Gen Con Indy 2006 – A Trip Down Memory Lane

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Gen Con Indy 2006 – A Trip Down Memory Lane
Written by Mark Smith

Originally Published on August 14, 2006

Much like how May has become synonymous with E3 (at least up until this year), August has held a special place in the hearts of Midwestern RPG gamers with the annual trek to Indianapolis, Indiana for Gen Con, a celebration of all things remotely related to role-playing, whether it be tabletop or electronic.

Ironically, this was my first year attending the Indy show, even though the GCM office is only 50 minutes from the Indy convention center, although I have been to Gen Con once before, in the early-80’s, in Lake Geneva, when AD&D was the only RPG on the block, and thousands of gamers migrated to Wisconsin yearly in hopes of meeting the “master” and possibly playing with the ultimate Dungeon Master.

Back in the 80’s I was a hardcore role-player, or rather the DM of my own local group of players as well as starting the first unofficial AD&D group at Purdue University, at least until university officials deemed the game “too controversial”, at which point we moved to the basement of a nearby frat house.

These were the final years of my role-playing career that had been a part of my life since 1976 when I purchased one of the very first “Dungeons & Dragons” games. At that time D&D was basically a few pamphlets and some starter dice in a zip-lock bag at the local hobby shop.

I quickly became addicted to the game and everything about it, and by 1983 I quite literally owned every TSR and Judges Guild product ever made including every single lead figure, all of which I meticulous hand painted. Of course it helped that I worked at the campus record store and was in charge of ordering and maintaining their role-playing section.

I was “the mobile DM” in my town, and if you looked in my trunk on any given weekend you’d think I had just ransacked Gen Con for everything they had on display. That was the extent of my collection and my addiction. Then, sometime in 1985, for reasons that are still unclear, I sold my entire collection to one of my players and never DM’d or played again.

With the exception of the occasional RPG on computer or console, I have managed to keep my distance from AD&D and all the other RPG games that have sprung up over the past 21 years, so going to Gen Con 2006 was nearly as shocking as the first time I went to E3. I had no idea the extent of this hobby and how it had grown, the hundreds of games, mini’s, cards, artwork, fan fiction, movies, and yes, even a few computer games.  What I can barely remember as a ragtag group of outcasts in Wisconsin, hoping to catch a glimpse of Gary G. and play the latest module has now turned into one of the biggest events of the year.

Unlike E3, which is all about the media, Gen Con is all about the gamers. Only a fraction of the convention center is used for booth space and corporate shills. The rest of the massive halls are just a matrix of tables and chairs dedicated to hundreds of RPG titles that range from Magic the Gathering card-style games to elaborate miniature reenactments of Star Wars Battle of Hoth.

Gamers go to Gen Con to play, trade, and buy games; primarily tabletop games, which made this electronic gamer feel slightly out of place, as I diligently searched for anything with a keyboard and a monitor. It didn’t take long to locate the few computer and console games on display.

Simon & Schuster was showing off the latest incarnation of EVE Online, their epic space MMORPG, which was surprisingly more advanced than what I had seen at E3 a few months ago. This game continues to grow in size, complexity, and sheer wonder each year.

Sierra was showing their amazing action-adventure title, Eragon on both the PS2 and Xbox 360. It wasn’t really an RPG, but it did have a dragon in it – close enough. This was the first time I actually got to play the game and it is shaping up to be one of the better console titles to ship this holiday season. I dare say, it ranks right up there with God of War. It is not only gorgeous; it is truly fun to play.

Atari made a last-minute appearance at the Indy Gen Con just in time to show off their new Neverwinter Nights 2 for PC and Dungeons & Dragons Tactics for the Sony PSP. Both games are brilliant and beyond the scope of this wrap-up coverage, so look for more in-depth previews of these two titles shortly.

Of course the highlight of the show was getting to meet the cast and crew of the new indie flick, GAMERS. If you haven’t seen this movie you don’t know what you are missing. You can read our review if you want or just take my word for it and go watch this movie RIGHT NOW. If you have every held a d20 in your hand, you must see this movie.

We even got to sit in on one of the screenings of the film at the hotel across the street from Gen Con. I had already seen the movie a few dozen times prior to the public screening, but it was reassuring to know that there are other people out there as twisted as me that laughed and groaned in all the right places.

I only attended two of the four days that the show was going on, but by design, this show is targeted for those who are actively into playing these RPG games, and I had pretty much seen everything I needed to by the end of day two. That certainly didn’t stop thousands of other gamers from invading Indy to cast their dice in hundreds of tournaments going on throughout the weekend.

It’s amazing just how big role-playing has become. Even since returning from the Indy Gen Con, I have already gotten word of more Gen Cons in California and Australia. And even though I might have kicked the RPG habit, it’s pretty safe to say that role-playing is here to stay, and there is no better place to sample the energy of the games and the people who play them than Gen Con.

See you next year in Indy…