• Considering GenCon

    by  • March 8, 2012 • People & Events • 14 Comments

    Recently, these two things happened: Filamena’s post, encouraging women to submit their names as GenCon Industry Insider Guest of Honor; and the strong endorsment by a couple of friends who have been pitching my name to the higher spheres (you know who you are).

    The two things coalesce into this giant ball of “go to GenCon, giullina!” which has been sitting in the back of my brain for years, but now it’s jumped to the front. So here’s the thing – I’m a woman gamer from the other side of the ocean, and this creates all kinds of considerations that factor into the final decision.

    First off, I’m a passionate gamer. I was happy as a pumpkin the first time I went to Lucca Comics and Games and to Essen Spiel, and GenCon feels to me like the missing element in my convention trifecta. Going to GenCon is something that, as a gamer, I need to do at least once in my life (Gaming Mecca in the US, as Filamena put it, conveys that feeling quite precisely).

    Secondly, I live on the other side of the pond1. That means that, well, “one does not simply walk into GenCon”. It’s an expensive trip, which makes better sense if coupled with a longer vacation in the US, something like a full three weeks in August. The direct implication of that, though, is that of course I’d jump at the chance to organize an awesome trip with my spouse, and this is where things get interesting: I’m in a hetero relationship, so my SO is a dude. And he’s a casual gamer2 – I’m the geekier part of the equation.

    This is how we walk straight into the third point. I’m a woman considering 15-20 days in the US with my SO, and I’m wondering if it makes sense for us, as a couple, to spend 4 full days in Indianapolis (at the Con, even). So this is the part where I go check the GC website for spouse activities, and here it goes:

    Q: What kinds of activities are available for non-gaming spouses?

    SPA (SPouse Activities) is a program designed for the significant other, the “gamer widow” or “widower” and is open to gamers and non-gamers alike. We’ve got a variety of events for you to enjoy. From “traditional” crafting activities such as knitting, scrapbooking, and beadwork, to more active programs such as Irish dancing, belly dancing, and self defense. Included as well is a variety of downtown walking tours. We even have an Open Crafting room where you can stop by to finish a craft project you’re working on, start a new craft, or just hang out with fellow crafters. There’s something for everyone in our SPA program!

    I’ll admit that the belly dancing class could open interesting perspective on our relationship, but let’s get serious here. I’d like to step away from my personal situation and look at it from a general perspective of a woman considering bringing her SO to GenCon: frankly, these seem to be female activities, and stereotypically so (as was also confirmed by the recent Google advertising fail, where to be categorized as female you had to be interested in crafting). It seems to me that the women = crafting bias that Google showed is present here in the reverse: the Spouse Activities put forward to GenCon appear to be targeted directly at women, thus implying that “gamer widows3” are female. The non-biased activities are, basically, the downtown walking tours – but that seems a bit too little to cover four days of activity.

    So here’s the thing. I go to conferences a lot for work, and I’ve organized a few – every time, if possible, I’ve tried to turn my participation into somewhat of a family vacation, and it’s always been a pretty cool experience. Therefore, I’d like to offer some pointers for a better organization of SPAs and in general, to make the event more family-friendly:

    • Location is key. The city you choose to organize your event is massively significant for conventions – up to the point where I’ve seen submission guidelines for event organizers requesting them to reduce the touristic information. On the other hand, this is probably the most difficult thing to change, due to the size of the event.
    • Full day trips. If you can’t move your event from a generic convention center, you can organize full trips out of town. This is a pretty popular solution here in Europe – buses leave in the morning from the convention center and return in the evening, with participants signing in upon registration.
    • City passes. Another thing that rocks is that participants and registered spouses are offered these packages that include public transport cards, maps, and museum tickets. This is a solution often organized in concert with the local tourism office.
    • And this is specific for invited speakers (or in GenCon’s case, Guests of Honor): one-day committment. I’ll be brutally honest here and say that the request to participate in “4-6 seminars/panels over the course of the four days” is insanely restrictive. In my experience (personal and shared by my colleagues, regardless of gender), when you have a family and other work obligations, asking someone to stay at your event for the entire duration is impossible. Usually, panelists can participate for one, maybe two days over the course of a 4-day event. Vastly reducing this requirement would greatly reduce the pressure on participants and their families, and would also offer a wider variety of speakers (less panels per person = more people for the same number of panels), which is always interesting4.

    So here is what’s going on in my head right now. The baseline is, I still haven’t decided what to do. For now, it seems that it would be too taxing on my family life to consider participating as Guest of Honor, as 1-2 days is probably the most reasonable participation for us (and that would rule me out from the possible candidates).

    I guess that my closing question is: GenCon, can you make it easier for me5 to participate? I’m doing my best here, let’s help each other.

    1. Hello Americans! I’m in the future!
    2. My SO is involved in game publishing though, as illustrator – but that’s not really related to wanting to spend 4 days at GenCon.
    3. This is an horrible term, by the way. The word “widow” has such a tragic implication that it feels really awkward to me in this context.
    4. This is actually what happens in Lucca as well: there are so many panelists that you can speak in one or two at most.
    5. And everyone like me, which I easily imagine to be a lot of people.


    Player of all sorts of games, tabletop roleplaying games publisher, engineer, and amateur designer. Based in northern Italy, I live with a pretty cool artist, a ton of books and too much technology.


