Growing Up GenCon

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My hands are clammy and continue to tug at the bottom of my skirt. It took me four weeks and seven stores before I found a skirt that even roughly matched those suitable for a day of class. My wool sweater stifled me in the heat of the convention, no doubt worsened by my nervousness, and the white Oxford shirt scratched beneath. Why did I decide to wear this in the summer heat of Indianapolis? I had just spent an hour attempting to hand-stitch my Ravenclaw patch onto the just-arrived-from-the-internet robes, but ended up safety pinning it to the black cloth before leaving the room.

Here I was, 17 and ready to take on my first convention, my first costume, and my first big city by myself. Hey, GenCon, hey. I walked cautiously into the convention center and clutched my wand pocket. Crap, is my wand a weapon? They don’t allow weapons. My pace began to quicken with confidence when I saw the faces and smiles of costumed nerds just like me in the hallways. Some gave me a nod, no doubt fellow Harry Potter fans, and others screwed up their faces and pretended to dislike me – Slytherins, obviously.

It was the year the final installment of the Lord of the Rings was coming to theaters and with it, an obsessed Tolkienite with her heart set on one goal – meeting Samwise Gamgee (otherwise known as actor Sean Astin.) So when I heard he was attending GenCon, my heart leapt and I knew I had to make it. Back in the exhibit hall, I saw the tables for celebrity signings and there was a huge line for Sean. I was told to come back later at a separate signing when he would have time to meet more fans. Though a little crushed, I was simultaneously relieved that I had another day to work out my nervousness and maybe do my hair a little better because the humidity was crushing it. But when I turned to leave, I saw a line completely empty for Brad Dourif … Who? … OH! He played Grima in the movies and wow, he did such a great job. OK, Andrea, let’s go meet your first celebrity.

I walked up to his table and he quickly grinned back at me. From the moment I said a nervous hello, he took my hand, shook it, and looked me right in the eyes while he listened to me fumble over my compliments on his acting and my love for Tolkien. He disarmed me with jokes, smiles, and plain old charm. It was such a pleasant experience and to date, remains a favorite memory of mine. I left his table with a fresh autograph and a new bounce in my step. I was ready to meet Samwise.

The next day, I woke up on a mission. I quickly showered and dressed back up in my Hogwarts best, shuffling off to the convention center where I saw that there was only a small line to meet Sean. I remember fondly seeing him that first time and experiencing what I now know as “fangirling.” I nervously folded through my papers and brushed my hair with my fingers. What was I going to say? I had loved Sean Astin since seeing him in The Goonies, and then again in Rudy. He was even my inspiration for applying to Notre Dame. He had brought my absolute favorite book character to life in a perfect way. What do you say to someone like that? The girls around me giggled and mumbled excitedly to each other and there I was, my confidence sliding like a rocky hillside after excessive rain.

The line seemed to pass by in mere seconds and there I was when … “Next, please,” interrupted me from my thoughts. I quickly glanced up and there was Samwise, with the most genuine and soft smile aimed in my direction. I gave my money to the nice lady and introduced myself to him. I stood there with a foolish smile on my face and I’m fairly confident I never blinked. Looking back, I must have terrified him. I told him how much I loved him, Sam, and everything he had “ever done.” And then, that’s when my mouth began to run away with itself. I floated above and saw myself, standing there nervous and excited in black robes while a tale about going to Notre Dame fell from my mouth. In nervously trying to talk to him about how he had inspired me, I became confused and told him I went there, and before I knew it, had spun together 30 seconds of absolute confusion and bullshit for myself and my favorite hobbit. Clearly a seasoned professional, Sean continued to smile and listen patiently, shaking my hand after autographing a photo. He thanked me for coming, wished me the best, and I rejoined my body as I walked away from the table, completely mortified that I had lied right to his face without being able to control it. And that’s when I tripped and fell right onto the floor, thankfully out of sight of the autograph table. Oh my God, I am such a damn nerd.

