Over this past weekend, I attended Gamehole Con in Madison, WI. It was very last minute due to the way my work schedule gets released, and I was there only on Friday, the first day of the con, for a few hours in the afternoon. I knew full well that I wouldn’t be able to get in on any scheduled game, since they had pretty much all sold out prior to the show, but I figured it would still be a nice opportunity to be around games and gamers, especially because I didn’t go to Gen Con this year. So off to Madison I went.

Gamehole Con was a nicely put-together con. It’s a smaller show, but it had a dedicated fan base that was there bright and early to support it, managed to bring in a good amount of special guests (big benefit of being in Wisconsin/the Midwest, since there’s a large concentration of gaming luminaries in the area), featured a small but diverse Exhibitor Hall, and even had a special owlbear plushie unique to the con! The staff was also super nice and helpful, and I was impressed by the quality of the core con paraphernalia, like the badge, con booklet, goodie bag (with a d6, button, and sticker!), and branded merch that was useful at the show, like the plastic tumbler that included unlimited soda refills throughout the weekend. I would recommend this con in a heartbeat, especially to the D&D/Old School Fantasy crowd, as that was a big part of what I saw represented there.

My visit was nice, but I didn’t really do anything other than walk around, check out the vendors, oogle at the minis terrain, talk to a couple of friends I happened to see, and take some pics. It was nice indeed to be around games, but I didn’t have the chance to play anything, not even a demo. There were no pick-up games available, and while there was a game library, since I was there by myself, I had no one to play with. I walked the vendor hall three times, looking at pretty much everything, which took about an hour of my time. I ended up leaving about an hour before I had scheduled simply because I was bored and a bit bummed. This is when I realized that I may just not be made for cons anymore, at least not cons smaller than Gen Con.

Because of my hiatus from gaming since the start of nursing school, and continuing over the last 2-3 years, I feel like a long-lost expat visiting the motherland whenever I go to a con: it’s familiar, but unknown at the same time. I can remember the things I did, the things I liked, the good moments, but I can’t find the connection to the present, to creating new moments. Nursing allows me a good amount of free time, but it is also quite random in its availability, especially since I started working nights. In general, I tend to be off when most people are at work, or vice versa. It isn’t conducive to getting back into regular gaming; every time I’ve tried, I end up bowing out due to scheduling issues. So the itch remains unscratched, but it dulls out with the passage of time. Gaming is a thing I did, but that I don’t currently do at all now.

Because of my recent moves across the country in the past 2 years, I don’t have a set group of friends to go on gaming adventures with either. I have lots of good acquaintances all over the states, yes, but we don’t meet regularly at all. At Gen Con, at least, I can count on the largest concentration of these far-flung acquaintances and friends being in one place, but that’s not the case with most cons. Not attending with friends means not having built-in play partners, and while I’m outgoing with those I know, I am actually fairly shy and not likely to just reach out and meet new people to jump into a game with.

I also have an issue with cons-within-cons and the extra price these carry. If I’m paying $30-$90 for a convention badge (whether 1-day or full-weekend pass), it bothers me to have to pay separate charges for scheduled events. So to use an example from my trip to Origins last year, Games on Demand was running a few games I would’ve jumped into, but each one cost an extra $4 (or just about, from what I recall). So I ended up playing two GoD games with tickets I already had (still an extra $8 added to my badge cost), but if I had played in all the games I wanted to, that extra cost could’ve been $40 or more. GoD is just an example; this goes on for basically all scheduled events.

All these factors, which I have been musing on, and thinking about, since last year’s Origins, are things I can’t deny anymore. This is why I say I may not be made for cons anymore. Gen Con, due to its sheer size, may get a pass: I can spend lots of time in the Exhibitor Hall, find/create pick-up games with friends without paying extra, have lots to see if I just feel like wandering around for a while. Smaller cons, however, unlike I happen to know well in advance that I’ll be able to attend, can sign up for some scheduled games, and/or attend with people I know, may just be events I skip, rather than attending with the faint hope that I won’t feel like a spectator of a life I once had and enjoyed.

Next local con coming up is Midwinter Gaming Convention in Milwaukee, WI, from Jan 14-17, 2016. I still don’t know if I’ll have that weekend off (or of my baby daughter will have been born by then!), so I can’t make plans. So I’ll probably skip it.

But still a part of me dreams.