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Bringing Skepticism to GenCon 2010

Here’s the truth – I might be guilty of many, many counts of geekery, but I am not, nor have I ever been a gamer. Which is why going to the huge gaming convention GenCon probably wouldn’t have occurred to me. But that was before I learned from Don Riefler – Supreme Speaker Conjurer for Skepchicamp – was putting together a small-scale skeptic “track” there. So I signed up to present, and also asked Don to describe what the whole deal is all about. His answers to my questions follow.

So, GenCon. What’s up with that? When, where, what? Give us the details.

Gen Con is officially the biggest gaming convention on the face of the planet. It’s tagline is “The Best Four Days in Gaming,” and that’s right more years than it’s wrong. It’s in the Circle City, Indianapolis, Indiana, Thursday through Sunday August 5-8, and it draws upwards of 30,000 assorted geeks, nerds, and dorks every year. It’s one of the original and oldest gaming cons, dating back to the early days of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and the stone age of Dungeons and Dragons. Every years they fill the Indianapolis Convention Center with many-sided dice, dungeon master screens, and Magic cards, but that’s not all they do. They have video games, comics, famous fantasy and sci-fi authors and artists, actors from A to Z list, and even some Mythbusters a few years back. They’ve had Ghostbusters and members of the crews of Serenity and the Galactica (old and new) and Peter Mayhew, the guy inside Chewbacca, who is really quite huge. This year’s big awesome guest is Wil Wheaton, and I, for one, can’t wait for that.

How are skeptics getting involved in GenCon? Why did you think it’s important they become involved?

We are getting involved at the grassroots level. None of us throwing down at Gen Con are professional speakers, just regular old skeptics with something to say. We got involved originally because some ghost hunting groups were creating an increasing presence at Gen Con and misrepresenting science in their lectures (our original crew attended their EVP talk in 2008 and was less than impressed) and we thought some balance was needed. With the size and popularity of Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack, we figured it was time to try something like that in the Midwest.

What skeptic activities do you have on deck for GenCon?

Jeez, where to start? We have sixteen presentations of different kinds, probably about a dozen unique with a couple of repeats. The big headliner, as far as us original Gen Con folks are concerned, is our panel called “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture.” It’s a free-form panel loosely based on the one we put on last year where we’ll try to talk about whatever topics the audience demands. That’s hardly all, however; we have talks on pseudoarchaeology, cryptozoology, cargo cult science, financial scams, goofy e-mail forwards, evolution, and even a workshop given by yourownself Ms. Jen Myers the skepchick about building local skeptical communities. By far the most important thing we’re doing, however, is our fundraiser to benefit the Indiana Immunization Coalition. Gen Con was good enough to donate us a booth in the exhibit hall and we’re all plying our individual talents to shake people down for money to benefit vaccination education in Indiana. I’ll be doing simple card tricks and possibly some cold reading and playing goofy songs on my guitar, our volunteer Keira is knitting dice bags to trade for donations, and one guy even offered to give out IT advice for donations.

Plus we’re planning a meetup/dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Downtown Indy for Friday night at 7 PM so all of our volunteers can get together and hang out at least one night of the con. From there we’ll probably go to the White Wolf Gaming party, which is always a goofy, gothy good time. There’s better heckling there than just about anywhere else I’ve ever been…

We’ll also be dressing up in a multitude of costumes, like the 10th Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness, but that’s neither here nor there.

What kind of goals do you want to see skeptics at GenCon eventually reach?

We’d definitely like to eventually have official recognition as a part of Gen Con, which isn’t entirely out of the question but will require work. Fellow Skeptic and author Michael Stackpole told us last year it took him forever to get an official Writer’s Symposium, so it may be an uphill battle but I don’t think it’ll be impossible. From there, we’d like skepticism at Gen Con to provide for the Midwest what Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack provides for the south: a great big skeptical subsection at an awesome, geeky convention. We hope to someday attract some of the bigger names that help make Skeptrack such a big success every year, but at the same time we want to keep it a bit more grassroots. We’re doing this from the bottom-up, and we don’t want to write ourselves out of our own convention.

At the end of the day, though, our goal is to present our point cogently and have a good time doing it. Last year’s panel was a blast and we hope that with more programming this year we’ll have even more fun and reach even more people.

Do you think it’s a good idea to try to change the name to JenCon instead? Just curious.

I think the Gen Con people might resent the name change, but everyone else will keep on coming. Personally, I prefer DonCon, but that’s just me. I mean, it rhymes and stuff.

