2007 was not a good year for me.
I was a wide-eyed sophomore attending college, and at the time? I didn’t have a lot of friends. The few that I did have weren’t particularly interested in nerdy things like H.P. Lovecraft, Nintendo emulators, or Dungeons & Dragons.
Hell, if you had asked somebody from my alma mater what the word “steampunk” meant, then they probably would’ve told you that it was an obscure genre of British rock music from the 1960’s.
I was truly a stranger in a strange land.
Unless I wanted to spend the next three years of my life in a cultural purgatory, where the only games played were Madden and beer pong, then I had no choice but to expand the radius of my social circle.
“Roll a Boredom Check”
In my desperation to find other geeks like me, I combed through the city of Indianapolis for signs of nerdy life. The spring semester was over, but summer had already started at that point, so I was working against the clock.
A weekly trip to Downtown Comics on Monument Circle was usually enough to satiate my cultural appetite, but comic books don’t make a worthwhile substitute for good old-fashioned human interaction.
And besides, I was less interested in finding source material than I was in sharing meaningful experiences with other people who loved the same things that I did.
I thought that the summer of 2007 would drag on forever. Worst case scenario? I would go back to school, comic books in hand, and end up disappointed with the results of my search. I would be forever doomed to talk about outdated sitcoms, football matches, and celebrity gossip.
And then, August 15th rolled around.
Enter Gen Con (cir. 2007)
It wasn’t a particularly eventful or meaningful day. There weren’t any major events going on at the time, at least none that my school friends would attend, and most people were too engrossed in their post-workday commutes to even care about what was happening in Downtown Indianapolis.
But honestly? It was a day that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It was around 6:00 PM. I was downtown, walking towards the Indiana Convention Center, and I noticed that the air had a really odd mixture of humidity and coolness. The kind that you can only find in the Midwest on an early August night.
The air became much drier as I entered the lobby on Maryland Street. It was almost as though the moisture within it had been sucked out completely, and was being replaced by an undercurrent of electricity. It was a very odd sensation but I didn’t have long to process it: my attention soon turned to a crowd that was gathered by the front doors.
There were a few people circled around one another, engrossed in card or board games, while a smaller handful were tucked away in opposite corners reading books or playing handheld video games. It resembled the demographic that had eluded me the entire summer, so naturally I decided to venture further into the building.
A Brave New World
I rounded a decorative stone pillar, taking care to avoid that small crowd, and when I entered the main lobby? I saw at least a few hundred people, with the occasional cosplayer mixed in, waiting to get their badges for Gen Con.
It was a gathering that took me completely by surprise. Most of the attendees were dressed casually, in video game or anime t-shirts, while the few cosplayers who were there wore lavish, fantasy-themed costumes.
I had seen pictures of cosplay before, at Gen Con and other conventions that took place in the Midwest, but it was still not a sight that I was used to seeing. My alma mater was mostly conservative, and no student from that college would ever think to dress the way that most of these cosplayers were.
Thinking back to what I was wearing at the time, I don’t think I would have either. I’m pretty sure my outfit that day consisted of cargo pants and a polo shirt. If anything, I probably looked like a security guard or maintenance man.
I took my place in the Will Call line as a volunteer in a red fez yelled at people who were holding it up. As I looked around, I noticed an unspoken excitement that was shared between all of the attendees.
It almost felt like we had been away from school for a holiday vacation and we were finally coming back to the hallways, classes, and friends that we all knew and loved. At least, that’s how it felt to me when I finally got to the front of the line.
The cashier welcomed me to Gen Con and told me to “enjoy the show.” I don’t remember that much about the four days that followed, or the convention itself, but I can still think back to the happiness that I felt at finally discovering a place where I could share my love of nerdy things with others.
It felt like I had somewhere that I belonged, and although the next three years of college were difficult for me the ensuing years spent at Gen Con and other convention like it gave me something to look forward to as I waded through the mundanity of everyday life.
The sense of belonging that comes from attending a convention, and knowing that I have a community of like-minded people that I can always join, is what brings me back year after year.
And honestly, there’s no other feeling quite like it.