Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Five Reasons CONvergence is Better Than You

No, really. I mean, I like you and all, but this con, you guys. This freaking con.

And I know secondhand conventions are about as much fun as listening to somebody tell you about their D&D character, but hey – I've been aggressively vivacious and charming for WEEKS now, and today it's my turn to have poor social skills.  *pops zit* *whips out crappy smartphone pics* So as I was saying, my level 16 half-orc ranger-druid...

1.    Killer Costumes 

Okay, it's a sci-fi/fantasy convention. Of course there's going to be costumes.  But almost more amazing than the sheer NUMBER of people in costume (easily half the 7,000+ attendees) is the quality and variety of their work. 

And it IS work.  I don't even want to think about how long it took to bring La Muerte to life.

Seriously, it's so much more than just steampunk matrons and trending anime characters.  There are brand-new Mad Max characters and others from shows that haven't aired in twenty years (when's the last time you thought about Doug, let alone Quail-Man?  And remember that time Jewel Staite was a 15-year-old in a rainbow wig and I loved her?)

Me taking a picture of Raichu taking a picture of Journey travelers. It's deep.

There were a terrific number of original characters and costumes, too – I so, so wish I'd thought to take a picture of the lady who'd dressed up as a YA dystopian love triangle!  But I was busy being amazed that she'd turned up for my 11:30PM Shapeshifters panel, which brings me to my next point...

2.    Awesome Attendees

Seriously.  Seriously, seriously.  It doesn't matter what rotten time slot you're talking about – people will turn up. The 2:00 Thursday panel on Shakespeare?  40 people.  The Sunday afternoon writing panel?  50 people.  The 10 PM Saturday night conlang panel, on the Fourth of Goddamn July?  FREAKING FULL... of people who actually wanted to talk about constructed languages!

Look at all these people. LOOK AT THEM.

Shoot, I thought that Shapeshifters panel was going to be a bust – it started at 11:30PM, and my co-panelist didn't turn up, so it was just me and 35 eager geeks, and I was honestly worried about how to keep things on track if someone was drunk or just over-talkative/domineering.  But we had an absolutely *delightful* roundtable discussion – I just asked the attendees some of the questions I'd thought up for the panel, and they educated me and each other as cheerful and respectfully as you could imagine.  It was so much less stressful than subtly wrestling with five other people to try to get a word in edgewise, all while audience members weakly raise their hands in despairing near-futility.  I wish we could do moderated group discussions at every con – I think I can say that it was genuinely fun for everyone, and such a surprising change of pace.

Anyway, so there are a ton of real people who really want to talk about real panel topics – but the whole con has a wonderful atmosphere.

Exhibit A:  a poorly-photographed shot of a guy making a Golden Snitch swoop and fly on the end of a fishing pole, ready to toss candy down to any kid who can catch it (and I believe that one in the blue shirt actually did).  Who does this? Convergence people, that's who! 
And to be honest, I expect that has a lot to do with the con-culture that these folks have cultivated over the past decade-plus.  Which brings us to the next point...

3.    Style for Miles

I don't actually know whether this is true, but I strongly suspect that Convergence is one of the largest fan-run conventions in the country – and it shows.  You have much bigger cons, like DragonCon and San Diego Comic Con, but these 'media cons' are run by for-profit companies – and while there's nothing wrong with that, it does make for a different feel.  Busloads of big-name actors being carted in to sign autographs and take pictures all weekend, so that you have the pleasure of paying for parking, paying for entry, paying for the privilege of standing in line for three hours to get personalized scrawl from a glassy-eyed Patrick Stewart... it's not bad, but it's not what fan-cons are generally there to do. 

You may be asking yourself "well, what ARE fan-cons there to do?"  The answer, of course, is "hold PVC-foam jousting matches for papier-mache Jabba's entertainment."
I love, love, love how easy it is to buy a ticket to Convergence and then not open your wallet again for the entire weekend.  Parking is free. Autographs are free.  Food is free – oh, god, they have an entire food court's worth of goodies available all weekend – everything from the traditional pizza and sodas to milk, fruit, rice, soup, and fresh veggies.

Look at that. It's not a con-suite. It's an entire con-boulevard!
They even have a hotel TV station running and overflow rooms set up so that the people who can't fit in the main ballroom can still watch and enjoy the biggest events.  And everywhere – everywhere! – are flyers, posters, and fun con-propaganda:

Look at this. This poster serves no functional purpose.  It's not advertising anything.  It's not directing or informing you. But this year's theme was dystopia, and by gum, we are going to act like it!