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New friends Sarah & Tabz <3
New friends Sarah & Tabz <3

My second favorite time of year is next week and I can’t believe that it’s already been 12 months since I last stepped foot in Indianapolis.  I’ve attended GenCon since its very first visit to Indy, way back in 2003. It was my first convention and I was an unsupervised 17 year old running wild in a Ravenclaw uniform. (That makes me sound a LOT cooler than I actually was at 17.) That year it was chock full of celebrities from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and I met all sorts of really cool people from around the world and gamed every night with strangers until the wee hours of the morning (Sorry, mom!)

To me, GenCon has become much more than a simple convention. It’s been there for me over the last decade and I’ve grown up around it as much as it has grown up around the city. I’ve moved to three different places since my first trip, dyed my hair multiple colors, lost weight, gained weight, entered into (and thankfully left one) two serious relationships, and most importantly to the topic, grown as a gamer. Where once I used to be concerned with looking at EVERY SINGLE THING in the Exhibit Hall, I then moved on to gaming EVERY POSSIBLE SECOND DEMO ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME, and now, happily, simply trying to hang out with as many of my friends as can be squeezed into the seemingly short four days.

Last year provided some of the best memories over the last 11 conventions. I got the chance to work as press, interviewing indie developers and discovering this circle of really amazing, geeky gamers who are incredibly talented, funny, and just wonderful to be around. I particularly enjoyed meeting the guys behind “Dungeon Roll” – a really great dice game perfect for all ages that blew its Kickstarter campaign out of the water. I attended a preview event for the newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, then titled “D&D Next,” and met amazing authors such as R.A. Salvatore (who I admit I knew nothing about until my husband introduced me to the awesomeness that is Forgotten Realms.) Wizards of the Coast sure knows how to throw a party!

Back in 2007
Back in 2007 .. I roll much better these days.

Honestly though, I spent my fair share of time in the beer garden devouring that year’s concoction – “Flagon Slayer” – and meeting people I never thought I would get to know personally. I’ve happily cultivated those acquaintances over the last year into friendships and can’t wait to see people just to hug, drink, and game with them.

Returning this year as a geek pub owner (last year it still felt like a dream, but we hadn’t even launched our Kickstarter yet), it’s surreal to think we will be leaving behind a functioning pub 16 hours out of our reach. (Can I freak out yet?) I’ve really come a long way since those first steps in those robes. Just as GenCon has exploded with 40,000+ attendees and forced the city to grow around it, so, too, have I grown and become a businesswoman in the geek industry, so to speak. Nerding out has given me so many friends, opportunities, and even my wonderful husband. If I had only known what was in store for me, I’m pretty sure I would have confidently took Sean Astin’s hand and said, “It’s so amazing to meet you. I’m Andi, and I’m a big damn nerd.”

So with that said, and an exciting week ahead of me, I hope you follow my tweets for updates on the newest games and happenings at the Four Greatest Days in Gaming. There will be costumes, lots of gaming, and lots of alcohol. If you’re attending, please feel free to tweet at me or say hello* in person!

*Just as an aside, I can be weird about being touched if I don’t know you. A fist bump or a smile are always the best bet!* 

Before I go … Want to trade beer?

Hailing from Florida, we have a lot of specific beers brewed locally that don’t get distributed out West. Seeing as how many of my friends come from places far away from the Sunshine State, I thought it might be great to trade beers. Since we’re driving up, we’ll be bringing a suitcase full of beer to trade away for fine brews from the Pacific Northwest / West Coast, etc. If you have any requests or would like to be included on this trade, please leave a comment or tweet me to arrange a trade. I’m specifically looking for W00tstout 2.0 and Campfire Stout.

See you next week!

3 Replies to “Growing Up GenCon”

  1. You are too cool for words. Have fun and can’t wait to hear the tales. The pub will be fine and we promise to eat there at least once while you are gone!

  2. Hello from California! I really enjoyed reading your post, especially the parts about what Gencon has meant to you over the years. I am so excited about next week, but also super nervous! It’s my first trip to Gencon and I feel like such a nøøb. :::gulp:: note to self: relax and play games.

    If you want to do a California | Florida beer trade with me – THAT WOULD BE AWESOME! I’m a hug beer nut and I get two free checked bags on my flight. :). Shoot me an email or ping me on Facebook.

    Regardless, I hope you have an amazing time next week. 🙂

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