Big Kid Badges:
Two years ago Girl Scouts of Central Indiana were still hosting events at GenCon, and registration came with a 4-day badge, so Cups was upgraded for cheap. Last year and this year there were no Girl Scout events, so we had to decide whether to spring for a badge for her or not. Kids over 8 must have a badge per GenCon policy. Cups (age 8) did enough this year that we got a badge's worth of entertainment out of her. Your child's mileage may vary.
Without a full badge, kids aren't supposed to be able to participate in non-KID tagged events, so if your Big Kid is planning to play Big Games you'll want to consider it. However, there is no discount so you're looking at $80 for a 4-day badge or $45 for a single day on preregistration. If you want to just try it out, then I'd recommend a Family Fun Day package, which is $35 total for up to 4 single-day Sunday badges. This is also a good option for groups who aren't wanting to commit to the full GenCon experience. That said, not everyone is a stickler on official badges for kids -- but the registration system is, so somebody needs a badge to preregister for events and I'd recommend playing it by the rules.
Games for kids are easier to find than games for littles; I find that gamer kids tend to function a category higher than what's printed on the box. Demos are really important here, in order to get a handle on whether the rules complexity is right for your kid or not, and in the 6-8 range your kid is generally old enough to sit for demos themselves. Encourage your Big Kid to interact with dealers, ask questions, and assess the games they're playing. Set some ground rules before you go into the dealer's hall or demo rooms -- some games may be in the demo/beta stage (and you can't fund everything that looks cool on Kickstarter) while others may fall into the "we can't buy every game in the con" rule. Our kids work on a budget system (it's educational and entertaining to watch them try to math) but whatever works for your family, just set expectations in advance
|Cups pitches a new Skylander|
Depending on your Big Kid's interests (we have a comic book nerd), you may find some things to their liking in Artists' Alley as well. If your Big Kid has a particular comic or collection they enjoy, it's worth checking to see if someone related to that is going to be exhibiting. There's one important thing to know about Artists' Alley: unlike the rest of the vendor hall, it works on a centralized cash register system. If you are making a purchase from one of the artists exhibiting, you'll get a billing slip from them that you take to the central kiosk. You wait in line there to pay your total, then take the stamped slip back to the artist and get your goods. Sometimes the lines are long, so keep this in mind and if you're moving fast or very tired you may want to plan to come back later.
Keep in mind that Artists' Alley hosts all kinds of art, so you may find yourself needing to explain some of the finer points of anatomy to your Big Kid (in our case, it was why someone had put sticker pasties on the display). Come prepared. In fact, you should probably come prepared to deal with questions and commentary in general if you are bringing your Big Kid to a con; cosplayers are a diverse lot. Also bear in mind that anything you say may very well be repeated to a complete stranger at full volume ("My mom says I'm not old enough to wear just underpants in public"), so practice your good manners.
|Pathfinder Kids Track|
Pathfinder hosts a Kids Track event with both beginner (no experience needed) and advanced (some previous Pathfinder experience) tracks, and kids who participate will get a set of dice and some other freebies, as well as taking part in a Real Pathfinder adventure. Kids who complete four games will get some Pathfinder swag, and a boon that carries over in case of joining the Pathfinder Society in the future. It's a good time, and the GM's are excellent. You'll want to plan on being in the room but not over your Big Kid's shoulders; well-meaning gaming parents can ruin everyone's fun. Games are scheduled with a muster about 5 minutes before the scheduled time; ticketed kids get priority but we had no trouble getting in on generics alone. They're supposed to run about 90 minutes-2 hours but as with any gaming session the dice may make this time longer or shorter.
|Pokemon XY Pre-Release Event|
Pokemon and My Little Pony TCG's run demos and tournaments which can range from free to very pricey but may come with cool swag like promo cards or pre-release decks, if your Big Kid is a collector. Magic: the Gathering takes up half a hall and runs events throughout the con. You'll want to brush up on the different types of tournaments if you aren't a player in order to gauge what your Big Kid is ready for and how much time you should expect to spend. Be aware that some games will simply wait for enough players to show up, resulting in a lot of wasted time (we waited an hour for a tournament to start -- after 30 minutes we were given the option to "come back later" and hope that enough folks were there) and bored kids, while others will give a "bye" in order to start playing sooner. You'll have to ask what a particular group's policy is on a case basis.
GenCon has started doing a button collection event that your Big Kid may find interesting: scattered throughout the convention center are nine stations where GenCon volunteers distribute souvenir buttons to kids. The Family Fun Guide has a description of all the buttons and a map showing where to find them. Buttons are restricted to children for part of the day and they have a lot, but we've seen them run out on Sundays as families flood the convention (cheap tickets are the way to go), so if your Big Kid enjoys buttons grab a map and start hunting.
Cardhalla may be another location to entertain your Big Kid. It's usually located near the Georgia Street exit; just look for the towers of cards. Essentially, instead of tossing extra common cards out, gamers will bring them and donate to a massive community card-house-building effort. Anyone is welcome to help with the building, so your Big Kid can test out their skills on a little tower or polish them on a big one.
This year we picked up tickets to Acrobatica Infiniti, whom I can only hope will return in future years. This one-hour cirque is a family-friendly (but still geek targeted) event with amazing performers doing Feats of Incredible Skill. Be prepared for some risque comments and references your Big Kid may not get (at least ours has not yet read Game of Thrones), but the show itself was well worth attending.
It's worth a shoutout here to the SPA activities -- SPA stands for Spouse Activities, which stands for an eclectic collection of tours, crafting, and creativity -- and also to the Writer's Symposium, which does host some kid-targeted writing workshops which were really fun. We're fairly new to the Big Kid - GenCon territory, but Cups was really thrilled to be able to schedule her own events, especially when it involved getting to play Pathfinder and acquiring new Pokemon cards that her friends wouldn't have. Sitting down with the event catalog and letting your Big Kid explore their interests is a great chance to spend some quality time getting to know things you might not have otherwise discovered.
That's what we've got. Hopefully it's helpful. If you've got suggestions, comments, or things the Geek This kids need to check out, please let us know!