The Viking Dad Midwinter Gaming Convention Re-cap

So, you’ve seen the shield-maiden’s report of the Midwinter Gaming Convention held this past weekend in Milwaukee.  Now it’s my turn.

First things first, I recall attending this convention 4 years ago, a few weeks before Benjamin was born.  In fact, we incorporated that into the characters we played since the shield-maiden was very obviously pregnant.  It was a great time and even though we were utterly new, we were greeted warmly and treated to a warm welcome.  That first experience, four years ago, is the main reason we continue to return.  It’s how conventions should be run and they hit it on the head.

As the name suggests, this is a gaming oriented convention and that said, I did get to partake of one of the LARP events.  It was a great deal of fun and is one of the past times that I fully enjoy, but was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why this convention rocked!

I mentioned above the welcoming and accepting atmosphere at the convention.  No matter what your flavor of gaming, all were welcomed.  The convention and volunteer staff was helpful and friendly, there were a ton of things to do from video gaming to table top role-playing  to board gaming to collectible card gaming.  From live action to full contact immersion, there was something for everyone.  I can’t count the number of “Wows” I felt and uttered at this convention.

Ben versus the Bustle
Ben wanted to try on one of the bustles, but without a booty or hips, it didn’t really stay on.

I spent some time in the booth, but with the addition of two booth helpers, I got to spend time off on my own for a bit, or with Benjamin (trying on various wares to model as seen in the picture above), or (most importantly) with the shield-maiden, enjoying the convention.

The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost
The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost

I can’t stress enough the importance of having an accepting or welcoming atmosphere.  In relation to other conventions, and I’ve been to quite a few gaming conventions, this one is the best by far.  Let me show you an example of comparison:

October of 2009, the shield-maiden and I went to a convention (as our honeymoon) in Atlanta.  It was a national convention for the then titled Camarilla (now known as the Mind’s Eye Society).  We vended at that one as well and the first thing we noticed was that the vendor’s hall was tucked far away from any of the “action”.  This really limited foot traffic and for the number of attendees, the space was a fraction of the size that Midwinter had for its Vendor’s Hall.

I mean, the gaming track wasn’t that bad… I just wasn’t “wowed”, until the night game of Changeling: the Lost, which was the main thing both the shield-maiden and I were looking forward to playing. We were both very excited about it and she had spent the entire day working in the cramped vendor’s room on her feet with the hopeful expectation of the both of us getting to play this game together.

We get food, we eat, we change and then head down to the room that the game is being held at to find the doors locked. We knock, we hear people inside, but no one is coming to open it.  We knock louder and then an ST from a different game comes to us and says we can’t go in.  When asked why, he says that the doors locked at a particular time and after than no one else was allowed to enter.

Now, I should preface this with that the locking of the doors was not mentioned anywhere in the programming guide (because if it had, we would have been there at that time). It was something that, apparently, they had just decided upon.

So there we were, in full costume (which by the way, the shield-maiden glued sea shells to her face, so you know that our costuming was extensive) being told that we were out of luck.  We voiced our concern that this wasn’t right, but he said that there’s nothing he could do.

Needless to say we were very put off by this.  Not ones to sit idly by, we voiced our concerns to the Event Staff.   We were blown off with the words (paraphrasing), “Not my problem”.

That is an example of how NOT to do a convention.  Midwinter Gaming Convention was on the complete other side of the spectrum.  They have grown, steadily, each year and by being inclusive of all aspects of gaming, I believe, will see that trend continue.

So, to the staff of the Midwinter Gaming Convention, I salute you.  Well done and I look forward to many happy returns.

The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost
Awesome venue, awesome game, awesome job Midwinter Gaming Convention!

 

 

Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention

Last week we headed up to Milwaukee for the Midwinter Gaming Convention.  We had a booth there, and had plans to get some gaming in.  This is Midwinter’s fifteenth year, and our third, and it has grown larger and better every year we’ve been.  This was the first year both Stephan and I had wares to peddle, and the first year I had so many booth helpers.  It all added up to a lot of fun.

What made the biggest difference, I think, is that I had two booth helpers throughout the convention.  Our friends Denis and Chrissy came along, and with them on hand, we had four adults to cover the booth the entire weekend.  That meant Stephan wasn’t stuck on Ben patrol the entire time.  It meant we both got to go to lunch together one day.  It meant I got to spend time with my son outside of the vendor’s hall for the first time ever.  I can’t thank the two of them enough for their help the entire weekend.

SCA costuming at Midwinter.
SCA costuming at Midwinter.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed gaming cons.  Midwinter’s focus is on LARP, but it has programming dedicated to board and video games, as well as a strong reenactment presence thanks to the SCA.  So while there is a costuming contingent, it isn’t a costume heavy convention.  And the convention has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  I found myself joking and laughing, things I hadn’t done in a long time.  I managed to deal with the little anxiety that cropped up throughout the weekend, which means that medication and therapy is working for my mental health issues.

The Milwaukee Hilton is a beautiful hotel, with lots of ornate staircases and decor, as well as hallways and seating areas for hangouts.  I spent most of my time in the vendor hall, which was placed in a baroque fantasy of a ballroom with chandeliers and gold molding on the ceiling.  The hotel staff was super friendly and helpful, a big plus when you are attending a convention where there can be tension between fans and non-fans.

