Gen Con Owner and Chairperson of the Board Peter Adkison on His First Trip to Gen Con
My first Gen Con was 1992, and for years I had dreamed of attending. As an avid fan of Dungeons & Dragons since 1978, and as a wargamer before that, Gen Con always seemed to me like a mythical place, the heartland of gaming, the center of it all, where all the famous game designers, artists, and publishers would come together and revel in geek madness!
But I came from a poor family and I lived on the West Coast, so the idea of attending Gen Con myself — that was a distant fantasy. In those days, the event listing was published in Dragon Magazine and you would mail in your first, second, and third choices for each time slot. Even though I couldn’t attend, I would fantasize about it. I would fill out the registration form and dutifully go through the event list, and note my choices. And then throw the form into the garbage, or hang it on my wall and look at it wistfully.
Then in 1990 I started my first game company, Wizards of the Coast, and by 1992 we had our first two game lines coming into production: The Primal Order and Talislanta. At this point, Gen Con became an event I had to attend — and as an exhibitor!
We were too poor to ship our homemade booth and product to Milwaukee and fly there. Instead, we rented a truck and a van and nine of us piled into these two vehicles and drove from Seattle to Milwaukee. Instead of staying at hotels, we stayed at rest stops. It was the type of journey that I would never do at this age, and I remember intellectually that the trip was … uncomfortable, but at some level the hardships of the journey just made it better. It was the journey. In a good adventure you don’t jump straight to the treasure room and the boss fight, you have to evade traps, fight wondering monsters, solve riddles, and defeat gate guardians to prove you’re worthy.
It was on this trip that the Wizards of the Coast company song was written. Since these were the days before mobile phones, we used CB radios to communicate between the two vehicles. Around 3 o’clock in the morning, while driving through the endless landscape of some Midwestern-state corn fields, Jesper Myrfors’s voice came singing through the ether from the other vehicle.
- “It was a head. It was a human head.
- Pappy held it up, and this is what he said.
- Take it to your room, water it every day.
- Chain it to the wall, so it won’t get away.“
The convention itself, when we eventually arrived, was like dying and going to heaven. Only it was a geek heaven, and the Exhibit Hall was the holy sanctum. It was lonely growing up as a geek in the ’70s. Other gamers were few and far between. It was difficult to find stores that sold our style of games. There was nothing cool about being a Dungeons & Dragons player in those days. Well, that’s not true, it was very cool, but no one knew that yet!
That first Gen Con felt like coming home, the gathering of the tribe, as if we were all lost souls casting about for our kind, and here it was.
And that’s what Gen Con still means to me. Of course, I don’t get quite as emotional about it these days as I did that first time, but that feeling of love and acceptance, and that feeling of finding a home, it’s still there. And in this moment, today, writing this blog, calling up those memories? I’m more than just a little emotional. When I found Gen Con, I found my home, and it’s been my home ever since. And I can’t wait to see you there!
Join us on many more journeys through gaming history on Fireside with Peter Adkison, a weekly show on Gen Con TV! In the current season, Peter is exploring the development of D&D 3rd Edition through interviews with the folks who made it happen.
Catch the show live every Wednesday at 4 pm (PT) on Twitch, or catch up on demand on YouTube — or by subscribing to the podcast!