MUSKRAT RAMBLINGS, Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Muskrat Ramblings
Gen Conniption
posted by John

As you may have guessed from yesterday’s cartoon, I won’t be at Gen Con this year.

In fact, looking at the calendar, it strikes me I haven’t been to Gen Con for…um…oh, dear. Seven years? Srsly? Wow. The first Indianapolis Gen Con was the last I was at.

(EDIT 13.08.13 – as it turns out, it was the second one I was last at, in 2004).

Time doesn’t so much fly, as plummet, with a terminal velocity that’s never really been determined. It just keeps picking up steam. Every year shoots by faster, and all of a sudden, you realize you haven’t been to freaking Gen Con since 2003.

To lose one Gen Con, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose seven looks like carelessness.

In my defense, I hadn’t been to San Diego Comic-Con since about the same time, either. Origins? It may be five years since I set foot in Columbus. To be honest, I kinda stopped counting.

The burnout that hit me in 2003 was as overwhelming as it was complete. That year’s Gen Con was the last of a series of huge cons that summer, for me, and between the booth-time and the meetings – the many, many meetings – I don’t really have much real recollection of anything else. I just remember everybody – and I mean everybody – telling me how tired I looked. Those few fearful times I worked up the courage to glance in the mirror, I certainly had to agree. I was a wreck.

Meeting readers and fans is always a pick-me-up. But by that Friday night – two days into the con – wandering the streets of Indianapolis, I only remember being tired to my soul. I reached for my cellphone, called Northwest Airlines – who at the time had a ridiculously easy number to remember: 1-800-WE-REALLY-DON’T-SUCK-AS-MUCH-AS-PEOPLE-SAY-WE-SUCK, or something like that – and discovered a mere $100 was all it would take to fly me home the next morning.

I was ecstatic. I made my “flee” roll, and I fled.

Now, really, I have to ask you – just how wrong is that? Being happy to leave Gen Con early? Happy?

The first Gen Con I attended was in 1981, and I was 16. On summer vacation with my family, we found ourselves in Wisconsin. During Gen Con. Our hotel was in Madison, the picturesque capitol of the state (which a mere four years later would become my home), and I asked my Dad if he could make the drive to Lake Geneva.

Hilarity – as they say in Hollywood – ensued. Gen Con, you see, had by this point moved to the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, in Kenosha. Which isn’t actually located in Kenosha, but in the wilds of Kenosha County, hidden in the woods. Camouflaged, if you will. Seriously. If they had stealth technology at the time, I think they would have made the campus invisible to radar, as well.

Hot summer day. Driving. Madison to Lake Geneva. Confused Lake Geneva Game Store Clerk notes the incorrectness of my starting assumption. Lake Geneva to Kenosha. Kenosha to…somewhere else in Kenosha county. Woods. I remember LOTS of woods. I believe there wolves, too. Then, suddenly…

A building. A gym. A gym with games companies! Lots of game companies, all selling their…games! GAMES!

Long story short, never have I had to quest so hard getting to a con. Never before or since have I had to convince a carload of grumpy, hot, skeptical, increasingly bitter family members that yes, this “Gen Con” thing really did exist, honest. And once – hours later – when we finally found it, well, never before nor since have I had so little time at a convention left to do, you know, convention stuff.

But you know what? I met Marc Miller – I met Marc Miller – and he signed my copy of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society #9, hot off the presses, and with a color cover! Color, I tells you! The Fifth Frontier War issue. No, no, no, no: listen – WAR has broken out in the Spinward Marches! The Zhodani are on the attack! And…and…and…PEOPLE! This is the freaking ZHODANI!


“Let’s hope you survive the war. Marc W. Miller.”

Only one other moment in my gaming life has ever equaled that. I’m not sure, years later, when I was a music writer, that even being in the same room as Paul McCartney held the same whiz-pow fanboy geek-gasm that meeting Marc Miller did, in that tiny amount of time I had. In a gymnasium. In Kenosha. Wisconsin.

I had met my gaming hero, and he had signed my book. The book I held in my hands. Staring. Just staring at it.

“Let’s hope you survive the war.”

I was buzzed all the way back to Madison. I was breathless. I had signed gaming swag!

That’s what leaving Gen Con should feel like.

So, yeah – it’s been a while. To be honest, I think I needed the break. I just didn’t think the break would last quite so long.


But it’s time to go back. Not this year, no. But soon.

Maybe I’ll just go as a civilian, as I did at San Diego, and simply wander the floor for a day or two.

With luck, I may even bump into Marc Miller again.

And let him know I survived the war.

– John


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