Last weekend was Strategicon‘s GATEWAY convention, and I can say without reservation that it was the best con experience I’ve ever had. And that has nothing to do with the business/industry side of things. While I did make some really great networking connections, and while sales and publicity seem to be on the rise, what made this the best con ever was the kindness of strangers.
I was in a bit of a hustle arriving on Saturday, cutting it close for the start time of a seminar I wanted to attend. I was force-marching through L.A. streets to cover the distance between the airport parking lot and the hotel, and I was grossly exceeding my encumbrance limit. I held a giant, tri-fold display board under one arm, whose panels kept swinging open and snagging on things. My backpack was as bulky and heavy as a soldier’s, and I towed behind me my little wheely-cart packed with games, on top of which was a precariously balanced mini-ice chest with the weekend’s rations. No sooner had I hoofed it to the hotel loading zone when my wheely-cart skidded on one of those microscopic particles that are the bane of all skateboarders, and so flew my mini-ice chest like a missile from a trebuchet. Granola bars, bagged sandwiches, sodas, and most importantly—ice—were all strewn across the ground in a conical spread affecting a range of 3d6 feet.
This was when the weekend began in earnest. No sooner had I spilled my rations than two perfect strangers approached: gamers from what I could tell by their T-shirts. They hurriedly helped me collect all the food and drink, and what little could be saved of the ice. They joined me in sweeping or kicking the rest of the ice and the puddle of water to the side and beneath some planters, so as to reduce the risk of someone else slipping. The whole incident was resolved in seconds. I thanked them, and they said reassuring things to me as I went on my way. Then inside, I was struggling once again to haul all these things up the grand staircase to the registration desk. And, once again, two perfect strangers—a different two than before—immediately came up to me, saying, “let me help you with that.” One took the ice chest; the other took the wheely-cart and hoisted it up the stairs with brute strength. They had delivered me to the landing as if by giant eagle. After that, the fellow working the registration desk did not simply direct me to Boardgame HQ, but in fact escorted me there. And by the end of the night, though I had arrived with no advance plan for a room to stay in nor bed to sleep in, one fellow gamer gave his room key to me, as he had had a change of plans and would be leaving that night. Though it was 2:30 in the morning when I got there, the three chaps sleeping inside like it was a hostel had left an air-mattress and a sleeping bag for me to use.
This was the tone for the entire convention. I did not have a single experience, conversation, or interaction with another human being for 48 hours that was not pleasant and generous. The people who stopped by my demo tables, whether it was for my game or another, were sincerely interested in what was happening there, and not just making courteous but superficial small talk. They had questions. They had good advice. They had fun. And when I joined strangers in their games, whether scheduled or not, we sat at the table as anything but strangers, but rather as old comrades who had played games together since school. I have been to the Strategicon series of conventions many times in the past, both as a player and as a GM. Something has happened to me. This was the first time that I felt not like a competitor at a tournament, but rather like a welcome member in a community. We truly were there—every last one of us—for the same reason: to play. So I say thank you to everyone who attended and helped with Strategicon this season, and even if I didn’t see you there this time, I’ll look forward to gaming with you in the future.