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American Studies/History/Culture/Folklore

Gen Con!

Gen Con is one of the largest and most prominent annual gaming conventions in North America. It features traditional pen-and-paper, board, and card-style games, including role-playing games, miniatures wargames, board games, live action role-playing games, collectible card games, non-collectible card games, and strategy games. Gen Con also features computer games. Attendees engage in a variety of tournament and interactive game sessions.

Gen Con 2010 brought in just over 30,000 attendees, which makes the convention similar in size to Dragon Con and FanExpo’s Game Expo, larger than Origins (14,000+), and smaller than E3 (40,000+).

Gen Con began in 1968 as a wargames convention, held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin by Gary Gygax, who would later go on to co-create Dungeons & Dragons and by doing so initiate the roleplaying game phenomenon. The convention’s main site was moved to various locations in Wisconsin from 1972 to 1984, until settling on Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1985. Other Gen Con conventions were held sporadically in other locations around the United States. Beginning in 1990, Gen Con conventions were also held in several European locations, as well as in Australia as Gen Con Oz from 2008-2010.

Gen Con became the property of TSR, Inc., the gaming company co-founded by Gygax in 1976. In 1997 TSR (and its owned property Gen Con) were acquired by Wizards of the Coast, which was subsequently acquired by Hasbro. Hasbro then sold Gen Con to the founder and former CEO of Wizards of the Coast, Peter Adkison, in 2002. One year later, the convention relocated to its current home in Indianapolis, Indiana (although that had been planned prior to Adkison’s purchase).


The convention features a large exhibit hall filled with game publishers, artists, and related businesses. It is a popular attraction and frequently very busy. The majority of attendees spend at least $100 in the exhibit hall. Most Gen Con attendees are men between 20 and 39 years of age who earn more than $50,000 per year.

The only game to be on the event schedule every year since Gen Con I is Fight in the Skies (later renamed Dawn Patrol), first introduced by game designer Mike Carr in 1968 and a fixture on the schedule every year since.

The D&D Championship Series (formerly the D&D Open) is a long running series of Dungeons & Dragons games at Gen Con. Game sessions are scored based on the team’s progress; those groups scoring the most advance to later rounds. This leads to an emphasis on quickly solving challenges and moving through the modules. The D&D Open is currently run by the RPGA (Role-Playing Game Association). The open began in 1977.

The gaming group NASCRAG has run Dungeons & Dragons events at Gen Con since 1980. NASCRAG events sometimes donate their ticket fees to charity. The games run tend to be humorous.

The RPGA runs large numbers of events at Gen Con. They run so many events that they are given their own category (RPGA) instead of sharing the general RPG category. These days RPGA events are primarily “Living” games where players create characters who persist between events. The RPGA first ran events in 1981.

In 1987 a games library was added from which attendees could borrow games. The library is currently run by Game Base 7.

MIDI Maze, an early networked first-person shooter video game run by the Milatari Atari computer user group, was a draw to the early video game room of Gen Con. It no longer runs at Gen Con; the original display now appears at the Midwest Gaming Classic.

The Klingon Jail and Bail are a group of people who dress as Klingons from Star Trek. For a donation to charity they will “arrest” and detain another convention attendee for a short period of time. The Jail and Bail originally appeared at Gen Con in 1993.[42]

Appearing in 1994 was the first Magic: The Gathering World Championship, won by Zak Dolan, who defeated France’s Bertrand Lestrée in the finals.

Gen Con has also featured a number of events that raise money for a variety of charities. These include Cardhalla, in which donated cards are used to build a large city. Attendees are then invited to throw coins at the city to destroy it. The coins are collected for charity. Cardhalla was first run in 1999.

The Gen Con EN World RPG Awards (the ENnies) are an annual awards ceremony devoted to role-playing games. Established in 2001, the ENnies are hosted at Gen Con Indy (since 2002) and are organized and owned by EN World, a D&D/d20 System news website.

True Dungeon is an immersive life-sized dungeon crawl live action role-playing game (LARP), run at Gen Con since 2003. It features a challenging series of puzzles and scenarios designed to recreate a D&D environment and session. It emphasizes team work, creative thinking and problem solving, as well as employing a fighting and magic system; furthermore, unlike traditional LARPs, it does not require staying in-character throughout the experience.

The Gen Con Costume Contest runs Saturday evening at Gen Con Indy, and features a range of categories such as SciFi, Historical and Fantasy, Talent, Anime and Children’s divisions. This event is preceded by a costume parade, in which all costumed attendees are invited to show off their costumes around the convention center. The contest itself generally fills quickly, both for participants and attendees, and features pre-show and intermission entertainment.

Over Gen Con history, a number of games have been announced or released at the convention. Plans to update the D&D game with a third edition were announced by Wizards of the Coast at Gen Con 1999 as the game celebrated its 25th anniversary; the third edition of the D&D game debuted the following year at Gen Con 2000, with the release of the new Player’s Handbook, while the fourth edition was announced at Gen Con Indy 2007. White Wolf Game Studio’s New World of Darkness game line debuted at a party held during Gen Con 2004. Gen Con 2007 added a Trade Day to the schedule for the first time ever. This is an additional day of programming for industry insiders and retailers, held the Wednesday before Gen Con opens to the public.


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