That same weekend there was a girl’s volleyball conference in the hotel.  This led to lots of interactions with non-gaming people.  I witnessed an abundance of stares and whispered comments, but I was never the target of them.  In fact I had several women approach me to ask about what was going on.  I think the pink hair establishes me as part of the “weird people” but that my size and gender makes me non-threatening enough to be approachable.  This isn’t the first time I’ve played ambassador for the geek community.  Back in 2002 at ConJose in San Jose, I fielded questions from people on the street who saw me wearing a badge, but not a costume (no pink hair back in those days).   And the fan side of things gave as good as they got on the passive aggressive front.  I overheard one LARPer bragging about having invented “Trolling: the LARP” where he and his friends paraded past groups of volleyball players and parents in their costumes and played their characters to an exaggerated degree.

Creeper
This was Ben’s favorite costume, by far. “Next year I want to be a creeper, too. And then we can creep together!”

I only ran into one instance of bad customer behavior: a woman incredulously demanding to know if “that ruffle thing” truly was $75.  When I confirmed that, yes, I do charge $75 for my bustles, she huffed off.  I know that prior to her asking she had snapped a shot of the bustle (the flash is a dead giveaway) and suspect she’ll show the picture to a sewing friend and ask if said friend will make one for her.  I wish her good luck with that.

I did overhear another customer ask the vendor next to me if they would get a discount on a $20 item if they carried it around the convention and told people where they would get it from.  There seems to be this belief among a certain set of attendees that vendors are starving for marketing and will give away their wares for word of mouth advertising.  I have never once met a vendor who has done such.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one or two who have, I just have never encountered them.

The only other annoyance was the number of times people congregated in front of my booth and blocked access to it.  That is easily dealt with.  I whip out my phone and ask the people if they could move because I want to get a shot of my set up.  Nine times out of ten the people realize they were blocking the way and move on apologetically.  The tenth time, the people move, but with resentment at having been asked to move.  Either way, it’s not skin off my nose, I got them to clear the way.

The final attendance count was just shy of 1100 members.  Not a bad showing.  I made just over 50 cents per attendee (which is about what I plan on making at any convention).  It was less than I had hoped, but I didn’t have any big items with me this time around.  There’s time before the next convention to get plenty of coats made up for off the rack purchases.

roach and the orc
I found an orc!

According to those we talked to, Midwinter has seen an average of 10 percent growth in attendance each year.  It’s clear that they do a lot of work not only in planning great programming, but also in advertising their presence.  They do a lot of social media work, have a strong Facebook page, and got the convention covered by local TV press.  It is a lot of work, but it is paying off for them.

I mention this because over the course of the weekend I was approached by two different conventions about vending.  Both are brand new, both are asking for $200 for booth space.  One mentioned on its website that they expect anywhere between 350 to 2,400 attendees at their first con.  Think about that for a moment.  Presuming that they reach their minimum number, and that I make 50 cents per attendee, I will lose money attending that convention.  The other is one  could see slightly better numbers, but it is still the first year, still untested, and still not worth paying that much for a space.  When conventions charge that much for a space, with such low numbers, it is clear they are looking to cover their costs on the backs of their vendors rather than through ticket sales.

We’ll be back to Midwinter next year for sure.

 

VikingDad – Minecraft Blues #74 – Tools, Lava and Death

The shield-maiden often laughs aloud when our ten-year old daughter and I play Minecraft together on the Xbox 360.  Here is one of the situations that caused one such outburst:

She and I were deep underground, digging around some lava pools (aka Layer 11, where all the goodies are) and her avatar inadvertently fell into one of the lava pools and burned to death before we could get any water on her, though it was not her in-game death that was outburst worthy… it’s what came after.

Now, I should set the scene before I go into much more detail.  We had found a naturally formed cave, had limited tools (as we were burning through them collecting all the goodies) and were a good distance away from our home (which she built, looks awesome but seems to draw mobs like there’s no tomorrow)… a home that is FULL of useful things like wood and tools, by the way.  This will be important later, so remember this.  In any case, we had no crafting table, no wood, no chests, and our inventory bars were pretty full with all sorts of natural resources like Iron ore, gold ore, diamonds, etc.  While we had all that great stuff, we could do nothing with it.  Now, back to the scene:

So we were mining in this cavern, me on one side and her on the other with the cavern floor interspersed with lava pools.  We are playing split screen, so I could, if I had wanted, see what she’s doing and vice versa.  At that time, I was pretty focused on not dropping a ton of gravel on my head and not really paying attention to her side of the screen until I hear her go, “Ouch… oh FUDGE! Help help help…”

I look to her side of the screen just in time to see an immolated Tuxedo Steve (her chosen skin) hop out of the lava pool and continue to jump up and down in the same spot, repeatedly (something I do NOT recommend for someone who is actually on fire).   Inevitably, Tuxedo Steve succumbs to the flames and perishes, the avatar vomiting a plethora of natural resources and stone that had about as much mass as the Sun.

“Get my stuff, get my stuff…” She frantically yelled, even though we were sitting next to one another.

“OK OK…”  I chuckled as I started doing the dance of emptying out the less useful items out of my inventory (and into the lava pool) to make room for the important ones (to her) while NOT falling into the lava pool and suffering a similar fate.  I was successful in both.

A minute or so later a freshly re-spawned Tuxedo Steve is down in the mines as I finished my dumping and gathering.  I toss her the stuff and then ask if she brought anything down with her.

There was a pause.  Remember that thing I told you to remember from earlier?  Yeah, it’s important now.

“Did you bring anything with you?” I asked, hopeful for some wood at least, to build a crafting table and a chest to avoid this setback in the future.

“I brought a shovel…”

“A shovel… A… Ah… A singular shovel.”

“Yeah.”

“You went all the way back to our house… where all our tools and resources are, and all you brought back with you was a single shovel?”

“Yeah.”

“…”

So, remember kids, when you are mining with a partner and one of you dies, use that opportunity to bring supplies back down into the mine with you.  It will save time and mean you can get more resources so you don’t have to make a separate trip back.