The biggest ‘con’ of them all

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis now plays host to at least five conventions dedicated to the popular culture of comic books, wizards, anime, toys and science fiction, but the granddaddy of them all, the Gen Con Gaming convention, returns to Indianapolis from Thursday through Sunday.

Gen Con, a tabletop game convention whose name derives from Geneva, Wisconsin, where the convention was first held in 1967, was founded by Gary Gygax, who later went on to create the role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. It began as a small gathering but has since grown to include games of all types, from collectible card trading games to video games.

Big crowds are expected, so plan ahead. The 2014 convention hosted more than 56,000 attendees from all over the world taking part in some 14,000 different events.

There are many aspects to Gen Con that set it apart from the other conventions. One of those is the sheer size. The exhibit hall stretches more than 283,000 square feet with 412 exhibitors. It can take all day, and sometimes two, to wander through the whole thing. With merchandise for collectors, original art, writers hawking comic books and novels, and the dozens of games to discover and try, many con attendees spend the majority of their time in the exhibit hall.

Then, there’s the cosplay factor. Cosplay, short for costume play, is a growing national industry that makes dressing in character something of an art. Cosplayers dress as royalty, historical figures and pop culture figures from video games, comic books and movies.

Greenfield resident and four-year Gen Con attendee Amanda Greene sees the convention as a mini-vacation from real life. She has dressed up every year as Misty, a character from the trading card game, Pokemon, but this year, she’ll be debuting a new steampunk costume. Steampunk is a mash-up of Victorian design and technology.

“I’ll be wearing a skirt-corset combo with contraptions that look like they’re steam-powered,” Greene said.

The cosplayers strolling around Gen Con on any given day leads to many fans attending just for the people-watching. Whether you dress up or not, there is no doubt just sitting on a bench in the Convention Center and watching the steady stream of human interest roll by can provide hours of entertainment.

Gen Con hosts 14,000 different events that include seminars on sexism in graphic novels, game instruction and tournaments, craft workshops for costumes and more.

As a puppeteer, Greene is most excited about the seminar on the state of puppetry today. Greene will be teaching puppetry as part of a technical theater course at Herron High School in the fall and looks forward to learning something she can use in the classroom.

Given the event’s origins, it should come as no surprise that the event catalog lists hundreds of Dungeons & Dragons-genre role-playing events, the centerpiece of which is True Dungeon, a live-action version of the table-top game in which teams of participants work together to solve puzzles or fight off enemies within a time limit.

Jeff Chandler, one of two dungeon directors for True Dungeon, says that preparing for Gen Con each summer is a year-round project. He credits Jeff Martin with being the creative force behind True Dungeon’s success.

“He is the one who creates the story lines and all the puzzles,” Chandler said.

True Dungeon started at Gen Con in 2004 with just one seven-room dungeon and because of its incredible popularity has since grown to four dungeons covering 44,000 square feet. More than 8,000 attendees will go through over the four-day con, organizers said.

“True Dungeon sells out every year, and there’s a waiting list that’s pages long,” Chandler said.

And there’s a reason, he added.

“It is fun as all get out. All the nerds who grew up playing ‘D & D’ love it for the chance to actually walk through and use teamwork to solve the puzzles instead of rolling dice,” he said.

Passes for the full four days for $90, and single days are $55. Bargain-hunters might opt for the Sunday family pass, which admits a family of four for $35. More information can be found online at gencon.com.

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Christine Schaefer is arts editor and editorial assistant at the Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3222 or cschaefer@greenfieldreporter.com.