Five ways to enjoy cons, including the MileHiCon this weekend
Conventions -- or cons, in nerd speak -- are one of the best things about being a geek. A con is like a rock concert, a film festival and a super store all rolled into one. Only for nerds: Hundreds or thousands or even tens of thousands of us gather together, many of us in crazy-ass costumes and hang out for two or three days celebrating the things we love. That said, cons can be a little intimidating for newcomers, especially for the merely geek-curious. And that's a shame, because cons are often the most fun you can have with your clothes/costume on (or your fursuit, if it's that kind of con) and they are always open to newcomers.
Nan Desu Kan.
Here in Denver, we have a bevy of cons to choose from, celebrating just about every niche in fandom, no matter how popular or obscure. This weekend, one of the region's oldest cons, MileHiCon, is happening in the Hyatt Regency DTC, celebrating the literature of science fiction and fantasy as well as throwing in some fighting robots, a massive costume contest and all sorts of other con goodness. As a smaller con -- attendance is expected to be around 1,500 to 2,000 -- it's a great place to get your feet wet without getting overwhelmed. To further help with the acclimatization process, I've distilled my years of con-going (it's been more than 25 years since my first) into some advice to get you started, whether it's this weekend at MileHiCon or at one of our city's other fine cons.
5) Choose your con
All cons are awesome (well, almost all), but not all cons are created equal. In fact, all cons are more or less created for a specific niche audience. There are literary cons (like this weekend's MileHiCon), anime cons (last month's Nan Desu Kan), gaming cons (Genghis Con) and comic cons (Denver Comic Con, not to mention the world famous San Diego Comic Con). That said, no con is all that narrowly focused and they all bleed over into other geeky pursuits, because no one is just one flavor of geek. Comic cons in particular are more like all-media cons, covering video games, film, television and comics, with a little bit of everything else thrown in just for fun. Still, it pays to focus on what you like, so if you read a science fiction novel a wee, but can't understand the appeal of anime, you're going to have a better time at MileHiCon than Nan Desu Kan. If you're not sure, or you just kind of like everything, then any old con will do.
4) Engage the locals
As a rule, geeks are a friendly lot. They especially love introducing newcomers to things they love. So while you are wandering around your first con, bewildered and lost, don't be afraid to ask someone who looks more comfortable than you. Whether it's something as basic as, "Where are the bathrooms" or as specific as, "What are all those people dressed as?", there's always someone willing to help. So go ahead, ask what everyone is standing in line for, ask how long it took to make that super-elaborate costume, ask what brings them to the con, ask anything you like. Just don't be a dick -- ask out of sincere interest or need for assistance, not as a passive-aggressive way to insult someone or say something inappropriate (e.g. "Hey, how long did it take you to paint that costume on that hot bod?").
3) Don't gawk (too much)
There are a lot of people running around looking pretty damned strange at your average con. Yes, it is okay to look -- people don't dress up in costumes to be ignored. That doesn't give you free rein to eye-fuck anyone of your preferred sex who happens to be in a costume, though. An appreciative glance is fine, even to be expected. Following someone around and giving them the creeper stare ... not so much. Just don't be gross, and you'll be fine. If you really have a hard time not being a total voyeur, at least be discrete about it. Wear some mirrored sunglasses, maybe. No reason to make someone's skin crawl just because you're kind of a sleaze, right? Oh, and don't be a judgmental asshole, either. Just because you think someone is too fat/too thin/the wrong sex/whatever to be wearing a given costume, doesn't mean they don't have a right to wear it. Remember what your mom said about not saying anything if you can't say something nice and move along. (By all means, if you do have an appropriate compliment to offer, go ahead.)
2) Attend some panels and signature events
This might seem obvious, but it's all too easy to overlook the panels and events when there's a dealers' room to wander endlessly and weird people and things to gawk at everywhere you go. Who has time to seek out the little rooms full of people talking, or scour the schedule for the big events? Make time, because these are the bread and butter of con life. Panels are a way to interact with artists, writers and fellow fans, while signature events like the ubiquitous costume contests or con-specific specialties like MileHiCon's robot-battle extravaganza the Critter Crunch offer an entertaining spectacle. Some of the more popular events might have a line, but they're usually worth it, and you can always make a new friend while you wait.
1) Try something new
Sure, you picked the con you're at because you love the thing it's focused on; obviously, you're going to immerse yourself in that thing as much as possible. But don't stop there! As I mentioned, all cons tend to incorporate a smattering of the same kind of events -- you'll almost always find an art show, some gaming rooms, film or television screenings -- no matter what their focus. That makes them a great opportunity to try out something you've always been curious about. Whether that means checking out the gaming rooms to find someone willing to teach you to play Magic: The Gathering at long last, or popping into a panel on costume-making, seize the chance to dip your toes into some new puddle of fandom in a risk-free, sure-to-be welcoming environment.