Friday, August 17, 2018

Looking Back At Gen Con 2018

Now that Gen Con is a couple of weeks in the rear view mirror, I think that I can put down some of my thoughts about the convention. This is going to be a more or less random set of impressions that I have, in no particular order of importance.

Sadly, I don't have much in the way of pictures this year. Gen Con was a really busy time for me this year. It was my first convention working for Petersen Games, and at the same time I had been brought out for the convention by ConTessa. I don't recommend ever going to a convention as big as Gen Con and trying to do two jobs somewhat simultaneously. ConTessa had a lot going on at the convention, and Petersen Games had a very busy, and very successful, convention. When I wasn't at the Petersen Games booth helping out, I was at Lucas Oil Stadium helping with ConTessa stuff (or walking the long walk between the two locations).

I averaged about 6 miles of walking each day of the convention, so that was good for my general state of health.

Sales-wise, there wasn't a game that sold out at the convention (like Starfinder or Tales From The Loop did last year). However, I think that the stand out success of Gen Con 2018 would have to be Vampire: The Masquerade Fifth Edition. The game didn't sell out, but there were brisk sales at both the White Wolf and Modiphius booths throughout the weekend, and the only reason why the game didn't sell out was because they brought a lot of copies with them. It was clearly the blockbuster of the convention. The Pathfinder 2E Playtest sold really well, but there the excitement wasn't as palpable as it was with Vampire.

I did not pick up a copy of Vampire at Gen Con. I am curious about the game, and I like the look of it, but I am waiting for the revised printing that will be coming out. Jacqueline Bryk, a designer who has worked on the new edition of Kult and various Onyx Path games, added some very insightful discussion on dealing with harassment and fascism in games. Currently, the material that she wrote is available in the PDF version of the game, but I want to wait for it to be integrated into the print edition before I pick it up. If the sales at Gen Con are any indication, they should be burning through that print run quickly enough.

Update: I did hear from Pelgrane's marketing person on Twitter that their print debut of The Fall of Delta Green did sell out for them at the con. That's good to hear.

I heard a couple of things about the convention when I was talking to other industry people during the show: sales were brisk, but crowds felt less intense than over the last couple of years. It definitely felt less busy to me than last year's show, despite the official numbers saying otherwise. It wasn't conspicuously noticeable that there were fewer people at the show, but it was still noticeable. If that makes sense. The crowds weren't hugely diminished, but it certainly felt like there were fewer people.

I am going to add my voice to others that have said this: I think that the Diana Jones Awards may have jumped the shark this year. Actual play videos and podcasts have become huge in RPGs, and they are going to become more instrumental in bringing role-playing games to a larger audience. They fill an important niche in gaming, because most role-playing games are incredibly terrible at explaining how they are supposed to be played. The people of my generation sort of bumbled along and stumbled into our methods for playing games without a lot of guidance for what was right and wrong. The trouble is that, regardless of how big of a problem gaming has with explaining itself, it has an even bigger white guy problem. And I say this as a middle aged white guy.

Chris Spivey, the creator of one of the best role-playing game supplements of last year, Harlem Unbound, was also nominated. While at the industry gathering to celebrate the DJA, some industry professional approached Spivey and asked him why he felt that he deserved a place at the table in gaming. People of color, women and the LGBTQ+ get treated horribly by gamers who want to turn around and say that gaming is for people who are disenfranchised and on the outside culturally. Yeah, that is pretty ironic.

The trouble is that, when a award that had the reputation that the Diana Jones Award did passes over the work of a designer like Spivey, it is complicit in reinforcing the institutional racism that plagues tabletop gaming. Spivey and Harlem Unbound would go on to win a number of awards from the ENnies and the IGDN over the course of the weekend of Gen Con. It has been entered into the special collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Newark Museum in New Jersey and the Smithsonian Institution Anacostia Community Museum in Washington D.C. There aren't a lot of contemporary role-playing games, or supplements, that can make these claims.

We can be better than this. Gaming is for everyone (except for the bigots, they get nothing). We've heard pretty much everything that white people have to say in role-playing games, we need more diverse voices and stories. Designers like Spivey, and the crew of New Agenda Publishing, are the future of gaming.

I look forward to the response to my saying this. Actually, that's a lie. I'll be ignoring the internet tough guys who want to pick a fight with me over daring to want more from gaming. Those people don't have any place in my communities.

So, Gen Con was fun, but busy. I got to see a lot of people that I normally only talk with online, but really I didn't get to see enough of most of them. On to the next convention. I'll be at Queen City Conquest in September.