I have been attending Gen Con regularly since 2009, and reporting on the events and new games here on Black Gate. It’s one of the highlights of my year, honestly. But this year, of course, Gen Con has suffered the same fate as so many other major in-person events … a shift to online participation. Gen Con Online will run from Thursday, July 30, through Sunday, August 2, 2020.
Registration for Gen Con Online is free for attendees. There will also be three different Twitch channels that are livestreaming demos, live games, and other broadcasts related to Gen Con, with links available here. There is also supposed to be a Discord server set up, though that is still coming. Not surprisingly, it looks like there will be ample abilities to purchase games through the Gen Con Game Store, and of course to purchase Gen Con merchandise. All of that goes live online when the convention begins on Thursday. Once you’ve signed up for your badge, you can register for individual events on the Event Page, though at this point many of the most popular events are sold out. (It is still worth checking in, though, as some people might not show up for their registered events.)
Favorite annual major events from Gen Con are still taking place, though in modified forms. For example, the annual Costume Contest allowed entries throughout the first half of July. Finalist videos will be placed on the Online Costume Contest website on July 29, allowing for votes from fans (1 vote per person). It isn’t going to be quite the same as the Saturday parade of costumes through the convention center, to be sure, but I’m definitely glad that they’ve found a way for these impressive cosplayers to show their stuff and get recognized for it.
I personally do enjoy online conventions, and had good experience with online games at GaryCon and PaizoCon earlier this year. Once you get used to maneuvering through Discord servers to communicate with people, and handling the different quirks of the various Virtual Tabletop platforms being used, there’s a lot to be said for it. There are really great tools out there which allow you to play games, even without the time and hassle of getting all of the players together in a single location. It has made me seriously consider reaching out to some old high school friends about getting together to reconnect through long-distance games, in a way that would have seemed highly unlikely even a few months ago.
These virtual games are obviously a very different experience from live conventions. There is certainly less walking, but a different kind of fatigue can set in. It’s one thing to spend 8 hours a day jumping between games at a convention, moving from room to room … it’s another to spend 8 hours a day jumping between games by sitting at your computer with a headset on.
Plus, there is a big difference between hearing your favorite game designers or authors discussing their newest product in person, in a context where you can ask them direct questions, and watching a video of them talking about the new product. You may still be able to ask the question, of course, but the dynamic is different.
All of that is to say that, while I enjoy the online convention opportunities, and hope that in the future these infrastructures continue to allow more access, particularly for people who live far away and are not able to physically or fiscally attend the convention, I do think something is lost, and I think most convention-goers are looking forward to a return to normal in this regard. Back in March, when we were all first going into lockdown, I remember commenting to someone that I expected everything would be back to normal before Origins in June … so obviously I’m not going to have the hubris to again predict when that return to normal might happen. But I’ll be looking forward to it.
For my part this year, I’ll be spending the next week reviewing a slew of games and game supplements that would normally be making a big splash at the live convention, such as Privateer Press’s science fantasy miniature wargame Warcaster (along with old favorites like Warmachine and Riot Quest), a new Scooby Doo-themed re-skin of the classic Betrayal at House on the Hill, Pathfinder Second Edition, Starfinder, and more. So keep an eye open for those reviews rolling out over the next week, in preparation for Gen Con Online.