I am in the downtown of Indiana, beneath a sprawling mass of skybridges connecting every restaurant, hotel, and theatre, and there are nerds everywhere. Gencon is huge, like 20,000 people huge, and though the actual con doesn’t start until Thursday we’ve all gathered here early. When else can we be in a city where literally everyone wants to play a boardgame, so of course we want to be here as long as possible.
It really is absurd here, and it’s taking some getting used to. Without the con, this part of town would feel absurd anyway. It’s filled with large chain restaurants, so the whole area looks like the faux downtowns that pop up around a suburban movie theatre, with the nice tree-lined walking paths between the Best Buy and the Applebee’s.
Last night, I met my friends at our hotel and then we walked around the downtown: past the Regal Cinemas and the Buca di Beppo and the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and P.F. Chang’s to finally end up at a Steak and Shake. And every person we passed was either homeless or a super specific nerd, or some overlap of both. I’m in a city i’ve never been to before, but in a part of it that is consciously designed to be instantly familiar, and now filled with people who all look way too much like me.
Except not really–cos I do not keep up with my nerd creds and culture as enthusiastically as most of the people I see. I am honestly intimidated. I saw a dude at the crosswalk wearing a GI Joe shirt, but part of the GI Joe insignia was replaced by the millennium falcon. I don’t understand what this means, and this was one of the more accessible t-shirts. A woman in front of me picking up her burger wore a shirt that I think was a scene from reservoir dogs, but all the characters had masks that made them look like boba fett but also lesser-known DC superheroes. the shirt was probably meant to be all of these references at once, but based on a sentence once uttered on a podcast about some other pop culture fact, and then this sentence was illustrated and turned into kickstartered apparel line. She is undoubtedly not the only person here wearing this shirt.
My friends and I caught up on our lives, and our cities, and what games we wanted to play. But then we also talked about Steven Universe, and solarpunk, and the best moments from the last competitive Street Fighter championship, and specific subgenre of music we’ve been getting into that is meant to emulate the feeling of playing ridgeracer. So I know our conversation was equally intimidating gibberish to someone else.
There are several large hotels all around the convention center and all of them are filled. We are in one of the dingier one. It’s going through construction so much of the center lobby is shut down and covered, but even without that it’s designed like some post-apocalyptic galaxy prison, with 20 floors of identical grey doors all facing each other like a ringworld.
On each floor, every other window is lit up a pale yellow against the gray, indicating that there are folks inside that room and they’re likely playing some obscure euro game or homemade RPG. I’m on the 20th floor, and it’s 1am, and I can still hear chatter down below from the late night gaming happening in the closed restaurant lobby. This is one hotel in a downtown block of hotels. The con has not yet started. All of this is still the prelude.