On top of the game: Annual event draws characters of all kinds


NDIANAPOLIS — GenCon, the granddaddy of all fantasy conventions, rolls into the Indiana Convention Center from Aug. 17 through 20 for its annual four-day celebration of games, Gary Gygax and all things geek.

Who’s Gary Gygax? Why, he invented Dungeons and Dragons, only the most popular fantasy role-playing game of all time.

This year, GenCon — which began as a gathering of gamers in Geneva, Wisconsin, (hence, the name GenCon) — celebrates its 50th anniversary. Since moving to Indianapolis in 2003 (with plans to stay until at least 2021), attendance has more than doubled, from 23,000 to 61,000.

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Gaming enthusiasts gather to try out new games, enjoy old favorites and browse dozens of vendor booths highlighting classics and new hits in pop culture.

But for many, the real fun is the people-watching. Everywhere you turn at GenCon, there’s someone in costume.

Given that four-day passes, along with the Sunday family passes and single-day passes for Saturday have sold out, record attendance levels are expected this year.

All of which begs the question: who goes to these things, anyway?

Greg Chaney, for one. The 62-research chemist and Greenfield resident has been a regular for the past five years.

As an amateur photographer, Chaney thought he would enjoy attending GenCon to see all the cosplayers dressed up as comic book heroes, video game characters and pop culture icons. He’d heard about GenCon from friends and co-workers, but had never been.

In 2012, he attended his first GenCon and has been back every year since. He usually attends Thursday, Friday and Saturday (by Sunday, he’s too tired, he said), and comes home with between 4,000 and 5,000 photos.

“There’s nobody out there more skilled in props and costumes than these guys,” Chaney said. “Cosplayers tend to be very creative people.”

Attend any cosplay convention, and you’ll see the regulars: Pikachu, Spider-Man, countless Jedi warriors, Hobbits, wizards, Harry Potter and the ubiquitous Deadpool — but Chaney never tires of it.

He especially enjoys when an attendees blend two genres or characters — creating a steampunk Santa Claus or a Muppet Stormtrooper, for example.

“Cosplayers are always looking for the next cosplay, and the photographers are always looking for the next really neat mashup,” Chaney said.

Chaney offers advice for other cosplay photographers. The cosplayers are a very friendly group — but always ask permission to snap a photo, he said.

“Cosplay is not consent,” he said, reciting an oft-heard fantasy convention mantra.

Ask about props, he suggested — the painstaking effort behind some of those costumes is as interesting as the characters they create, and cosplayers take pride in making sure every detail is just right.

GenCon was only the start of Chaney’s fascination with cosplay conventions.

He now attends up to five local cons a year including PopCon and the Indiana ComicCon.

“I was trying to see what all the cosplayers were up to,” Chaney said, “And I ended up meeting a lot of really interesting people and following them from convention to convention.”

He enjoys the vendor booths and has attended cosplay costume-building workshops, but he no longer dresses up.

“I used to,” Chaney admitted, “but it’s hard to take photographs when you’re in costume.”

The Rev. Aaron Jenkins, whose day job is tending to the flock at St. Michael Catholic Church, has been attending GenCon for more than a decade.

The Greenfield resident has never actually played a game while there, though. That’s because at GenCon, the Rev. Jenkins becomes Gamemaster Jenkins.

Over the course of the four-day event, he will put in 12-hour days running games instead of playing them.

Jenkins, 40, has been a gamer since he was a kid growing up in Rush County. It was an activity that, at times, left him feeling like a loner.

“I must have been the only kid that played games in Rushville,” he recalled.

But today, Jenkins knows many who share his interests. He’s a member of 19 & One, a miniatures and board gaming group that meets on the east side of Indianapolis.

According to the GenCon event catalogue, Jenkins and the other 15 members of the game group will monitor more than 110 gaming sessions from Star Wars miniatures games to Settlers of Catan.

Jenkins’ specialty is a modified 3-D Game of Thrones board game.

With permission from game company Fantasy Flight, Jenkins doubled the size of the game board and added 3D castles, mountains, forests and artificial snow — because in this game, winter is coming.

Other than leading games, getting together with friends is his favorite part of GenCon. Jenkins has been attending so long that he’s made friends from all over the country. He runs into people from his former parishes, and two priests from Oklahoma come to play his games every year.

“It’s very relaxed, just hanging out,” Jenkins said. “And it really is for everyone. Not just for one type. It’s a people-watcher heaven.”

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Love games? Tickets for this year’s GenCon are going fast. Tickets, info and more can be found at www.gencon.com.