It was 78 degrees Fahrenheit, the sun was shining and there was a slight but steady breeze. It was, in effect, the perfect summer day. Inside a dark room with no windows, with a odor of mildew hovering right at the sense of perceptions, hundreds of men and women sat hunched over small tables in dim lighting. They had turned their backs on the joys of summer. They had traveled great distances to play board games. In Lancaster Pennsylvania, it was F:AT Thursday.
I grew up in the backwaters of central Connecticut. Unlike the image projected from Hollywood (generally as a reflection of New Yorkers) my tiny state is not all green pastures and flowing hills dotted with church steeples and quaint farmsteads. In fact, most of it is not.
It is filled with towns built up around the now dead mills that were strung along every river or stream. Inhabited not by trend setters but by blue collar people focused on doing their jobs and then drinking some beers. Cars and sports are subjects of interest not board games.
As a youth, I would feel isolated in that this strange attraction I had for games was not shared by very many others. Role playing was looked at with suspicion borne of ignorance and war games and hobby games were almost unknown.
So when I was flipping through a copy of Dragon Magazine I had acquired by forcing my father to drive me the 30 miles round trip to the one hobby store that carried it, imagine with what wonder I looked upon an ad for a convention of people who shared my love at a place called MECCA in Wisconsin. A place filled with people like me. Who shared my love of games. Where it wouldn't have to be explained or excused.
Oh, how I dreamed of one day making a pilgrimage there and how wonderful it would be. I never did though. Life gets in the way of many youthful dreams which are discarded or forgotten or set upon the shelf of "someday".
The years have gone by and I am a man now. The love of games remains but the isolation is long gone. Thanks to the internet, the greatest development of the late 20th century, I have found that there are many many people who share my love. No longer am I a solitary devotee. Now I am one of a great crowd. And that is awesome.
That longing to belong I had as a child, to make the journey to the early days of GenCon, is one of the driving forces behind my desire to attend conventions even now. It is what prompts me to take a week off of work and drive five hours down to Lancaster Pennsylvania to spend a week of beautiful summer days inside a dark, windowless room.
I derive an inner joy from looking across a room of table upon table of people playing board games. Many a curious glance my way to see what I am playing but never one of puzzlement. Many wondering how the game plays but never asking why.
It is possible to decry the less than perfect aspects of conventions and I have done so on occasion. But this does not stop me from attending nor will it. The sense of community and camaraderie makes up for all.
In the end I go because it is there that I fit in.