Last weekend I was able to get to PAX Unplugged in Philly. I’d applied for a media pass and, much to my shock, was approved. It was an interesting time. As a first time attendee I’ve got some advice for folks who’ve never been to a convention before, but are considering trying one out.
Go with a group.
Conventions can be huge. PAX Unplugged took up the entire space of the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s main hall, which is three city blocks, and it can be a tad overwhelming. A group can help off-set the sheer scope of the convention by giving you a home base to put your stuff down, and to serve as orienting space. One of my oldest friends has been going to PAX Unplugged for years and that one familiar face was invaluable.
If you don’t have a group, get online and find some people in your social circles who are both planning on going and have been to the event before. There’s a lot of people out there who would be ecstatic to take you into their group and help get you acclimated.
Have a Plan
Conventions can have so much going on that walking through the space looking for things to do isn’t a great strategy. You’ll miss sign-ups for games you may have wanted to play, bypass events you may have found interesting, or overlook opportunities to play some games with folks. If the convention is like PAX Unplugged and has an app, spend some time looking through it and noting the events you’d like to be at or participate in. It frees you from the need to “do it all,” and creates a personalized guide for your day.
My only plan heading down to the convention center was to speak with as many smaller game publishers and designers as I could. So when I arrived at PAXU I blitzed through the exhibitor space as much as I could Friday evening and Saturday morning. So, from that perspective mission was accomplished. On the other hand, I’d been so focused on that one task that I hadn’t spent a lot of time in the app. By the time I finished my rounds 1 I was mentally spent and didn’t have the energy to look at the event schedule and decipher what I wanted to do next. I did find the media room on Saturday, which gave me a nice space to work on the rough cut of a video, but by then I was just done and headed home. If I’d mapped out some things ahead of time I’d have had a broader experience.
Talk to People
This was easy for me on my trip to PAXU because talking to people was my only goal. Had I not been behind my camera and mic, however, I may have felt a tad more cautious chatting with others. This would have been a mistake.
Fellow convention goers are there to share an experience, and chatting with people is a great way to expand our limited perspective of the con. We can learn about events we may have overlooked, hear stories of the games people have played, and meet some cool folks you may have otherwise passed by.
Now, I must admit, I had a content creator badge so folks at the exhibitor booths may have been a bit more open to speaking with me than the average attendee–but I don’t think so. The people at the booths were fantastic, and it was rare for me to see a space where no one was engaged in conversation.
Play the Demos
The most fun I had at PAXU was when I was invited to test-play a game, Scrolls of Chaos, which will soon be going up on kickstarter. Scrolls of Chaos is a meta-game which is meant to be laid on top of another activity. Watching a movie? Play Scrolls of Chaos. Playing D&D? Play Scrolls of Chaos. At a dinner party? Play Scrolls of Chaos.
Gameplay is simple, players pull a number of cards off a deck, each of which has a task to accomplish and a fail condition which derails it. If the player is able to complete the task without triggering the fail condition they complete the scroll and keep the card. Three of us played while we I was chatting with the creator about the game. During this time I grabbed the phone of another player and insisted it had always been mind 2, another player took off her shoes and put them on her feet 3, and I had to boldly declare that I was “God’s favorite.”
The game was hysterical and I cannot wait to play it with my neighbors. But I wouldn’t have known this if I’d pass on playing the demo. When you get a chance, play the demos!
2 responses to “Advice for First Time Con Goers”
Totally agree. I’ll add one note on not going alone. Even if you can’t find anyone in your social circle who will be attending, all is not lost.
I don’t have a huge friend group to begin with and those who I am close with aren’t the type to travel for large conventions. I’ve found that if I hit the forums for a particular convention, Reddit, Twitter, or other outlets, I can usually turn up some other solo folks who might be interested in getting together.
Sure, you’re not always going to hit it off with everyone but I’ve met some really interesting people this way and also been introduced to some fun new games. I’ve managed all of this while being what most folks would consider somewhat introverted. Luckily, gamers tend to be a fairly easy-going and welcoming bunch.
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