What do people have to know about attending? Is there still time to volunteer?

Well, badge preregistration is over as of early [July}, but there are still as many badges as you like available at the door. My advice, as a veteran Gen Con attendee, is to show up on Wednesday night and buy your badge then. If you try to buy it Thursday morning, you might run into a long line. You can check out the many thousands of events up for grabs at genconreg.com. There are RPGs of all kinds, TCGs, poker games, board games, strategy games like Warhammer, panels, presentations, workshops on everything from making foam weapons to making chainmail dice bags, and even more. You can find and read about our events there, too, of course.

And yes, there is definitely still time to volunteer, and we would be deeply indebted to anyone who did. We need to have full coverage in the fundraiser booth at all times as a condition of our getting it, and right now we still have some holes to fill. Anyone who wants to volunteer to help raise money for vaccine education can drop by our website at skepticalgamers.com, where the most recent newspost has a link to a GoogleDocs spreadsheet schedule that’s open for anyone to edit. Anyone who wants to help out can just put their name in some of the slots and show up at the booth ready and raring to go. And don’t worry about doubling or tripling up coverage; it would be lonely if there was ever only one person there.

And anyone who just can’t live without giving an awesome presentation at Gen Con can feel free to contact me using the contact form on the website so we can get a jump on next year’s programming. Panels, talks, workshops, musical acts (we may be getting Greydon Square to perform in 2011; remember him?), skeptical stand-up comedy, if you have it, we’ll take it. The more the merrier.

You can find out all the details about skeptic presentations at GenCon at the Skeptical Gamers website.

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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11 Comments

  1. I’ll be at Gen Con! I’ve been going every year for the past five or six years. Especially now that I don’t live in central Indiana, it’s a great opportunity to see my friends from college. I’ll see if I cant work some of these events into my schedule.

  2. As a board game fanatic I’ve always wanted to go to Gen Con. I’d be willing to bet there is a healthy amount of woo involved there, so having a skeptic panel should be good.

    While you’re there, check out Dominion; it’s an awesome card game.

  3. How is it that GenCon is no longer at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin? When did it move? (google, google, google) A few decades ago?! Christ I’m old.

    @banyan: I’d be willing to bet there is a healthy amount of woo involved there, so having a skeptic panel should be good.

    I think you’d be surprised. You’ll find a lot of woo at renfests, but there is not much woo among the gamers. For one thing the pagan/demonic nature of many of the role-playing games keeps out most of the serious religious types away. I gamed for years and only ran across a couple of people who self-identified as religious. On the other hand it may be even more fertile ground because of this because the crowd is unlikely to dismiss skepticism out of hand.

  4. Oh, how I miss GenCon! It used to be here in Milwaukee, where I have lived for most of my adult life. My husband and I were devastated when it moved. SciFi Saturday was our standing anniversary date, as it always landed somewhere near August 9, our actual anniversary date.

    Now that it’s in my hometown of Indianapolis, you’d think we’d manage to get down there once in a while. Sadly, no. But since I now know there is a skeptical presence, maybe I’ll make it next year. (And I’m awfully jealous of the meet-up at the Rock Bottom! Love that place!) Have a great time!

  5. Did you know:

    GenCon’s Skeptic Track Organizer is also the Director of Ninja Moves for the WTF!

    That’s not what’s on his business cards… mostly because as a ninja, you don’t hand out business cards. But he is on the board of directors. Because he’s a great ninja. And he’s a great designated driver for his hot wife… and hot drunk wives are our target demographic! (along with other wives as well as unmarried women of all temperature and blood alcohol levels)

  6. I’m so excited!! I managed to finish 5 dice bags so far and I’ve started on the 6th. Hopefully people deem them worthy of donations :)

    Oh and FYI, just as a correction, it’s spelled Kiera :D. Common mistake!

    Sad I can’t make the dinner. I will be at a true dungeon run– going to see if we can still drop by afterwards.

  7. In high school many years ago, there were four of us who hung out all the time. Among other things, we were all big Dungeons & Dragons geeks. Eventually 3 out of 4 of us turned out to be atheists. One guy thinks that it was the D&D playing that did it. I’d don’t really buy that explanation, but maybe there could be some correlation if not causation.

    Also, Jeff Dee of “The Atheist Experience” and “The Non-Prophets” tv show & podcasts was an artist for the first edition D&D books and modules.

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