re in a large building rubbing elbows and flux capacitors with a whole heck of a lot of people. If you're clawing your way to the top of the standings in the Warhammer tournament, the last thing you need is to be stuck downwind of someone who forgot a few steps from his toilette this morning. And you definitely don't want to be that guy. Thorough showering and liberal use of deodorant are a necessity — no skipping areas you consider unimportant.
- Health: Remember that large crowd I mentioned above? Even if they're not stinky, they’re not germ-free. Ditto for planes and trains and automobiles. Your immune system is your ally, and you would do well to keep it properly equipped. Eat more than junk food; Pocky and Ramune are not in any food group. Frequent hand-washing and hand sanitizer are a must. Don’t forget to stay on any medication regimen you use in your regular life. If you wear a Medic-alert bracelet, make sure you have it on and its information is up to date.
- Hibernate: I know zombies are cool to see on a movie screen, but it’s not nearly so cool when you are one. If you haven’t slept for two days, you’re going to feel pretty awful. And that’s not fun at all.
For a quick rule of thumb: At a minimum take one shower, eat two REAL meals, and get four to six hours of sleep per day.
In case something does go wrong, know where to go for help. Each con has its own staff. For any of the Penny Arcade Expos, staff are called Enforcers. For Emerald City Comicon, they're called Minions. Our local anime convention, Sakuracon, just calls them "staff" and lets it go at that. Whatever they're called, these are the people whose job it is to make things happen and keep things safe. Whichever con you're going to, find out what designates a staff member and where to find them in case you need assistance.
This list makes convention-going sound like hard work, but it's really not. Just be safe, follow Wheaton's Law, and have fun.