Small Conventions Have Big Impact

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

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Retrogamecon | Leah McDonald

Having just attended two hometown cons and preparing to head out to the Final Fantasy XIV Fanfest in Las Vegas, conventions are very much on my mind.

I love conventions. There’s always a palpable sense of camaraderie when you’re surrounded by a bunch of fellow nerds who share your passion. There’s excitement, joy, and community that just can’t be replicated through fandom spaces on a computer screen.

And while the large cons bring together the biggest crowds with the most fanfare, when it comes to attending conventions, I definitely prefer the small scale to the large.

There’s just a lot of charm in small, more regional conventions. Sure they lack the staff of bigger cons, and never a year goes by without a panel snafu, (The highlights for me were a drunken moderator and panelists who didn’t know what their subject was about.) but at smaller cons, it’s almost charming. I don’t expect the same level of professionalism I would from an industry giant; small cons are made of well-meaning, if sometimes really out-of-their-element people, but dammit if they don’t give it their all.

You also just don’t get the same level of, for lack of a better term, intimacy at a large con. Long lines, longer days, and a never-ending hustle-and-bustle make for a lonely affair. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of con-goers and never have the chance to actually *experience* what you just shelled out a substantial amount of dough to see. Spending four hours in line to try out a challenge or play a demo of a game that’s slated to release in a month just isn’t a productive use of my time. When I attended PAX East a couple years ago, I think I was able to get my hands on three games, do the FFXIV challenge, sit in on two panels and listen to one performer over the weekend. The sheer amount of people was also overwhelming to my son, and the quiet room was a blessing.

Retrogamecon | Leah McDonald

Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful to see a thriving industry, to give a platform for up-and-coming developers to show off their wares on a grand stage, to showcase the latest in technology or build bridges between cultures based on the shared love of a medium. But small cons take it slow and give you room to breathe, check out the vendor booths, listen to musical acts you never knew you needed in your life, attend a panelwithout getting there an hour earlyand actually chat with the guests.

Or in my case, stand red-faced in front of Charles Martinet while my son sings to him during a Q&A panel. (For the record, my son did a damn good job, and the crowd seemed to love it, as did Mario himself.)

I love my local conventions, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t want them to grow. They are staffed by passionate people who just want to share their love of a medium, be it horror or video games, with the rest of the world. They aren’t always perfect, but their imperfections give them charm, and every year I see them learn from their mistakes and grow larger and better than the last time. I desperately want them to succeed, for their sake and for my enjoyment. I just don’t want that growth to overshadow the friendliness, openness, and ease with which guests like me can enjoy a weekend of geeking out with friends and strangers alike.

Danimal Cannon | Leah McDonald Lame Genie | Leah McDonald

About Leah McDonald

Leah's been playing video games since her brother first bought an Atari back in the 1980s and has no plans to stop playing anytime soon. She enjoys almost every genre of game, with some of her favourites being Final Fantasy Tactics, Shadow of the Colossus, Suikoden II and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Leah lives on the East Coast with her husband and son.