06 August 2011

GenCon Update: Gamers and Kids (Picture Post)

Little Pirates on Parade
Pirate Princess
 Last year we took Cups to GenCon for a  Marc Gunn concert and she left very upset.  "Why don't we have costumes on?"  So we brought her back in a dragon costume the next day.  Couldn't get ten feet without stopping for pictures, and she loved the attention and the exhibit hall.  She did very well for a three-year old, so we were comfortable expanding her exposure this year to two days.  Yesterday we all dressed as pirates and went to the exhibit hall for the kids events.

Cap'n Cap'n Sir

 I hear a lot about - and GenCon promo materials perpetuate this stereotype - how gamers don't have any social skills.  Some of it, perhaps, is claiming the pejoratives for ourselves, but some of it has a sort of self-deprecating well, that's just how we are: we game because we're not cool enough for normal stuff feel to it.  And maybe it's that sense of being a fringe community that colors the way that gamers interact with children, but I have been pleased and gratified at the way that my now four-year-old and the nine-month-old Cap'n have been treated by everyone we've encountered here.  At GenCon, they are people too.

Non-gaming kids under 8 are registered and tagged at Special Services: that is to say their names are entered in the GenCon register (and they are apparently tracking how many kids are here specifically) and they're given one of those super sticky fairground armbands with their parents' phone number written on it.  That's all basic stuff and I'm glad the staff do it, but both years now they have also taken care to explain to my daughter who to look for if she gets lost, show her the GenCon staff shirts, practice telling them that she's lost, and then remind her that she should not give out her name to anyone, but that she should let her mom or dad do that.  Last year she was told: "From now on, your name is 'ask my mom or dad'."

This is advice that Cups routinely ignores.  She is outgoing, sociable, and doesn't know a stranger - even when surrounded by people in costumes who are playing new and interesting games.  As a parent, I know that for some people the last thing they want to do is explain how to play "Blood Bowl" to my child, let alone tell her that's what they're playing, but she has been met at every turn with grace and polite conversation.  Her questions have been answered with small words and simple concepts, and my near-constant apologies for interrupting have been smilingly brushed aside.  In short, my children have been embraced and welcomed in the public circles at GenCon, not just tolerated as small intrusions.

Some of that may be because we have scheduled our gaming for days when they are not with us, knowing they will not be able to sit for two hours of Hollowpoint or go through a True Dungeon with us, so their interactions with the gaming community are mainly limited to the hallways and exhibit halls instead of the sacred spaces, but at nine last night we went to one of the halls to watch the opening rounds of the Dice Age tournament.  We had bought a mugful of dice and a bag for Cups so she could have her own dice, and she moved from table to table every time we let go of her hand, talking about her dice bag and its contents - and, as I discovered a few minutes later, asking if anyone had more dice for her.  Several of the gamers that night not only explained their games to her but willingly gave up some of their D6's to add to it, including someone's commemorative con die, and waved off my apologies as I scolded her for asking.

For Cups, this is the face of gaming.  This is what will shape her view of gamers and cosplay and geeks and nerds down the line.  I couldn't be happier about how it is playing out.  So this is an open thank-you to the people who've taken extra time out to talk to an excited four-year old, and answer her "what are you being?" questions, and exclaim over her bag of dice.  It's a community that she's going to grow into, and her first forays have been welcoming ones.

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