By: Adam Gottfried
This year was my very first GenCon experience and the thing I have been saying over and over again: It was the most intense gaming experience I have ever had, and I did not game once. After this experience, I have come to some very solid conclusions about how to handle the situation in future years, and I will impart my conclusions to you now. Fair warning, any business plugs I make are entirely of my own free will: I am not getting anything from any of the businesses I am shilling for!
(As a quick aside: I am going to impart to you the things you may not think of: If I have to tell you that you need to bring clothes and toiletries, then you need more help than I can give you.)
Part I: Preparation
I want you to consider for a moment how much you walk in a 4 day span. I mean really think about it. Here is a random statistic I found on the Internet (so you know it is reliable): The average American walks 350 yards in a day. That is 1,50 feet, or less than a fifth of a mile. Now, me personally? I walk a bit more than that, being visually impaired and unable to drive, but nothing could prepare me for the sheer amount of pedestrianism I was forced to undertake at GenCon. I read another random and entirely reliable internet statistic that says most people walk between five and six miles PER DAY at GenCon. That is an average of 22 miles in four days.
Now, for athletes, that isn't much, but folks, we're gamers. Our leisure time is generally spent sitting in a comfy chair, drinking highly caffeinated and over sugared beverages while schoolin' n00bz or rolling dice. 22 miles in four days is a lot. My intent for next year (and I advise you to do the same if you plan to attend) is get a little more walking in during your day. If you drive to work, take a walk on your lunch break. If you walk to work, walk to work, walk around work, and then walk into work, as well as go for a walk on your lunch break.
Also, if you are on your feet all day at your job THIS DOES NOT PREPARE YOU APPROPRIATELY FOR THE AMOUNT OF WALKING YOU WILL DO. It takes a whole different sent of muscles to walk than stand and you effing know it, so don't blow off practicing because you're “on your feet all day.” Get a better pair of shoes and go for a damn walk!
That said, bring a very comfortable, well-broken in pair of shoes. Do not wear sandals or work boots (unless it is part of a cosplay and you don't intend to walk around much).
Another piece of advice I can offer is this: Bring a water bottle. Water is available for sale at the convention center, but this year it was $4.25 per 12 oz bottle. There are watering stations all over the place though, so either bring one you already own or spend your hard earned money on exorbitantly expensive H2O and keep the bottle. You will refill. A lot.
If you have problems with people, strangers specifically, touching you, bumping you, fondling your bum “accidentally” then I suggest you either come medicated or be prepared to be angry a lot.
Get a hotel room on or near the Indiana Convention Center. For many many reasons, some of which I will get into later, this makes life abundantly easier. One of the main reasons: Bring a cooler full of food and leave it in your room. There are concessions on site and food trucks outside during the lunch and dinner hours, but concessions are prohibitively expensive and the food trucks are underwhelming (and still expensive, though less so).
Bring cash. Not a ton, mind but bring cash. A lot of places accept credit cards (we live in a technologically miraculous age) but having cash on hand is good, especially if you want to get a photo opportunity with one of the big names there. Also good if you do something silly like ignore my advice about concessions or the food trucks.
Be prepared to shower daily and bring deodorant. Not just to the hotel, but with you at the convention. It is good for two things: Under the arms because lets face it, you stink, but also between your thighs as chances are you are a big enough person that they rub together a bit. It helps prevent chafing. Trust me. Lifesaver.
If you're running games, you'll need a bag. But follow this advice: Make sure you have PDF's (all legally procured I'm sure) on a tablet for all your books that you will need. In this day and age there is NO REASON to cram your entire gaming library into a backpack so that when you turn around in a crowded convention center you damn near take out everyone in a five-foot radius burst. And if you DO need ALL your books, remember to be cognizant of the people around you.
Bare minimum, plan to take 4 days off of work, if you're not working/volunteering at the convention. You'll fly in and check in Wednesday, be at the convention Thursday to Sunday, and return home Monday. If you have the time off, you may want to take Tuesday off as well, for the sake of recovery.
Last but not least, order your badge early, have it shipped. Will Call is open 24 hours a day all 4 days of the convention, but the lines on Thursday will be nothing short of ridiculous. You can order your badge right off the website: www.GenCon.com. If there is a specific event you wish to attend, buy those tickets at the same time. If you bother with generic tickets, only get about 10. I planned very little in the way of scheduled events and I had a blast, so I recommend the same.
