I enjoy traveling, especially to other countries. Over the years, I have come to realize that my version of transcontinental travel is not the same as other folks’. A swanky hotel room and guided tours with packed agendas are all well and good, but that sort of thing makes me feel like a visitor at a zoo—on the outside, looking in. It’s a far greater adventure for me to be on the inside, looking out.
If I go to a new place, I want to experience it. Full immersion. I want to stay with friends; I’ll sleep on the floor if I have to. How big is the house? How many people live there? I’ll happily visit the pub (the good pub, not the bad one) and the grocery store (ditto). I want to see what the refrigerator looks like, the bathroom, the washing machine. I want to know what kinds of teas they drink, their candy, their snacks. I have tagged along to festivals and churches, been invited to birthdays and first communions. There is a certain thrill in digging deep and getting to know the flavor of a place, the quality of life, the true feel.
The same goes for conventions. Each con has its own tone, set by both the community that hosts it and the community that attends it. I grew up at Dragon Con, so for me it’s a family reunion. Conversely, I attended San Diego Comic Con for the first time last year. It was fascinating to see how the proximity to Los Angeles—and even the weather!—affected the con’s overall atmosphere. I had a short list of items to experience on my to-do list: Get some cool swag. Have a celebrity sighting. Attend a panel in Hall H. (I didn’t end up getting into Hall H, but I did meet Greg Grunberg at the one panel I managed to attend.)
This August, I was invited to be part of the Writers’ Symposium at my very first Gen Con. My to-do list consisted mostly of things I had planned for anyway: Hang out in the green room. Attend the Diana Jones Award. Be part of the Writers’ dinner on Wednesday and the brewery hangout on Friday. Walk the show floor. Acquire a souvenir. Get to one of Mikey Mason’s concerts, if possible. And—time permitting, though I was sure it wouldn’t—play a game. Any game.
For while San Diego Comic Con is the Hollywood Media Con, and Dragon Con is the Cosplay Con, Gen Con is famous for being the Con of Games and Gamers.
I spent massive amounts of time in the Writers’ Symposium green room and had massive amounts of fun. I was able to attend all the official writer events (I had fun there, too). I walked the show floor a couple of times; while I didn’t buy anything for myself, Monica Valentinelli gave me a glittery d20 necklace to commemorate both my first Gen Con and the Dragon Award nomination for my fairy-goblin-gaming-true-love story When Tinker Met Bell. I also scored a couple of fabulous games to play later—Cursed Court and 13th Age. I reconnected with a ton of friends I hadn’t seen in ages, and I made a bunch of fabulous new ones.
The further along I got into Gen Con, the more I began to accept that I would not have time to play a game. But there was one final thing I could squeeze into my schedule: Mikey Mason’s concert on Saturday night. His last appearance at the con.
While in the green room, I scanned through Mikey’s old Facebook posts to find out where the show would be, and how much it would cost. Gen Con utilizes a ticket system for many of its events, much like a State Fair. Some tickets cost nothing—like the ones for most of the Writer Symposium panels—they are used to keep track of attendance (plus, ticket holders can enter early and get prime seats). Alternatively, some of the more intensive workshops might cost $10 or $20.
Mikey’s concert was to be held in the Lucas Oil Stadium (this con has a stadium!). Admission was $6, the equivalent of three “General Admission” tickets. But I couldn’t just hand the guy at the door six bucks. I needed those tickets.
“I’ll put out a call,” said Kelly, Co-Queen of the green room. “People buy too many, so the staff usually has a bunch of extras floating around.”
“Thanks,” I said, assuming my every desire had been taken care of.
After my last panel on Saturday, I asked Kelly if anyone had offered up tickets.
She admitted that she’d forgotten to ask about them. No worries. “Where do I go to buy them?” I asked.
Kelly paused. See, most Gen Con attendees order their tickets early—they are shipped (along with the badges) to their home address. “I don’t actually know,” Kelly admitted. “I think it’s over by Will Call.”
I had not seen the Will Call booth for badges at the convention center, but I had seen the line. Rumor had it that on Thursday it stretched several blocks past the stadium.
It was a little after five o’clock and the concert didn’t start until nine. I had time to collect the tickets and still change out of my floor-length, purple princess dress. I could do this. I collected my things and got up from the table.
“I’ll figure it out,” I told Kelly, and made my way to the Exhibitor Hall.
My plan was this: I hadn’t yet visited Monica’s booth on the show floor. They’d all been attending Gen Con forever—someone there would either have tickets or know where to get them. I knew the Onyx Path booth number was 500-something. I’d find her.
I didn’t find her. In fact, I got so turned around in the convention center that I had to stop for directions just to find the Exhibitor Hall again. Once there, I walked up and down row 500, and then up 400 and down 600 just for good measure. Onyx Path must have been covered by a cloak of invisibility because I just wasn’t seeing it. (I found out later that it was at the end of the row, literally right where I had been standing, I just never looked in the correct direction.)
