Seeing the Love: My Time at Video Game Fan Fest,
It was a chilly room, cooled by the frosty winds of the air conditioner on a hot summers day on the border of Virginia and Maryland. Not a big room, but one big enough to fit at least eighty people. The hotel was kind to give us a fair rate for two days, and that is all we needed.
I admit, I am not really a fan of conventions. ComicCon, PAX, MAGFest–all of them are either too big for my tastes or too fake for my liking. The saccharine sweet pandering to geeks and their interests, the obsessively long lines for panels, and the lack of interaction outside of the dealer booths; it never felt real to me. Fun yes, especially with friends, but not memorable. Thankfully, Video Game Fan Fest was the opposite of that.
For those who never heard of it, I don’t blame you. Video Game Fan Fest is an upstart convention that is looking to grow into something different than the standard con atmosphere, only in existence for the past six months. It is also the brain child of someone familiar to us all, Jason Pullara, who we all know as LordKat. The former contributor to Channel Awesome decided to gauge interest and actually do something many have talked about before, starting a convention as a meetup for his fan base, and anyone willing to join in the fun.
With only a $50 entrance fee for 50 people, LordKat was able to do just that, selling out of tickets in a month after planning the event. Finding a small meeting space in Alexandria, Virginia, LordKat set things up and asked everyone he could to contribute, bringing what they can to help make the Fan Fest memorable. The days came and went, and LordKat himself pretty much summarized the entire event in a short, to the point exclamation: “Fucking Awesome!”
Only thirty-five people out of the fifty ticket holders showed up, but the atmosphere was jovial and ecstatic. Even in the chilly meeting space provided by a small hotel, there was enough room to set up a playground for gamers of all stripes. A row of televisions and monitors would adorn left wall, sitting side by side each other numerous consoles from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The most modern being a Wii U attached to a HD computer monitor, while hundreds of games were packed and brought by many attendees to play.
Since all of the equipment was brought by attendees, extra care was taken to ensure nothing was damaged or lost. Inventory was kept, and areas of the room were designated official spaces for different styles of gaming. No one expected the cart filled with board games, brought by Patrick “ColdGuy” Burden, to pile high as a mountain on a rounded table, but the surprise was pleasant, adding more fun outside of a control pad for those attending the Fan Fest.
Everything was held together by tape and chewing gum, but it gave a feel of accomplishment that this is not only doable, but worth doing. Wires were stashed everywhere, sometimes running the length of the room as PC’s and TV’s were set up to play games once more. Consoles were strewn all over the place, while mountains of games of all stripes, from Famicom cartridges to plastic Wii cases, were piled in the corners of the room. The games would be moved around like puzzle pieces, opened and closed after hours of play time. From Monopoly to Arkham Horror, the board games were as popular as the consoles on the sides, but that didn’t stop players breaking out a game of Gauntlet or Madden to spend some time.
It was truly a pot-luck atmosphere, one where the community of con-goers worked together to set up the room for ease, and make sure the games were handled with care. Smash Bros. was played to death, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a favorite on the NES, a Jenga game went 24 moves before the tower fell. Prizes were even given out, autographed photos of Wesley Crusher and the 5th Doctor were rewarded for winners of a Poker tournament and a rousing game of Red Dragon Inn.
It was the little things though that made the weekend special. Pitching in with strangers to order dinner together, laughing at the hysterical dialogue of House of the Dead, or screaming in agony while being defeated at Jungle Speed. It was discovering you can find hats offline in TF 2, while we learned the rules of a board game like Puerto Rico. It was a wondrous occasion, all captured in a brief moment of time in all our lives.
It was a moment in time that I shall not forget, a moment where games can be at a con in their most natural habitat. Where they can be loved, respected, and above all else, played by the fans who made the journey to bring them to others. LordKat is already planning the second Fan Fest for next year, and hopes that it can become bigger and better as the event grows. It is still in the early stages of planning, which is to be expected considering the event just ending. But enthusiasm by those attending was high, so now the question will be if interest can be sparked.
If nothing else, I hope it succeeds. Despite the lack of celebrity, space, or even organization, Video Game Fan Fest had something other cons tend to lack. It had heart. It was love that was clearly seen on the smiling faces of those in that meeting room on a hot, summers day.
For more photos of Video Game Fan Fest, they are uploaded here. All photos are courtesy of Jeremias Brantholm.