A Survival Guide for Gaming Conventions

Creative costuming, friendly competition and a chance to spend time with like-minded individuals all contribute to gaming’s popularity. Gaming is big and getting bigger. Back in 2008, Australia’s Herald Sun bragged about the 117,000 visitors to Game On in Melbourne. That same year, Game On brought 99,500 people to the Barbican Art Gallery in London and 127,000 to Chicago. Comic Con is even bigger, with more than 151,000 people attending New York’s Comic Con in 2014. That’s up from 133,000 in 2013, according to BusinessInsider.

What a huge chunk of humanity all packed inside a convention center! How do you prepare for this cavalcade of gamers? This handy survival guide will help you navigate the crowds while staying healthy and having as much fun as possible.

Travel Tips

Plan ahead! Ideally, sign up for a con eight months in advance. The longer you wait, the more trouble you’ll have finding a place to stay close to the con. If possible, arrive the day before the action starts. You’ll want to settle in, check out the lay of the land, eat something healthy and get a good night’s sleep. Or, perhaps, party all night with friends new and old.

Definitely preregister for the conference. This helps you avoid mile-long lines and snag the best choices of activities. Get your badge the night before the official start of the con, if possible.

If you can’t stay at the official hotel, find lodging as close as you can. Proximity to the con cuts down on taxi costs and public transportation hassles. Try to stay within walking distance. A little fresh air to and fro might even improve your gaming.

Finding decent food is always a hassle at cons. Expect expensive chow and crowded facilities. If you can adjust your mealtimes to eat early or late, you may save time waiting for a table. Calling ahead and ordering food to go also cuts wasted time. Some cons, including Gencon, now feature a food truck area.

Items to Bring

A good backpack is your friend. Its equal distribution of weight reduces shoulder and neck strain.  And you can fit your important stuff inside, leaving your hands free.

But what to fill your backpack with? Pack as lightly as possible. You will probably be lugging your pack many miles around the convention floor and exhibitors’ hall.

First, gaming essentials. You might want to bring a reference book for your favorite game. Better yet, use PDFs of games on your tablet. Paper, dice and pencils might also be necessary. A black marker and some note cards can make impromptu name tags for your characters.

Don’t forget your healthy snacks. Granola bars, almonds, raisins and peanut butter sandwiches can help you stave off meal breaks when you’re enjoying a game. A water bottle is absolutely essential. Bring one from home, or buy and refill it there. Remember to drink plenty of water. Don’t ruin a game by collapsing from dehydration.

Fill a small first aid kit with pain reliever, Pepto Bismal and Band-Aids in case you get blisters. You might also be able to help another gamer in need with these supplies, which can lead to new friendships. Bring a wee bottle of hand sanitizer. Use it before eating, and after touching other gamers. Worried about germs? Instead of shaking hands, try fist bumping or a salute.

Items NOT to Bring

Don’t bring a lot of heavy stuff. For example, books. You’ll regret carrying all those rule books around way before lunchtime.

Also, consider if you can live without your laptop. Screens are great for home use, but now you are amongst your people. Try to mix and mingle with real live humans. If you absolutely need a device, try using your phone or a tablet instead.

What to Wear

Don’t skimp on clothing. You’ll be spending long days in close quarters with other folks. Impress your new friends by wearing clean clothes and deodorant. Dress in layers, since the heating and cooling systems of convention centers are generally beyond mortal control.

Comfortable shoes are an absolute must. A con is no place to break in new shoes, so go with the tried and true. Try to bring two pairs so you can switch off when your feet get tired.

Are you the costume type?

This is really your moment to shine. Your fellow con-goers love to see you dressed up, and your costume is a great conversation starter. What a perfect way to make new friends. If you’re at all prone to costuming, go for it!

Use Social Media

Follow your con’s Twitter hashtag to learn about spontaneous events. Follow other attendees you hope to meet. Twitter was made for cons.

However, the same goes for your phone or your tablet as for your laptop. Shy people are especially likely to hide behind a screen. Find a balance of screen time and human interaction time so you can be present in your games and with your friends. Know when to put the gadgets down.

Cutting Costs

How many people can you fit in a hotel room? This depends on your comfort level and the hotel’s rules. But generally speaking, the more roommates, the lower the cost. If a hostel is nearby, this can also drop your costs significantly. If your hotel has a fridge or microwave, this offers money-saving meal opportunities.


Study the con schedule ahead of time to plan out those can’t-miss events. What games can’t you play at home? Here’s your chance. Want to meet celebrities or learn something new at seminars? Plan ahead and preregister.

But leave some time for the unexpected. You might make a new friend. The organizers could have a cool surprise or a last-minute addition to the schedule. Leave yourself wiggle room for excellent unanticipated experiences.

After the Con

Many gamers experience post-con blues. What if this happens to you? Reach out to your fellow gamers. Keep in touch with your new friends. And book your next convention as soon as possible.

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