This Con Is Haunted

Anime Expo 2010 LA Pac-Man and ghost

Lately there has been much discussion about “ghosting” conventions. If you’ve never heard the term, “ghosting” is when you attend a convention without paying for registration. Huge conventions can block off entire floors and use RFID badges, but most just have to accept that people will take advantage of the reduced hotel rate without actually supporting the convention that negotiated it.

As the debates continue on Twitter, one argument keeps surfacing: If the convention had better programming I’d pay for registration. First of all, a convention is never about the programming, it’s about the people. The word “convene” means come or bring together for a meeting or activity; assemble. Your registration pays for the space and environment where you can spend a weekend with like-minded PEOPLE. Without the convention and the thousands of dollars and volunteer hours that make it happen, there is no gathering.

With that up front, there is some validity to the concerns being voiced.

The Convention Starter Kit

Having attended or been a guest of a hundred cons at this point, there seems to be a standard set of “parts” that comprise any weekend nerd gathering. Stop me if you’ve been to this con before:

  • Main Stage area with projector screens, dance floor, enormous lighting truss, staff of ten or more, and enough PA for an outdoors Foo Fighters concert. It is usually empty.
  • Dealer room/den/dungeon/it’s a bunch of tables surrounded by hotel ballroom airwalls and your clever name doesn’t change that fact.
  • Large common-area space with tables for gaming, lunch, collapsing upon while hung over, etc.
  • Several classroom-sized panel rooms placed as inconveniently far from the previous areas as possible, usually on multiple floors.
  • Sparse decorations loosely related to that year’s con theme, if any. Typically these are obscured by… just about everything, but the artist is still proud as hell. (And they should be, usually their tiny posters look amazing in the two places the hotel will allow them to post.)
  • A video game room, which is either an assembly of minimum-requirement gaming PC’s or well-maintained 90’s-era quarter-munchers on free play. Because people will actually fly 1,000 miles and stay in a hotel just to play Guitar Hero all weekend with strangers.
  • Sci-Fi Edition: The video room, playing Anime by day and cheesy horror by night. This room is always packed, because nothing makes a con worthwhile like watching TV in a dark ballroom.
  • Furry Edition: The headless lounge. It’s always conveniently located near the Main Stage, well-populated, and… wait, why isn’t ALL the programming in here again?
  • Hotel rooms. Anyone not rich/skilled enough to own a kickass costume spends 90% of their time here, either partying or hung over.

Sunday Morning Panels

To be honest, I usually only see attendees flock to a panel room or main stage for two reasons: When someone legitimately famous is involved— Tracy Hickman, Marina Sirtis, Timothy Zahn, Lucky Yates, etc. Also when there’s a costume-heavy event— Fursuit dance competition, cosplay masquerade, etc. Anomalies exist, of course, but those two are the trending draws.

The One-Room Convention

I don’t have a tested solution for the monotony of con-going life, but maybe I can help with a single suggestion. If nothing else, picture this as a starting point and let the conversation begin here:

A convention with no panel rooms, only a Main Stage and an enormous hangout area just outside. The doors are always open and something is always happening. Speakers and events flow from one to the next with the coordination of a Vaudeville theater. There are two Headless Lounges: one is a section of the Main Stage area walled off by a scrim, so suiters can watch while they rest. The other is a section of the hangout area immediately outside.

GoH Collection at ConVergence 2014

Speaking of Vaudeville, at least one or two staff members or guests act as emcees throughout the day. These are people that should be opening for Patton Oswalt and have the ability to keep people’s interest during set changes. They know exactly what to say about the next event that will pique people’s interest and they probably have their own event scheduled on that stage at some point. They are fed a steady diet of caffeine until they collapse and the next emcee takes over.

During lunch/dinner breaks, a movie is played on the main stage. Yeah, that means licensing fees, but if you’re not renting a dozen panel rooms you can send that money to Swank Entertainment instead. Chair and dance floor reconfiguration would be the biggest logistical hurdle, but nothing that can’t be dealt with.

The only other official con space is the Dealer Room/Artists Alley/etc., but those never involve any programming anyway. They’re necessary parts of every convention— Furry, Sci-Fi, Steampunk, or whatever.

Raising The Dead

There will always be ghosts at cons. There will always be people who torrent my music because it’s not available in Ogg Vorbis format or cheap enough for their perception of artistic value or… Let’s face it, some people are just self-entitled assholes who want everything for free. But maybe we can engage some of them in a constructive dialogue. Maybe, just maybe, the convention experience will diversify a little, whether or not these douchebags decide it’s worth their $40.

We go to these cons because we have more imagination than the rest of the cubicle-dwellers. I’m sure we can dream up a different way to spend our vacation days.

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