I’m back from Gen Con 2015, so let’s talk about Gen Con…2012?!

I just flew home from Gen Con 2015, and boy, are my arms tired!

Gen Con dredges up a ton of emotions for me. While everyone else is busy talking about this year’s (awesome!) show, I can’t think about this year’s show without also thinking about my very first Gen Con. After all, that’s where I met the person I’d eventually work for, as well as so many others who have become lasting friends.

A photo posted by Beverly Reynolds (@beverlynoelle) on

Bikers in downtown Indianapolis during my first Gen Con

Don’t know what Gen Con is? Don’t worry – I didn’t either, three years ago, when I attended for the very first time. For the uninitiated, Gen Con is the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America (in 2014, over 56,000 people attended!), and it’s where people come to geek out over board games, card games, role-playing games…you get the idea.

TableTop stickers
TableTop stickers at our little table in 2012!

My first visit to Gen Con was a last-minute thing arranged by my bosses at the time. Back then, I was the marketing director at Geek & Sundry, a YouTube entertainment company that was fresh off the rather unexpected success of TableTop, a show about board games hosted by Wil Wheaton. With the overnight success of TableTop, and Gen Con being the biggest tabletop gaming show in North America…well, you can see why they were so keen to be represented there.

My trip to Gen Con was arranged last-minute, and I was dreading it with every fiber of my being. After planning Geek & Sundry’s activities at the inaugural VidCon (which is a great show, if you’re 15 years old) and the stress juggernaut that is San Diego Comic-Con, the last thing I wanted to do was go to another convention. But, the ticket was already booked, so off to Indiana I went.

I was to meet up with producer Boyan “Bo” Radakovich – an incredibly passionate tabletop gaming advocate I had met only once prior, during a serious 3-hour long affair planning for what would become International TableTop Day – and assist him in any way possible with his mission of forging relationships with game companies, as well as scouting games for future episodes of TableTop. I was so nervous at the idea that I nearly stayed in the hotel room my first day there. Once people found out how little I knew about tabletop gaming, would they take it out on the show? How would I even know what games were good enough for Tabletop?

I was so dumb.

Bev & Bo
We became such good friends, we rocked matching scarves at Christmas (made by fellow TableTopper Tabz!)

Bo made me feel at home instantly – no small feat considering he had to talk me down amidst throngs of tens of thousands of adoring TableTop fans. Bo taught me that while some of the games looked intimidating, the people behind them were anything but, introducing me to many of the nicest people I have ever met. More than that, he made sure I knew what tabletop gaming was all about. In between meetings with game companies, he would explain to me the games, designers, and relationships that were key to the success of both TableTop and the tabletop industry, and he never once made me feel stupid for not knowing these things already.

(To this day, I have not met a more enthusiastic advocate for tabletop gaming than Bo. He was a true guiding light through the darkness and insanity of the TV production process, and I can definitively say that we would not have had a show if not for him and his tireless efforts. He might not have been the face of the show, but to me and so many others that worked behind the scenes, he was its heart.)

Learning about tabletop gaming on my feet at Gen Con was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and it was a decisive turning point for me in the way I deal with people. I met so many people through TableTop – on-air talent, fans, designers, business people, journalists – and my experiences from my very first Gen Con have shaped the way I’ve dealt with each and every one of them since.

Here are the three things my first Gen Con taught me:

  1. Be kind to everybody.
    I have to get this one out of the way first, because it is the most important. As my friend Holly Conrad told me at Gen Con this year, “You don’t know what anyone is going through, and it’s not hard to just be nice to people.” She’s obviously right. It doesn’t matter who they are or how successful people seem, everyone is struggling with something. I have seen employees from “rival” companies be adversarial with one another simply because their companies compete in the same space, which seems so backwards to me – at the end of the day, you just never know how people will impact your life. For example, I met Rob Merickel at my first Gen Con when he was pitching Tokaido to be on TableTop, and now I work for him. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened if either of us had been a jerk, like if he’d made me feel dumb for not knowing who Antoine Bauza was at the time, or if I’d shot down Tokaido for the show (which would have been a mistake, since it’s an excellent game that was destined to be TableTop’s Season 3 debut episode)!
  2. Some people are only interested in what you can do for them.
    This was a very hard lesson for me to learn, post-Geek & Sundry. Once I had quit Geek & Sundry and no longer had access to Felicia Day or Wil Wheaton, a lot of people who were previously nice on the surface stopped responding to texts, or unfollowed me on Twitter, or did things that I can only classify as “dick moves.” At the time, I was devastated, but now I am grateful to have learned firsthand how low people can sink when they don’t think you’re important. It’s a reminder that is always at the back of my mind, and being a little bit more cautious has helped me immeasurably in business (and life!) since. (Plus, it also helps me remember the first point of being kind no matter what.)
  3. Some people are genuinely good people.
    Hold on to these people and never let go. I would never name names for the previous point, because even jerks have feelings, but I am ecstatic to be able to give you this little list of great people I met at my first Gen Con who have proven to be wonderful human beings since:

