Gaming is often thought of the exclusive territory of guys, but more and more women are taking their place at the table.
In the seven years Jondi Soper has attended Gen Con, she’s seen a marked increase in the number of women attending.
“Before, it was guys dragging their girlfriends around the convention,” she said. “Now you see a lot of women dragging their boyfriends around.”
Jen Corbett said her Dungeons and Dragons-playing father got her gaming nearly 20 years ago. It’s a family affair — her brothers, sisters and several cousins also play.
“If you don’t dress like your typical gamer geek, like in jeans and a T-shirt with your hair pulled back in a ponytail, some guys (who don’t know you) might think, 'Oh crap, we’re going to have to teach her to play,’” Corbett said.
Corbett’s younger sisters are more casual gamers, and she feels they may be concerned about the potential negative, geeky stigma attached to gaming. She said that’s perhaps the largest obstacle most women need to get around. However, the emergence of role models such as The Guild star Felicia Day has made women freer to enter the male-dominated community, and that’s led to a backlash, said Soper.
“You always have to prove yourself,” Soper said. “Some guys will ask you all these specific or obscure questions, and if you can’t answer them, they won’t think you belong. Guys don’t ask other guys those same types of questions, but we have to? If you like games, you’re a gamer.
“We just want to sit at the table and play. We don’t want you to treat us differently or watch your language or anything. We’re gamers, just like everybody else.”
Gen Con attendees can spend thousands of dollars on a costume, but with some Styrofoam, fishing wire and an old trenchcoat, Brock Morgan was able to create a costume that has made him one of the most photographed convention-goers this year.
Cosplaying as Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus, Morgan says he’s been stopped hundreds of times during the convention. When I saw him at one of the vendor tables and asked for a photo, a brief flash of weariness crossed his face, but he quickly got into character.
The Swayze, Ind., native says he likes the attention, but the massive crowds at Gen Con were doing damage to his tentacles — in the span of a few hours, his mechanical claws (actually Styrofoam) had broken off from several of his arms because of people bumping into him. (If that had been a problem with the real Doctor Octopus, he likely would never have become one of Peter Parker’s most deadly villains, but he still would have been a cooler member of the Sinister Six than the Vulture.)
This isn’t the first time he’s dressed up in costume for the Con. Last year he and his friends came as the X-Men, with him as Havok. They’ve also dressed as various video-game characters for previous Gen Cons.
The highlight of the 2012 convention so far? Posing with Spider-Man's paramour, the Black Cat.
It takes a lot to make people’s heads turn at Gen Con. A 13-foot-tall latex dragon — not a euphemism — is one of them.
Tim Thurmond, aka The Balloon Sculptor, was about halfway finished with the massive creation Friday afternoon. He said he’d been bombarded with comments from admiring passers-by since he’d started work at 7:30 that morning. As Thurmond and I talked, two men dressed in medieval garb stopped by to chat; one identified himself as a sculptor and expressed his admiration. Thurmond beamed.
“It’s great when a fellow artist sees value in what I’m doing,” Thurmond said. “He gets what I’m trying to do here. It’s not a toy, it’s actually art.”
Thurmond has been doing balloon sculptures for 22 years, and like most great artists, he started because of a woman.
“I had a crush on a girl,” Thurmond said. “Her church had a clown school, so I did that. That’s where I fell into the balloons.”
I didn’t ask if he ever won the girl, but he did earn a Guinness Book world record in 2006, for creating 6,176 balloon sculptures in 24 hours.
Thurmond expects to finish most of the dragon Friday night, adding embellishments Saturday before the charity auction. He hopes a group of cosplayers will pony up a couple hundred dollars for his creation to use — and potentially destroy — in a YouTube video.
You can check out other examples of Thurmond’s work at http://theballoonsculptor.com.
The execs at Nintendo must thank the gaming gods on a daily basis. Its Pokémon franchise has been running strong for over a decade. Just consider the fact that over 800 people - children, parents, college kids, all walks of life - turned out to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game and its separate video games at the Indiana Convention Center June 25.
Hordes of people crowded around the competition areas. Family, friends and foes stood outside the cordoned off game tables as rivals did battle on their Nintendo DS systems in the National Championship last chance qualifier. Many of the battles were played on large flat panel TV's for onlookers to observe. Some had their cameras and digital recorders out, maybe doing some recon or documenting strategy. Only 16 people would move on to play in the video game nationals June 26.
It's tough to remember the Pokémon video games ever being spectacularly complicated, but apparently, there is tons of strategy that goes into putting together a team for the video game competitions. World championship competitor Mike Suleski said there are so many factors in constructing a team of Pokémon that'll win, and you have to have some luck on your side. Suleski flew from Arizona for to qualify for the national bout and he did just that.
