A Tale of Two Cons

This summer marked an evolution for our gaming family—we took the kids to two game conventions, Origins Game Fair and DEXCON. And this was the first year we brought the kids but not my mom (she came to Origins with us in 2011 and 2012). Here are some thoughts and lessons learned.

Confined Cons

Both Origins and DEXCON are all in one building, as long as you stay in the hotel attached to the convention center, which we did. At 11 and 12, our kids are independent enough that we could let them wander a bit on their own. They have cell phones now that they’re in middle school (we can argue about the wisdom of that elsewhere, but it was a welcome bit of security this summer). Although in some ways I felt bad leaving my mom behind, the kids no longer need a sitter. When the boy bashed his head on the desk during the evening (yes, he continued to bunk out on the floor under the desk), one phone call and we were upstairs with ice—and they already had things pretty well under control and barely needed us. But I’m still glad they called.

There’s no way we’re taking them to Gen Con any time soon where the convention is spread out over several city blocks. Maybe when they’re 15 and 16 or something like that. But in the relatively confined spaces of Origins and DEXCON, I was quite comfortable with giving them some autonomy. However, during Origins, we found those confines a bit hindering for us as some of our friends spent their evenings at neighborhood bars rather than hanging out at the Big Bar on 2. Until the kids are a good bit older, we intend to be an elevator ride away.

Friends

This year, Cam and Jessica Banks brought their boys along to Origins. Although we’ve lived states apart for years now, our families have always had a special bond and our kids are good friends. So it was fantastic to hang out with them, and Columbus is a more manageable road trip than visiting each other’s houses. As always, though, more people means more difficulty making decisions. And with more kids in the mix, it was that much more challenging especially as exhaustion started to overtake enthusiasm.

Now that we all have a better idea of what to expect, I think we’ll be able to plan a bit better in the future. Cam and Jess were both working at a booth, and I did not envy them the juggling that resulted. I’m glad we’ve managed to minimize the business we need to handle when we’re at a convention with the kids.

We also got to meet Filamena Young and David Hill’s three kids, which was lots of fun. We learned that there are no good places to meet up and hang out with seven kids in the Columbus convention center, but we all made do and the kids got along great.

Planning

It’s so tempting to wing it—to assume that, with so many options, you’ll all just find stuff to do. Every con we go to, we learn more things we should have planned better. It’s not easy to make decisions on the fly, and that gets exponentially more difficult with each person you need to take into account. Of course your schedule should be flexible, but it’s important to at least figure out what several things are most important to each person and then make sure those things happen.

This was our first time at DEXCON. We could only go for the weekend, so we showed up mid-con. I’ve heard that it’s the best convention to take kids to, but more than any other con I’ve been to, it requires planning. They aren’t kidding when they say this is the con for gaming—it hardly felt crowded because everyone was playing scheduled games all the time. We hadn’t signed up for anything because our decision to go was so last minute (and we usually don’t sign up for scheduled con games anyway), so at first we felt pretty lost. Luckily, we knew lots of people who were there and eventually got our bearings and had a great time—but we will absolutely plan things out and schedule games next time, even though there are challenges to signing up for scheduled games with young gamers (but the wonderful people at DEXCON are working with me on making that easier for parents!).

Kids’ Room

The kids’ room at Origins is amazing. We never bothered to use it before, and our kids have pretty much outgrown it, but they spent some time hanging out in there with the Banks boys. It’s a great place for kids to run around, to play and touch and manipulate things in a way they just can’t in the exhibitors’ hall. The people who volunteer there are wonderful and are all vetted well. It felt safe and welcoming. They even handled a fire alarm and evacuation incredibly well!

If you’re a game designer or retailer, it’s totally worth it to see about getting your kid-friendly games into the kids’ room. One of the volunteers taught our kids how to play Candamir and they absolutely fell in love with it. Not surprisingly, it’s now on our game shelf.

Origins Awards

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying won two awards, so that was exciting. But the awards ceremony itself was really not fun. My date for the evening was my daughter because tickets were $30 each (no, that 0 on there isn’t a typo). She and I used the comp tickets for working on a nominated game, but Clark and my son missed it because there was no way we were paying $60 so they could be there.

We sat with the Banks family, so there were three kids conspicuously sitting at our table in the not-crowded room. And Kevin Sorbo, who hosted, proceeded to make an “orgy awards” joke. My daughter, who came to the awards last year when James Earnest hosted, leaned over to me and said, “I thought he was supposed to be funny.” Sorbo didn’t even attempt to pronounce the names of the nominees because that was apparently beneath him and we should also have found these ridiculous names hi-lar-i-ous.

Although I’m pleased that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying got some well deserved recognition, the ceremony felt insulting. At least it was short.

Travel

The kids are getting pretty good at this long distance travel thing. We’re also learning that long breaks can be your friend. We took a two hour lunch break and wandered through Cabela’s on the way to Columbus and it reset the kids’ endurance for sitting in the car. It also gave us a trial run for letting them go off on their own in a public place which helped us plan better for how to keep in touch when they were on their own in the convention hall.

On the way home, on the other hand, they were utterly exhausted and slept most of the way, so we stopped as little as possible.

Here We Go Again

We worried that two cons was just a bit too much for our summer to handle, but I’m so glad we were talked into coming to DEXCON for the weekend. Next year we’re absolutely going for the whole time.

The kids spent the drive home already planning what they want to do at DEXCON next year—although of course this needs to be in addition to (absolutely not instead of) Origins. So don’t take your kids to a convention unless you’re pretty sure you’re prepared to add it to your annual schedule!

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