So, to sum up, in order to best prepare for your trip to GenCon:
Exercise and get used to lots of walking.
Comfortable pair of shoes.
Pack a water bottle.
Come prepared to be manhandled a bit.
Get a hotel on site (call very early).
Prepare a cooler for lunches and snacks.
Bring cash, no more than $100.
Prepare to shower daily.
Bring deodorant for the convention itself.
Take between 4 and 5 days off of work, assuming you are not working or volunteering at the convention itself.
Get your gaming books on PDF.
Get an appropriately sized bag.
Order your badge and your tickets early enough for them to ship to you.
Part II: At the Con
Unless you spend four days in a row in the mosh pit of a massive music festival, nothing will prepare you for the sheer masses of humanity in which you will surely find yourself. Opening day lines are insane. Bear in mind, the dealer hall opens at 10 AM and is open 'til 6 PM every day save for Sunday (when it closes at 4 PM). But if you are NOT staying on site, you'll want to get there stupid early. Like between 7:30 and 8 AM. Even if you are on site, I recommend getting up around 7:45 AM and grabbing some breakfast from Patachou (www.cafepatachou.com, 225 W Washington St, (317) 632-0765). It is a block away from the convention center and has delicious delicious breakfasts. If you get there right at 8 (which is when they open), generally you can scoot in right away and get a table. Too much after that and you'll be waiting for a spot. They do have outdoor seating.
Then meander on into the convention center. There is no point in waiting in the crush of humanity unless there is something that you can ONLY get at GenCon, but for the love of Pete, don't bum rush the dealers. Most of them plan for large quantities of folk trying to get their hands on their juicy juicy products, but if you run at them, they might just punch you in the nose and be done with it. Okay, that is fairly unlikely, but they might well refuse to sell to you and depending on how badly you feel about that ONE product, it might be the same as getting punched in the mouth.
Wander at your leisure. Expect to spend from 10 til 6 in the dealer hall: You'll need it. If you need coffee and a snack, head over to the Bee Roastery across the street (www.beecoffeeroasters.com, 201 S Capital Ave, Ste 110, (317) 426-2504) as they are open for 24 hours for the duration of the Con and they generally have specialty drinks specifically for the convention. This year they had the Mad Max, the Riddler, the Serenity, and one more I don't recall….
After the dealer hall closes, there are still many things to do and see. Cosplayers of all sorts, games of every variety, and open gaming. This year the convention charged $8 a head for space in the open gaming rooms actually at the convention center, but if you head to one of the adjascent hotels and talk to Convention HQ, they can tell you where there are open rooms which you can play in.
Grab dinner. The local restaurants may be crazy full, but lots of pizza joints deliver, and if you can get into the specialty places, do it. They're expensive, but fun and totally worth it.
For after dinner drinks, there is a bar that is only open during GenCon hidden away underneath the Crown Plaza hotel (www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotels/us/en/reservation, 123 W Louisiana St, (317) 631-2221) right near downtown. It has the look and feel of a speakeasy largely because it used to BE one.
On Saturday, toward the afternoon, there will be a cosplay parade. Great if your into that sort of thing, but if you hate crowds with a burning passion, perhaps you'll do better to take a late lunch and be away for that time.
And Rule Numero Uno: DON'T EFFING STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF A BUSY HALLWAY IF YOU CAN HELP IT! Keep moving along. If you have to stop, move to one side, then stop.
So, to sum up:
Dealer Hall is open 10 AM to 6 PM Th, F, S, and 10 AM to 4 PM Su.
Do NOT bum rush the dealers.
Be prepared to spend a whole day in the dealer hall.
Drink lots of water.
Enjoy the bounty Indianapolis has to offer.
Be realistic about the amount of crowd navigation you're willing to suffer through.
Don't stop in the middle of a hallway.
Part III: The Comedown and some Conclusions
I needed two days to recover. I imagine if I had spent all four days there, I would need more. The point is, if you're sufficiently prepared, your recovery time will need to be less and your experience will be all the more pleasant. Under no circumstances should you think that I am trying to dissuade you from going to GenCon. Quite the opposite: I am trying to encourage you to go, but I want you to be prepared for what lays in store. It is an experience that I firmly believe every gamer should have at least once in their lives, and I intend to have this experience over and over again. If you have any questions, DO NOT hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to either answer your questions or point you to someone who knows the answer.