One competitor from Elkhart, Ind. enlightened me on the strategy side of the game. Derrick Bettis, a Purdue Lafayette senior, explained that different Pokemon and teams, in general, have specific jobs to do, such as limiting the number of turns the opponent has to achieve victory.
Across the gigantic convention hall, the Pokémon TCG players of the Master's Division (that's the division for competitors as young as teenagers, all the way up to the one 68-year-old player I found listed) chattered away. The competition seemed a little bit different than the battling between the video gamers, some of which shouted, just loud enough for onlookers to hear and with a tone of indignation, "Play better next time so you don't have to rely on a critical hit!"
The card players quietly shuffled their decks but stampeded to see who they were playing in the first round of competition. World Champion card player Jason Klaczynski, 24, said, "Pokemon people are too diffident to talk crap."
He said the game is "one of the friendliest games in the world." That might explain why all sorts of people, including the 68-year-old and a guy who shaved half his head and flipped his hair over (think Gary Oldman from The Fifth Element), look to Pokémon for competition and recreation. Who wants to play (competitively or not) with a bunch of mood-killing elitists?
Public relations for the event counted 5,000 people coming and going at the 2010 Pokemon National Championships. You might have to be an avid player to understand the game and the craze, but anyone can understand competition.
It was serious business. Of course, there was the one intelligent kid that figured out how to turn a profit (I bet it was a racket) with the cards and then the principal of my elementary school banned them all, from the holographic Charizard (which, to this day, I have never seen in hand) to the boring energy cards.
And it still is serious business. Twelve years later, the card game still has new releases, there has been at least 30 video games across at least five platforms produced, multiple films have complimented the show, and the franchise has become a permanent fixture of nostalgia for 90's children.
That's why 6,000 Americans competed to earn one of 192 spots at the Pokémon Video Game National Championships here in Indianapolis this weekend (June 25-27). That's why there's a last chance qualifier to get into the competition Friday at the Indiana Convention Center (all events take place there). Registration for the Senior Division (that's anyone born in 1997 and earlier, geezers) starts at 8:00 a.m., and the Junior Division registers at 1:00 p.m.
As far as the actual trading card game goes, its National Championships are open to any U.S. resident. The event drew 1,200 competitors last year, according to a press release. Registration begins on Thursday, June 24 from 4:00 p.m. until 8 p.m., and continues Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 a.m.
If you plan on playing in the video game championships bring your copy of Pokémon HeartGold or Soulsilver and your Nintendo DS or DSi.
But what are the stakes? Winners and those who place earn themselves a spot at the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, along with scholarships (for the card players) and a rare in-game Pokémon (for the video gamers). For more information head to http://www.pokemonvgc.com. Probably a smart idea, there are tournament regulations and paperwork to fill out for gamers.
Now's the chance if you "want to be the very best."
Thankfully, the developers have given fans of the first person shooter the Resurgence map pack in exchange for 1200 Microsoft Points (for readers that live in the real world, that's about $15).
The five maps offer environments that are both new and old alike to Call of Duty players.
Why would teams of terrorists and soldiers choose to duke it out in a trailer park? Who knows, but you can add endless gun battles to the list of problems plaguing trailer parks, already including inclement weather, annoying neighbors and Colt 45.
Seriously, the map is tons of fun. The area has a bunch of junk and mobile homes to run through, but don't expect cover from bullets, because aluminum siding is definitely NOT bullet proof.
Fuel is an interesting map. It takes place in some sort of refinery with tall buildings to snipe from and some decent places to camp.
Sometimes developers have trouble making a balanced map. It isn't a problem with Fuel, which solidifies it as a fun, dynamic locale.
Carnival is just cool. Broken down roller coasters make for sweet sniping spots. An abandoned castle attraction gives unique vantage points over different foot paths.
Don't be surprised when the other team uses what could have been wholesome fun before a decade of disrepair to dominate the map.
Fans of the first Modern Warfare game should be happy to see this remake. The abandoned office building and adjacent outdoor zones seem to be taken verbatim from the original. But the graphical update is nice.
Strike is another revamped map. It's known for its wide streets, elevated sniper havens and narrow alleys. With papers strewn about the streets and decrepit cars rusting away, Strike is delightful to look at.
The new map pack is expensive. However, Infinity Ward has made some quality maps for avid Xbox 360 gamers. Happy hunting.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Resurgence map pack
1200 Microsoft Points (about $15)
[A+E] Classical Music
[A+E] Film + TV
[A+E] Written + Spoken Word
[A+E] Film + TV
[A+E] Film + TV