Just as I gave up on that plan, I got a text from my friend, artist Lee Moyer. Did I still want to schedule a meeting with him?
Where are you now? I texted back.
The back of Row 300, he answered.
I’ll be right there.
I managed to find Lee with no problem at all (thank goodness). “I do still want to chat with you,” I told him, “but first I have to go on a quest. Want to join me?”
Lee, being Lee, didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely.”
We first went in the direction of where we thought Exhibitor Ops was. It was not. I almost tripped over two young men gaming on the floor of a dark alley … er … dead-end side corridor.
“Do you guys know Gen Con?” I asked.
“I’ve been coming a couple of years, yeah,” said one.
“Do you know where Will Call is?”
Lee and I received verbal directions, complete with zig-zag hand gestures, and set out again. After our second zig or third zag, we came upon a convention center general information desk. A cheerful looking woman sat behind a counter with a giant “i” in a circle over her head.
“Do you happen to know where Will Call is?” I asked her.
She gave me a map.
As I held that map in my hand, full of lines and squares and twists and turns, I realized—I didn’t need to schedule a game in the Exhibitor Hall. This was the game. I was already in the middle of it. The convention center was the dungeon, and this was my quest. When I relayed this epiphany to Lee, he laughed heartily.
Princess Alethea, welcome to Gen Con.
I suppose if we had been particularly clever, we would have followed along the stream that was the Will Call line until we reached the source. But we were not that clever. Instead, we followed the map: over, under, around—backtrack—around again, and through. Finally we reached a row of counters that to my eye looked very much like Dragon Con registration (hooray!) and a large sign that said WILL CALL.
The line was still ridiculous, and time was ticking away. I really hoped I wasn’t expected to stand in that line.
But before the line was an empty counter with no line, where two men casually chatted with each other. I was still wearing the tiara and the dress (and the +15 Bravery that came with them) so I marched right over.
“Hi! I’m a guest over at the Writers’ Symposium. This is my first time at Gen Con. I want to see a concert tonight, but they told me I need three “General Admission” tickets. Can you please tell me where to get those?”
“You see that sign that says, ‘Will Call?’” said the man behind the counter.
I nodded. My heart sank.
“On the other side of that line is the counter where you can buy tickets.”
I smiled. “Excellent! Thank you so much.” I turned to tell Lee the good news, hoping there wasn’t a huge line at our destination.
“Wait a minute,” said the second man. He reached into his badge holder and pulled out what looked like a stack of white paper. “How many tickets did you say you needed?”
“Three,” I replied.
“Here, just take these.” He began ripping tickets off of the stack. “I bought a ton of them.”
“Thank you!” I said with great joy. Eureka! Tickets procured, and I wouldn’t have to wait in line! “Can I at least pay you for them?”
“You said you were a writer, didn’t you? Do you have a card? I’ll trade you for a card.”
I wasn’t just smiling now, I was beaming. Because this is how the game is played. The greatest treasure can be acquired … for a price. This time it was me who reached into my badge holder and extracted a business card—the one with my Harmswood Academy books on the back.
“This is my most recent trilogy,” I told him. “Don’t tell anyone, but the one in the middle just got nominated for the Dragon Award. It’s got fairies, goblins, gaming, true love … it’s kind of my favorite.”
The man behind the counter had come around to meet us. “Can I have a card, too?”
“Absolutely!” I said.
Lee was suitably impressed. I thanked him for being such a stalwart companion. We set up a time to meet formally the next day, and then I dashed back to my room to change out of my princess uniform. Because I’m the nerd who wears the t-shirt of the concert she’s going to.
I met Monica for a quick bite beforehand—I would have invited her to come with me, but she had a different gathering to attend. She was glad to hear I’d managed to acquire my tickets, though. She laughed when I relayed the story of how I got them.
“I love the way you do a convention,” she said to me. “You do it right.”
We parted ways at the doors of the slightly-less-daunting convention center, and I made my way down, around, across, and through to the stadium (there were a lot of helpful signs, thankfully). I found my destination with no trouble at all. I handed my tickets to the doorman and stepped over the threshold.
“Princess Alethea!” a voice bellowed from the front of the room. It was Mikey. He wore a ball cap with a glittering tiara emblazoned upon it. I threw up my arms in triumph.
I had arrived. I won the game.
The concert was AMAZING.
I went up to Mikey after the show and gave him a huge hug. “I want to tell you the whole story of my quest to get here tonight,” I said to my prize. “But I think maybe I want to write it up, instead.”
Mikey nodded. “Let me read it,” he said.
The bonus was all the people who came up to me after the show, complimenting me on my shirt and asking me where I got it. “From Mikey,” I said vaguely. “At some con. Marscon, maybe?” I knew that was no help, just as I also knew I would be henceforth referred to by many as “the girl who wore the shirt to the concert.”
And with good reason: it’s one of my favorite tees, containing some of my favorite Mikey Mason lyrics.
Best Game Ever.