    14 Responses to Considering GenCon

    1. avatar
      March 8, 2012 at 16:16

      Look beyond the SPA events and into the “Workshops” and “Island of Misfit Events” for more variety that your male SO would like outside of gaming. Once the event list goes live, search by those categories and you will have a lot more success. There’s also entertainment events and a film festival that goes on. IIRC, there have been SPA events like walking haunted places tours, wine and beer tastings, that sort of thing, so don’t completely count it out.

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      • avatar
        March 8, 2012 at 16:22

        Those all sound like pretty cool activities. Too bad they’re not directly obvious on the website (at least to me as a potential newcomer!).

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        • avatar
          March 8, 2012 at 17:53

          Also, depending on where his interests lie as a casual gamer there’s usually lots of options for board games, card games, and even video games.

          And don’t forget just walking around the vendor area. It’s easy to lose a lot of time in that place just browsing and maybe watching or playing demos of different things.

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    2. avatar
      Jason Morningstar
      March 8, 2012 at 16:24

      Oh man, Gen Con’s non-gamer programming is sort of a mess – they only recently changed they symbol from a ball and chain.

      I think the “Industry Insider” guest of honor program has an assumed audience of people who would be at Gen Con anyway, for the entire time, rocking out and networking as hard as they can. I bet the standards and expectations for media guests are far different. I suspect that if you only wanted to come for a single day that could be arranged, although Gen Con obviously wants to get a lot of mileage out of your appearance and they might not like it. You can always ask.

      And I think coming for one day (or *maybe* two) is a really smart move if you’ve got three weeks to have fun in the states. There’s a lot of ground to cover!

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      • avatar
        March 8, 2012 at 16:30

        Maybe there’s an assumed 1:1 mapping of vendors and industry professionals, which isn’t necessarily true!

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    3. avatar
      March 8, 2012 at 16:32

      Yea, the “gaming widow” terminology always bugged me too. But… then again, it is often true. I think? It’s the rare couple I’ve met where the woman is more involved in gaming than the man (although a conversation with my tattoo artist last night revealed that his girlfriend played more WoW than he did, which is the post popular game for the “widow” term to be applied to. Maybe I’m wrong?) I’m always like, where do people get these impressions. Is it just con goers?

      Anyway! I’ve been to Gencon and liked it. But… there’s not much to do in Indy. It’s not a spectacular city, it’s just central and accessible. If you’re going, you definitely want to go for the con. But if you want to travel a bit, there’s some neat stuff not too far away (where I am in Columbus is a 3 hour drive, Chicago is 6, I think, and is awesome, stuff like that).

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      • avatar
        Jason Morningstar
        March 8, 2012 at 17:05

        When you start planning your trip, remember that Columbus *is* awesome and Kira is a great host and it is on the way to North Carolina, where all the Twizzlers are.

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        • avatar
          March 8, 2012 at 17:47

          Aw, thanks Jason!

          And yes, we are basically awesome, Giulia. COME VISIT US.

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    4. avatar
      March 8, 2012 at 16:56

      I think gamer widow (or widower) derives from ‘grass widow'; which has a definition of a woman separated from her husband for short periods, by extension a ‘grass widower’ is a man separated from his wife for a short period.

      There have been football widows; meaning that the men are so concentrated on the games, they are ignoring their wives; for decades. These days there are also football widowers but that concept is only slowly gaining ground. The gamer widower, as opposed to the widow, is still a minority but they are different enough from many gamer widows that one single track just won’t work. And, as you say, the organizers need to make that clear if they have multiple tracks, for those with multiple interests.

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      • avatar
        March 8, 2012 at 17:45

        That’s neat, Arlene, I didn’t know that.

        Hehe, which leads me to ask, is there such a thing as a “craft widower”?

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        • avatar
          March 12, 2012 at 18:29

          Yes, there is. Just ask my SO when I’m gone to a tatting or knitting convention.

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    5. avatar
      March 8, 2012 at 17:12

      I would have to agree with Mr. Morningstar in regards to the point on “Guests of Honor.” My convention experience (as attendee and organizer) suggests that the title does implicate a working relationship with the convention such that your primary reason to attend will be to be available for involvement in events.

      That said, I believe I am intimidated from ever attending GenCon from the sheer spectacle of the event. I understand that if I were to go, I’d have to be able to commit to a number of activities, and, you know, actually meet some of the people I’ve interacted with online without the ability to shout at the screen loudly before responding in a more characteristically calm fashion. [grinning]

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    6. avatar
      March 9, 2012 at 13:57

      My husband is a gaming widower. I think he would enjoy lots of the activities at the big conventions like GenCon. He likes board games, sci-fi, some video games, but he’s not interested enough in the activities to spend the weekend engaging in them. He went to Fastaval with me, he liked being in Demark, but I think the part he liked best about the trip was that he could hang out, read, and talk to people. The lack of programming for non gamers was actually a good thing.
      I invite him to the cons I go to, I show him the cool stuff he might like, and then I look forward to going without him.

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    7. avatar
      March 15, 2012 at 16:28

      I can’t really speak to the overall topic, but I thought i would mention: I know that there’s an effort to bring the Brimstone Drawing Club to Gencon this year. Might be something your spouse would find interesting.

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