    • Rob Merickel of Passport Game Studios (duh!)
    • Caylie Sadin, a TableTop fan who has become one of my favorite people – as well as an excellent writer
    • Andrew Hackard and Phil Reed of Steve Jackson Games, who always make me feel welcome and included no matter what
    • My friends Josh “Cash Money” Cash, Matthew Duhan, Aaron Smith, and Michael Laundry, who I didn’t even see this year but made my first Gen Con so awesome that we’ve all been Facebook friends since

This year’s Gen Con was quite different. I’m no longer a layperson, and my experience was that of an exhibitor rather than a mouth-agape newcomer. (My official wrap-up for this year will be on the official Passport Game Studios blog and everything!) Still, the points above are principles I applied to every interaction I had this year – and will for every year to come.

See you next year!

Two weeks without money.

Note – I debated even writing this post, because I am aware of how privileged I am. For far too many people, a 2-week spending freeze isn’t an exercise – it’s just life. I ended up deciding to write this because I do think that habits like mine – unthinking, insidious, wanton spending – is a symptom of a greater, shared problem. My attitudes towards money are not only bad for me, they’re bad for society, and they’re bad for the kind of world I want to live in. As someone who idealizes a life based on experiences, and spending time with people, and eschewing harmful aspects of the society we live in, my actual habits don’t reflect any of that. Furthermore, that type of life will never be attainable for everyone if people like me keep feeding the cycle of mindless consumerism. I feel that’s something that’s worthy of another look.

I know I’m not alone in saying that my spending has become a sort of crutch for temporarily relieving the aches and pains of being a middle-class professional living in modern society. Feel ugly? Buy new makeup! Feel bored? Buy a video game! Feel poor? Buy designer clothes! (Not sure how that one is supposed to work.)

Like many other young(ish) professionals, my spending has inflated along with my income, and it’s crept up so slowly I didn’t even know it was happening.

It was only when I was on vacation for the first time in years that I realized – I’ve been prioritizing buying stuff over things like going on vacation and seeing new places. I was spending too much money on going out to eat forgettable meals because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I had a closet full of clothes that made absolutely zero sense for my life in LA. (Four winter coats? Uhh…) I was just spending, spending, spending, without ever stopping to evaluate why.

So, I took two weeks to stop all spending (groceries exempted!) just to see what attitudes and impulses popped up.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Impulse purchases are real, and destructive. Is grabbing a candy bar in the drugstore checkout line really such a big deal? Of course not. The thing is, I had dozens of those “candy bar”-type purchases throughout my previous month’s bank statements. Not only do they add up financially, they’re also completely forgettable. I would never have remembered that $5 nail polish if I hadn’t checked my statements, nor would I have really remembered ordering yet another t-shirt online at midnight. Forcing myself to table any purchases for two weeks showed me just how pointless these types of purchases are. My life sure isn’t any worse for not having spent $5 on in-app purchases for Alphabear.
  • I am not a great cook. I know how to make a few things reasonably well, but because most of my food came from restaurants, I never had to get better. Forcing myself to eat in really highlighted the limitations in both my grocery shopping strategy and my cooking ability. This was the hardest part of the challenge for me – and one I suspect will be the most rewarding to overcome. (An added incentive? Eating healthy meals at home helped me drop 4 pounds!)
  • When I did spend money, it felt kind of weird. I allowed myself a day off to go on a date, where I purchased movie tickets ($18) and a large popcorn ($7). I normally wouldn’t think twice about that sort of spending, but it just felt a little strange. Not necessarily a good or bad thing – I think I was just being more aware of what I was doing for the first time in a long time.
  • Owning less is the answer. I was spending so much time and energy cleaning, storing, and maintaining my stuff, and I never stopped to think about that added cost. It certainly never crossed my mind while purchasing the stuff to begin with! Buying nothing made me take a closer look at the things I already owned – I figured I would “shop my closet” instead of shopping online – only to realize that I didn’t really like most of this stuff to begin with. Don’t underestimate how good it feels to discard stuff you don’t really like or need – when you’re left with only the things that make you feel good or are useful, it’s a strangely amazing feeling.

 

So…did I learn anything earth-shaking? Not really, but then again…kind of. I didn’t feel empty or bored without spending money, and it made me realize that most of the things we think of as “required” for living are truly optional. It’s something I already suspected, but having experience back it up feels like a turning point for me.

Would I do it again? Definitely. I am greatly inspired by Blonde on a Budget, who didn’t buy anything for a whole year (!!!) and is doing the same thing again right now. Could I make it a year? Could you? Maybe we should try.