Gary Con is a unique convention completely devoted to table top gaming. Their website header boasts of being “one of the best kept secrets in gaming.” And it really is when you think of the fact that most Wisconsin residents don’t even know that Lake Geneva is where the magic that is Dungeons & Dragons began. Gary Con is aptly named for the Father of Role Playing Games, E. Gary Gygax. What began as a humble gathering of family and friends to play games in his honor following his March 4, 2008 passing has become quite the pilgrimage for gamers across the globe.
Imagine a con without much cosplay, but instead blooms into a veritable garden of people proudly wearing Hawaiian shirts. Gary liked his Hawaiian shirts. Some benchmarks of the typical “con” still exist. You can certainly have chips and Mountain Dew until you remember why you no longer eat that way every weekend. There are Q&A sessions and workshops, and there’s a dealer’s room filled with art, dice, games, apparel, and other accoutrements that pepper the average gamer’s wish list. There are always celebrities from within the gaming world in attendance, and you can get autographs, hugs, and photos with them. It’s especially fun when one of them remembers you from the last set of books, hugs and photos you took the year before. And, if you’re lucky, some of those same people whose names are printed in the very rule books you set on the table next to your dice bag, can actually be your Game Master for a few hours.
Interest in Gary Con has grown mostly by word of mouth. But having geek cred from none other than Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory certainly didn’t hurt things. Its price has remained more than friendly for the average gamer, at $45. This buys you more than enough tokens to book games and events that can fill your schedule from open to close all four days. The organizers did well to move the con to a bigger venue this year, The Grand Geneva Resort. They reserved a block of rooms at $99/night for many of the guests. There was a hotel wait staff designated for Gary Con attendees at their tables for people, such as me, who didn’t book food breaks. The menu was limited, no doubt to keep the kitchen staff from lynching the servers, but varied enough so that there was something for everyone’s tastes. No one complained about the food. And for those who just needed the basics, there were snack stations that were shockingly not overpriced, and at convenient locations throughout the facility. There was even a steady flow of free ice water.
The only place that has not smoothly grown to meet current popularity is in the website’s event registration process. And if we’re honest, the website crashing under the strain of 3,000 gamers logging in simultaneously isn’t surprising. Buying your ticket is the easy part, as that’s done earlier in the year. As was mentioned before, your games are included in the price of that ticket. I LOVE that. Bear in mind, I don’t know what I’m talking about as far as web design is concerned, but I wonder if the fact that gamers are “paying” for their events with virtual gold and silver makes things tricky. Essentially large numbers of patrons are hitting that “submit” button at once. There a lack of effective delay normally associated with using PayPal, or entering credit card information, which I suspect would spread out the volume of people finalizing their transactions simultaneously. Now there’s a first world problem if I’ve ever seen one!
They also sell tickets with more benefits, such as early event registration and more virtual gold pieces for a higher price. For those who are more concerned about it, it might be worth the money to avoid the frustration. I’m too cheap (read: poor) to be bothered, and since I don’t know a darn thing about web design, I can’t judge it too harshly either.
It is clear that the organizers and volunteers that help make this convention what it is work diligently to accommodate those of us who benefit from it. And with it being on the smaller side of things, they haven’t had to be rules lawyers with the planning process, attendees, volunteers or GMs. From the smiles on their faces every year, I’m pretty sure that we make their experience as rewarding as they make ours.