Dragon Con: After Action Reports: The Convention

Holy Guacamole! I can't believe it's been two weeks since Dragon Con 2016. It's high time that I published my After Action Reports, starting with today's Part 1: The Convention itself.

According to their website, Dragon Con is "the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction & fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe!" Are they the biggest in the universe? The jury is still out, as we can really only speak towards the observable universe, and even then I doubt we've managed to check out all the conventions on every planet (especially the ones made of dark energy...they have some absolutely raging parties, or so I hear tell)

But hey, this year Dragon Con attracted a record number of members: some 77,000 guests showed up this year in Atlanta. So let's just go with "pretty darn big". I started attending Dragon Con regularly about 8 years ago, and the attendance numbers have gone up every year (coincidence? I think not) It is a tremendous amount of geeks and nerds in one place. And it is wonderful. I've talked about this previous episodes of the podcast before, but the greatest attraction to Dragon Con for me, and the main reason I keep going back every year, is the sense of community. For a five day period, you are surrounded, almost entirely, by people who love the hobbys you love, who play the games you play, and who absolutely accept you for you. Part of the experience of being a nerd, I think, is a feeling of social detachment. If you are like me, you grew up loving nerdy things and being picked on or made fun of for it. I was lucky, like some, to have a handful of friends to connect with who enjoyed what I did. But for the most part, the world was hostile towards the real me. I learned, especially in professional settings, to put on a mask and shield myself, hiding my passions and hobbies from the normal world. There's just no place for it. In times past, I would be openly hurt because of what I liked. These days, I find that non-nerds look on, bemused, if I bring up modding games on my PC or building costumes or wanting to own an arcade cabinet. I won't go so far as to say its cool to be a nerd, but I think it is more accepted that it was when I was young. But at Dragon Con, being a nerd is celebrated.

And that's what the weekend is, a celebration of who we are. Yes, there are celebrities and informative panels, cool vendors and contests aplenty, and the largest parade in Atlanta. But the heart of Dragon Con, I believe, is in this celebration; it is a pureness of being that I'm sure outdoor enthusiasts feel when the reach the peak of a mountain climb, or a wine connoisseur feels when they match the perfect food with a finely aged Bordeaux. Dragon Con is a joyous and pure expression of the fabric that makes us nerds.

But hey, enough philosophizing. How was the con this year? It was great! For the first time, I got to stay in one of the host hotels, which was an experience in and of itself (remember folks, you go down to go up!). There was noise and energy constantly, and every night I fought against myself to go to bed; body and mind exhausted, but still yearning to make the long elevator ride back down, just so I don't miss anything.

Sadly, I feel like I did miss a bit. Of course, it's impossible to do everything you want at the con each year--but I definitely left some pins still standing. I missed panel after panel, being pulled in different directions. And I missed some parties, thanks to having to scramble last minute to finish some costume stuff. But these are lessons learned for next year, and I will have to focus some time and energy on better time management.

I'll touch on some of the highlights from this year, in no particular order. I loved, loved, loved the arcades at the con. Two flavors were available, retro and Japanese. The Japanese arcade had some fun selections, including the Pokemon fighting game Pokken Tournament, though it was always busy so I didn't get to play. There were lots of rhythm games (naturally), and I think the best was called Jubeat:

I spent a bit more time in the retro arcade. It had a number of classics from both the 80's and 90's, with my personal favorite being Robotron 2084. Also available were several really solid pinball tables that were a ton of fun. I think I spent so much time there because it really rekindled a ton of powerful and happy memories from my early youth, before arcades fully entered their death spiral in the US. It's also renewed my desire to build my arcade cabinet project as soon as I can. The vendors were awesome this year, and I picked up a couple of nice bits of loot. First, a replica of Link's ocarina from Legend of Zelda, handmade by STL Ocarina (which means that my new leading candidate for a costume next year is Link). I also nabbed a d20 spinning ring from CritSuccess, which was a reasonably priced and fun keepsake that I will get a lot of use out of. There were plenty of other great vendors, but my cash reserves ran out much quicker than my desire to acquire.

Another highlight was the performance by the Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra, which I attended for the second year. They performed another wonderful lineup of music from sci fi and fantasy films, plus a few unexpected selections: the original Batman TV show theme was a lot of fun, as was the theme from the Simpsons. Last year, they did very little from Star Wars, only the main theme, but lots of Star Trek. This year, the balance swing the other direction; there were at least three pieces from Star Wars but sadly only the theme from the new Trek movie, and no classic Trek, which was very disappointing. Hopefully next year they can balance the two out more. The highlight was music from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, including an excellent solo performance of The Misty Mountain Cold.

I also had a lot of fun letting loose at the Yule Ball, a Harry Potter themed dance party (including an only slightly dangerous encounter with Delores Umbridge). We saw excellent cosplay upon excellent cosplay (Expect more on costuming in the next After Action Report). There were some solid panels, and I even got to geek out seeing Xavier Woods from the WWE's New Day, though not up close (maybe next year I can get an autograph on a box of Booty-Os) As always, though, the highlight of Dragon Con for me is just being at the convention, hanging out in the lobbies of the main hotels, walking around and seeing costumes and drinking it all in. A lovely view from above it all, for example:

But it all comes to an end, of course. And as quickly as the con floor starts to look like this Sunday night:

By Monday morning, it looks like this:

Dragon Con comes and goes. And as much as I wish it could last all year, maybe it's good that its only one weekend. For five days a year, I get to meet up with 77,000 friends and celebrate who we are. And the other 360 days of the year, I get to look forward to next year. And those 360 days make the 5 all the more special. So that's it for today. Look for my next After Action Report coming soon, where I will talk about the costumes we did, what went well, and what didn't.