Last year I got back into town after a long absence and returned to DunDraCon, the local role-playing convention that I'd previously gone to every year since I was 13. I tried to rent a digital camera for the occasion but got outmaneuvered on the reservations tip. This year I tried again, at the same bastard camera shop that's the only place in the Bay Area I know of that offers digital cameras for rent, and got fucked at the last minute by a crackrock credit card acceptance and rental-deposit policy. I walked from the camera place to a nearby bank to see if there was anything I could do, grumbling to myself about the shitty attitude of every single employee I had come in contact with there, and I had a sudden realization: Hey! Wait a minute! I studied art for four years!

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The idea of drawing the con-goers and their surroundings held a few problems for me, though - the spectre of Jane Goodall hung over the proceedings. Whenever the press notices conventions of this nature, it tends to either go straight for cruel mockage, or to do this kind of condescending anthropology piece that has the ring of "pity these poor animals." Much is made of the costumed folk and the Big Guys Who Smell Interesting. (There were a few articles in Spin last year - one was about Magic: the Gathering and featured flat, clinical photos of puffy doughboys with decks of cards and big grins. I seem to remember another geek-phobic article, although I might be thinking of the one about teenaged modeling-school rejects (who, in some ways, might be hobby gamers' stereotypical female analogue?).) I want to get angry when I read these pieces, but I don't, quite; I get nervous, because after all, those big guys do show up to DunDraCon in droves. That fact makes me call my almost-political beliefs into question, and it keeps me gnashing at the question of geek culture like a cartoon piranha.

Condescension, if it came from me, would be not just morally wrong, but false: I come to the con to have an unironic good time. I know this place; it's come to feel like home. I don't find as much to do there as my brother, who plays in and runs eight-hour role-playing sessions in a heavily customized version of Dungeons & Dragons, and a newer (but out-of-print) system called Torg. My attention span doesn't have that kind of fortitude, so I stick to simple board games (simple, by con standards, meaning fewer than 50 counters on the board and a rule book shorter than 20 pages) and card games. I wander the hotel, periodically going through the small dealers' room, which this year featured as many booths for "game-related products" (T-shirts and tchotckes) as for game dealers and publishers. I look around the big open gaming rooms, full of dingy round tables that look a little naked without the tablecloths that usually cover them when they're used for wedding receptions or business conferences. I peek into the temporary video arcade and the anime screening room, and pass by the miniatures gaming rooms with their astroturf and green felt, giant robots and tiny armies, and styrofoam landscapes that look grand and chintzy all at once.

your reporterI did find myself having more judgmental thoughts this year as I first entered the crowded hall outside the Dealers Room before opening. Shouldering my way through the crowd, the asshole voice in my head seemed louder than it had been before. "Goddamn mutherfucker needs to take a shower, shit... smells like flatus and Doritos." This might have been because I took a cue from my friend Carl, and wore a three-piece suit. I was in gray wool from head to toe, except for the flimsy green Eddie Bauer faux-fedora. Carl, who I met through work and, as I discovered to my surprise, once worked at a small, local game company which had some big titles but made a series of colossal business mistakes, and is now hanging on by its teeth (and by its H.P. Lovecraft license). Anyway, he said he'd been at DunDraCon last year but the reason I hadn't seen him may have been that he was wearing a suit. "I just like to stand out a little from all the gamer dross, you know?" I decided to go with it, not because I have a lot of disdain for gamers, but because I feel like a badass in my suit and I wanted to fuck with people. One pair of goth kids watched me go by and said in hushed tones, "Look - the Man In Gray." I rock. (This year I saw Carl without his suit, and he still looked okay - like he definitely had a high-paying job and didn't really live the con life full time. We chatted, and he handed me a few business cards.)


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text and drawings © copyright 1999 Mike Sugarbaker