Opinion by Richard Bleil
’tis the time of season again. Time for conventions, fests and fairs!
In a couple of weeks (November 10 through 13 to be precise), my friend’s convention will be with us again. This will be the fourteenth consecutive Nanocon convention. I am proud to say that I was at the very first one, and murdered somebody at one of them as well. It’s sponsored by a university where I had worked, and started by their game club. The institution itself claims itself to be the state’s technology institute (they are doing better now, but when I was there all it meant was that they purchased the newest computer gadgets, including a retinal scanner that opened a secure door inappropriately on scanning the eye of the daughter of one of the state regents). As such, their game club promoted every type of gaming except computer games (which was deemed to belong to the computer science program), including board and card games, role-playing games (like dungeons and dragons), hobbies and more. My friend started both the club and the con, and they would often invite me to do strange things, including a chemistry demonstration show (I blew things up) and a murder mystery. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Game conventions are great activities. Sometimes the gamers get a little bit too involved, refusing to take time away to even bathe, but that’s part of the charm. Vendors offer games like you’ve never seen, like a card game that is one of my favorites called “Lunch Money” (although the first version I played was “Beer Money”. It’s a delightful dark humor card game approximating a schoolyard brawl where everybody is trying to steal everybody else’s lunch money. It’s a VERY fun game to play if you have highly animated friends.
This same friend that started Nanocon also introduced me to my first renaissance fair put on the by Siouxland Renaissance Association. This is a delightful one-weekend-a-year festival in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in early June. Unlike the gaming convention, a renaissance fair is a great opportunity to dress in costumes (many made by the fair goers themselves) based on Renaissance designs, learn about the past and one of the most culturally rich and growing periods in history, and enjoy some great entertainment. There are such fairs across the country (undoubtedly there is one within driving distance for you). Some have permanent locations, and others, like the SRA, pack everything up in trucks and rent a venue.
Renaissance fairs are great for revisiting the past. There are many things to see and do, great foods, and from what I have seen, only about half of the fair goers actually dress in “garb”, so you would be equally comfortable attending in period garments, or in street clothes. Either way, be ready for surprises, great learning entertainment, excellent food and souvenirs, and fun.
Time was that there were great science fiction conventions as well. These were often based on series like Star Trek and the Star Wars movies. I’m guessing they are still out there, but these days “anime” conventions seem to be on the rise. I’ve not been to either, and I often wonder if the science fiction conventions have morphed into the anime cons, or if they’re being “edged out”. Both still occur on a regular basis. I do know that I’ve often wanted to go to a sci fi convention, stand in the middle of people dressed in Star Trek garb on one side, and Star Wars garb on the other and just shout, “Star Trek Sucks!” (or Star Wars) as discretely as possible and watch the fun. Of course, the Firefly fans would just sit back and laugh at the chaos. And if you don’t know what this means, seriously, go watch the Firefly series. It didn’t last long, so it’s a short binge, and the movie “Serenity” is sort of the “wrap up” to the series. It is fun.
The sad reality is that many people have never been to ANY such fair. Truly, it’s their loss. Many of these events are free or at least inexpensive for entry, and unlike things like state fairs, most of the activities are free with entry. You don’t have to pay to see the shows; you don’t have to pay to play the games; you do have to pay to eat the food. Okay, so there’s that, but I’ve yet to be at a Renaissance Fair that charges for me to attend a joust. Think about that; grown men (I don’t know of any such fairs with female jousters, but I don’t see why there couldn’t be) on huge horses charging at each other with deadly weapons trying to knock each other to the ground…for no additional charge! It’s unheard-of. These fairs are attractions in their home town, and if you live near one, attending not only expands your personal experiences (which is the basis of many of my blogs, stories and jokes), but it also supports these groups, and your communities by drawing in people to the fairs from outside of the community, and is a way to attract more cultural events to the area.