And this! It's not enough that they're doing a free four-day smorgasbord - they have to design and color-print advertisements to remind you of it!
End result: you aren't a paying customer spending a weekend at the Hilton Doubletree – you're at Convergence, and you're part of the crew.

4.    Organization

This part really blows my mind.  An event of this size takes MASSIVE organization – and it's all volunteers.  I volunteered with the programming department again this year – setting up table tents, resetting rooms, picking up trash and taking census at the panels – and I am just, like, amazed at the size and scope of the organization here.

The organization, plus the branding - Connie is EVERYwhere.
Programming does the panel-type events.  Mainstage handles the big shows.  Nerfherders organize lines and man the elevators to keep the crowds moving along.  Hospitality keeps the food and drink flowing, Wandering Hosts roam the halls to help out wherever they're needed, Registration, First Aid, and the Volunteer Desk are exactly what their names imply, and the Bridge crew keeps every other department coordinated and communicating with the hotel staff.  It's an incredible system, and astonishingly efficient – and everyone who gives up their time to contribute does it for love of the convention. (Well, and for the free massages in the volunteer den, too.)  It's everything I love best about fan-cons, operating on a massive scale.

5.    Inclusiveness

Another astonishingly bad photo from yours truly, of the sign for the Sensory-Friendly Space Lab. Wish I'd gotten a shot of the interior - it's dim and cool and quiet, with glowy blue lights and alien decor.  Gorgeous room with a brilliant concept!

This one maybe wins me over more than anything.  Like... it's one thing to put a non-harassment policy in your program.  It's another to have sign language interpreters and typists/transcribers ready on request, taped-off squares on the floor of every room for wheelchair and scooter users, consistently-posted reminders about what is and isn't appropriate behavior, and labeled "safe spaces" and the aforementioned Wandering Hosts to make sure that anyone in trouble can find help immediately.

This con is assiduously, consistently welcoming to all kinds of people, and it shows in the diversity of its attendees.  In my experience, it's incredibly rare for the people inside a convention to actually represent a fair cross-section of the community it's held in – and while I'm not an expert on Minneapolis demographics, I daresay Convergence comes closer than any other con I've been to.

That's what I love most, I think.  That's what I want to see elsewhere - everywhere!  Yes, not every con can or should be this big - but they absolutely can and should be this inclusive, this accessible, this welcoming.

Where is the 1 AM card game?  Right in the middle of the concourse, of course - come on down!

And as for me personally - I blogged last year about how happy I was to have gone, but felt a little crowded, a little lonely.  This year, I was so thrilled to see the seeds I planted in 2014 springing up - to walk in the main doors and be accosted ten seconds later by people who recognized me from last year and wanted to fold me in to the group.  I'm going to try to remember this for future events: it's hard sometimes to play the away games, to leave your home turf and go mix with people who don't know you from Adam, who already have their old buddies and big networks ready to hand.  But if you're brave and persistent and keep giving yourself mingling-missions (volunteer six hours, compliment three people on their costumes, go to two room parties and stay ten minutes at each, chat with one person each time you go to the consuite), it's amazing how quickly today's acquaintances can become tomorrow's legendary lifemates.

Barf and I are not technically LLs - he is his own best friend! - but trust me, I have others.

Anyway, I could write 5,000 words more - I haven't even touched on all the extracurricular adventures from this weekend, or mentioned any of those aforementioned lifemates - but this is long and time is short and it's almost time to finish the mighty drive through scenic Oregon.  Big sloppy post con-noital love to everyone - now go get your tickets, people: only 357 days until Convergence 2016!


1 comment:

  1. This sums up everything well and I will be pointing others to this post when I find myself lacking words to describe all of CONvergence's awesomeness.
    One thing that blew me away this year: at the free book exchange station, someone had taken the time to painstakingly re-cover old books with cloth that said "MYST" on them, then glue all the pages together and insert a 2009 Garmin re-programmed to play through the graphics that happen when one is sucked into a book in the game. The Garmin turns on as soon as you open the cover, so it's as if you are getting sucked into the book and about to travel to the island of Myst.
    They not only put a lot of effort into it, but they left it there for free to a good home, complete with charging cord for the Garmin. And they made like 20 of them. No name, no plug for attention at all. Just for the pure geekiness of it.
    That's the kind of people at CONvergence. :D