My decision to not attend Gen Con this year

Gen Con 2021 – the main gaming hall. Two years earlier you wouldn’t have been able to find an empty chair and here would have been a lot more tables and seats.

I have been a faithful attendee at Gen Con for years, going back to the Milwaukee years. When I went, I did so for a few reasons.  As a writer in the industry, it was a chance to get face time with editors, fellow writers, line managers, etc. to talk about the coming year’s products and what I should be focusing on.  I also attended to shop for the new releases.  Then there was the gaming itself. For me, it was a chance to sit down and try new games, play some BattleTech or other games I like.  Finally it was an opportunity to mix and mingle with some fans. I loved playing Master’s and Minions with the fans.

In recent years, I brought my grandson with me to Gen Con because he likes gaming as well.  Usually we look forward to the trip to Indy every summer.  Gen Con has been something I have always enjoyed attending together. 

I went last year during COVID and the experience was less-than-satisfactory. Many big game companies passed on attending.  Many usual events we had come to rely on simply weren’t offered at all. The events list was reduced dramatically, and the few games I wanted to play filled up instantly.  The restrictions on the gaming halls were overbearing in some instances.  Because maps had to be wiped down, plastic was over a lot of them which led to some issues. Demos in booths were limited if not eliminated, and those that were done were struggles to balance playing versus social distancing mandates. Many companies simply didn’t try at all.

Then of course there was the ‘thrill’ of wearing a mask on premises.  Gaming, by its very nature, is a social affair.  Part of it is seeing the face of your allies during victories and you foes when you beat them.  This was taken away with the masks. It was replaced with muffled voices that you couldn’t hear.  On top of that, were the mask police, the self-appointed gamers who pointed out when you were not social distancing to their standards, or pointing out that your mask had slipped down. I pulled my mask away one time for a literal second, just to get a gasp of air, and you would have thought I had committed a war crime.

This year Gen Con announced that it would be masked event.  I cringed when I read it. I can go to my local game stores and play without a mask and nobody even flinches.  The people that want to wear masks can.  I’m triple vaccinated and I am comfortable not wearing a mask.  Why can I play in a game store without a mask but if I travel across the country to Indianapolis to play, I need to wear one?

I fully understand Gen Con having to make this announcement now, with a spike in COVID. They have to create the illusion of safety for everyone, but that doesn’t mean I have to play along with this and attend.  Yes, they may change the rules by August – but by then the hotels and events will likely be filled.  Registration is at the end of this month, so a decision had to be made.  On top of this, we have no idea which game companies will be there, or if the same overbearing rules will apply to gaming sessions.  I sat down with my grandson and we talked about it.  He agreed, he didn’t want to attend if he had to wear a mask either. We decided to pass

Then I saw that Gen Con was going to put your personal pronouns on the name badges.  I rolled my eyes at this one.  After the Gaming Goat incident last year when they physically removed one game company owner over an alleged piece of artwork frog holding up a racist sign (No, I’m not making this up) and the attack two years earlier on Jeremy Hambly; it was clear that Gen Con was pandering to a specific audience of gamers.  The last thing I needed was to have someone turn their badge around so I could call them by what they wanted or risk them having a hissy fit over not using the right language.  In short, Gen Con shouldn’t get involved with politics or ideologies, period.  While this personal pronoun stuff didn’t factor into my decision this year, it makes me cringe. 

My take on Gen Con’s mask policies is that they are not necessary.  If you are afraid of COVID, you always have the option of wearing a mask…just don’t tell me I have to wear one.  If you are scared of catching COVID, don’t attend. Why should everyone’s gaming fun be ruined because you are frightened or at risk?  If you can’t get vaccinated due to medical conditions, going to an event with tens of thousands of people might not be the thing for you.   

I will still spend the same amount on gaming this year, but I will do it in my local game store or on company web sites, rather than spend it at Gen Con.  I will play games either at home or at the game store of my choice, where I can have the fun the way it was meant to be enjoyed – face to face.  

I hope Gen Con returns to normal.  I hope that the big companies come back.  I hope they eventually foster an open and fun gaming experience for ALL attendees. Until then, I have plenty to keep me busy at home writing.    

12 thoughts on “My decision to not attend Gen Con this year

  1. Andrew Krull

    Well said Blaine. We are having the same conversation as well. Battle Barn is an options we are exploring again. We had a great time there, just alot of work.

  2. Tintreg

    I listed my pronouns on a work badge as “Sir/Mr” and nearly received a proper dressing down from a few people. I say nearly b/c I told them hush it before they even got started. Apparently my pronouns are Ok when only in an agreeable format.

  3. Paul Chappell

    Have to admit my own feelings on this are about the same. New job further away this last year, so it is no longer a 2 hour drive and seeing how many companies did not attend? Just not really worth the drive from TX for me. That and stepping back into a fully masked and “monitored” region like that? Not sounding fun and relaxing, so I’ll probably pass for a bit…

  4. CplHicksNOT

    Your experience with GenCon closely echoes our thoughts on DragonCon ’21. There were self-appointment “mask police” roaming about (and usually not just coming up and saying “you need to pull your mask up / put one on” or whatever, more along the lines of snide comments to someone nearby where they could be overheard.)

    And, not seeing anyone’s faces REALLY seemed to put a damper on the festivities. Is that person happy to be here, or sad, or having a bad day, or what? Heck, even a photo of my wife and I in our cosplays, KNOWING we were smiling, but because of the masks we both look “meh.”

    We weren’t planning to go this year anyways, and if they bow to the COVID-fearful again this year, we’ll be (sadly) glad we’re not…

  5. Jason Goldsmith.

    Hi Blaine,
    Similar but different issues here in Australia. Our big annual games convention, CANCON, is to be held this weekend. I go every few years just to look around, visit trade stalls and the second hand market. Last year it was cancelled due to COVID. This year we have to register and pay a small fee to attend, and other registration and fee to go to the second hand market in limited time slots. Masks are pretty much a normal way of life in many parts of Australia, no drama there but it is taking the joy out of going, so I’ll be sitting this one out, saving myself the 3 hour drive to the venue and stresses of the rules to keep everyone “safe”. Maybe 2023 will be a better year?

  6. To all of the “fine” folks who have tried to post comments laced with name calling, vain attempts at labeling me, and attempting to inflict your self-proclaimed superior perspectives; I will not open up my blog for you to pontificate and voice your opinions. It’s so cute that you are so upset over me simply letting my fans know I’m not coming this year and why. XOXOXO

  7. Bought my badge for 2020, and was able to kick the can down the road to this year. I’ll be going. Mask/No-Mask – don’t give a shit. Wore one at Gamehole Con and had a great time around the table. Ideal? No. But hell even in the pre-COVID days you never had a perfect table as many gamers lack a lot of the basics when it comes to behaviors and hygiene. That’s been a joke for decades. Haven’t checked the badges yet, but as long as I can check “none” for pronouns, who cares? Happy to respect how folks want to be called (I usually just default to their names anyways), but I don’t engage in that

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