I’ve had three stretches of convention life as a roleplayer. The first was when I was in high school and college; mostly I used the cons as an excuse for underage drinking, plus maybe a marathon Battletech game, the kind with 10 people and a huge terrain-covered table that might literally last 24 straight hours. Kids!
The second was the mid-90s, when I was writing for some of the second-tier publishers and was expected to work the booths and do demos. So I’d get the free GenCon pass and then put in my time either on the dealer room floor or in, yeah, one of those vast ballrooms. Still a kid, really! I was totally fine yelling over the big table next to me, which makes the table next over yell, which makes us all yell, until we’re all yelling. Until my early 30s, it’s actually kind of energizing! Felt a little like going to a loud concert.
Then I dropped conventions for the next, oh, 15ish years. Had a kid. Changed the kinds of games I enjoyed. Matured a lot, and figured out it was okay to know what you need and to say it out loud.
The cons haven’t changed much but gosh I have. My first triumphant (?) return to conventions was uh…hm. Oh oh of course, luke crane’s BurningCons in NYC. When was the first one? 2010 maybe? He set it up in a dance studio practice space. Small-ish rooms, 2 or 3 tables max but just the one table as often as not. That spoiled me. I blame Luke.
The first time I went to a more-mainstream convention event, I was absolutely boggled at the sheer volume of play generated by Pathfinder and D&D. I guess there are organized play leagues? I’m totally clueless on that. I’ve picked up via osmosis there’s some deal where you pay for a membership and then earn bennies for tournament play. Dunno. It sure looks/feels like these big beautiful spaces are mostly being paid for by all that play.
They don’t seem to mind and god bless them: if Pathfinder and D&D are picking up the tab for our statistically insignificant population, fuck yeah rock on. But I cannot play in the same room as them.
I’m 90% deaf in one ear, and if I wasn’t so vain I’d wear a hearing aid. The background noise is a show stopper, and it happens well below the “fucking Pathfinder” threshold. As Daniel Lofton pointed out, I couldn’t hack it in a room with one other game going on. I asked if we could move, and we did, and it was awesome. Mark Diaz Truman later put me up in his own hotel room (I think) for my Tenra Bansho Zero game at NewMexicon. Might have been Derrick Kapchinsky’s room. It was a staff room. Very generous.
My personal needs list has either gotten longer or I’ve aged more into actually asking for what I need. I’m allergic to cigarette smoke (I get the worst migraines, for real) so I can’t be near that. I like my bathroom breaks to be quick so I like to be closer to them when possible. And I like the privacy and intimacy of not worrying about bystanders walking by and hearing weird stuff at my table. Depending on the game, the subject matter can be pretty intense stuff. I’m more self-conscious about political content than I ever was about, say, graphic violence at any of my many, many trad tables.
My current con-going subhobby started in 2010 IIRC with BurningCon, but since then I’ve gone to Sean Nittner’s BigBadCon in Oakland. My first was 2013, and Sean completed the spoiling process for me. Mostly private rooms for every game. Holy shit that’s luxe. And now it is very, very hard for half-deaf Paul to put up with ballroom gaming. Games on Demand still happens in a shared space, but they’ve done some stuff to keep it a little quieter: lower ceilings, soft walls, etc. Tolerable. I’ll be doing mostly GoD gaming this October at BBC again, I think.
In the moment, I get a little prissy about the overloud table situation you get when you share a space with a really rambunctious crowd. My Mutant: Year Zero table at Dreamation was one of those. It wasn’t terrible. We probably got just as loud once our game ramped up. After the fact, meh, we’re all just excited to be playing with awesome people.
I think my last taste of ballroom gaming was at Jason Pitre’s Sig table at Dreamation earlier this year. It was tough. I won’t lie. A couple tables over, MadJay Brown was running Urban Shadows for a big table and I have no idea how he managed it. Dude has a big fucking voice is how he managed it. And the whole back 9 of that ballroom was packed, packed with Pathfinder. I’ve never really heard anything other than loudness out of that scene. Because they’re excited. And that’s awesome.
Fucking Pathfinder! Those folks are just having too much fun.