How Dragon*Con Saved the East Coast

By: George Weidman

 

Mike Capps, Richard Garriot and Chris Avellone talk games at Dragon*Con 2012. Photo by George.

Living in Atlanta sucks. The traffic is awful, the public transportation is worse, and the gaming scene is nonexistent.

Enter Dragon*Con: the largest science nerd/pop culture convention on the East Coast that’s not actually about dragons. It’s the closest thing we’ve got to a Comic Con over here (which says a lot about how uppity East Coasters are about this sort of thing,) and is arguably the coolest thing to happen down here every year.

This year was the first time that Dragon*Con featured a track of video gaming events, and the ensuing onslaught of panels, discussions and press shows was a bit of a shock to my inexperienced sensibilities. Epic revealed more of the new Infinity Blade and showed off Fortnight, their take on Minecraft. A few Gearbox developers drove all the way out from Texas to promote Borderlands 2, and members of BioWare and Obisidan also showed up to talk about Kickstarter and host general discussions on game writing and design.

As an Atlanta gamer, I always felt a tinge of envy when reading about the yearly parade of game press spewing out of PAX Prime in Seattle (which unfortunately distracted most game news outlets during the same weekend as Dragon*Con.) Then there’s GDC in San Francisco, the CES in Las Vegas, and the big industry kerfuffle of E3 in Los Angeles. So much video game news happens out West, so what’s left for us on the East Coast? Well, there’s MAGFest in Alexandria, Virginia. There’s a smaller version of PAX in Boston, leaving QuakeCon sandwiched between two coasts in Dallas, Texas

Gaming conventions tend to stray far from the southeastern U.S., but this wasn’t always the case. After all, Atlanta hosted the biggest gaming event of all during its brief post-Olympic high. The Georgia World Convention Center was home to E3 until 1998 when convention planners moved their trade show to Los Angeles. Why did it leave? For starters, the video game industry doesn’t have much of a strong presence in Atlanta. After all, the two biggest game publishers of all (EA and Activision) are headquartered in California. Los Angeles also brings the gaming press closer to the nifty video resources of film studios and celebrities. If NeoGAF is to be trusted, complaints about vagrancy and hot weather were the icing on the anti-Atlanta cake (wait a second– isn’t Los Angeles infamous for the same problems?)

Over the past 14 years, gamers simply haven’t had much to do in Atlanta. Well, there’s Battle & Brew. There’s also the Atlanta LAN fest. I can’t really bring myself to get excited about either, unfortunately.

For the longest time, Atlantans haven’t had a real opportunity to network and discuss with game industry professionals. Until now.

The guest speakers at this year’s Dragon*Con included some pretty big names: Felicia Day, Chris Avellone, Veronica Belmont, and Richard Garriot just to name a few. I was a tad star-struck: Chris Avellone’s name has been consistently been printed on all of my favorite games, and meeting the man in-person was a tad humbling. Richard Garriott (Richard fucking Garriot! Lord British himself! The veritable inventor of RPGs as we know them!) hosted two panel discussions within walking distance of my doorstep! I still get dizzy when I think about it.

The responsibility behind managing Dragon*Con’s gaming track lies mostly at the feet of Mike and Julianne Capps of Epic Games out of North Carolina. Perhaps Epic is looking for a convention center closer to home? The roster of game developers who showed up also mostly traveled out from the eastern US: Gearbox from Texas, BioWare from Edmonton, and Volition from Illinois. Californian game development was solely represented by Obsidian.

As an Atlanta resident who’s never been to a big gaming con before, these face-to-face meetings with my favorite industry personalities felt a bit surreal. What was most refreshing was the thought that their content was substantial, the impression that the topics they discussed were fairly intelligent (as were the speakers). David Gainer, lead writer (and office “romance guy”) at BioWare, hosted a presentation on writing alternate sexualities into games and reacting to the straight male privilege in their audience. Chris Avellone discussed how his own personal distaste for fantasy tropes inspired the writing behind Planescape: Torment and Knights of the Old Republic 2. Veronica Belmont and Julianne Capps skewered the shadier practices of game journalism.

For veteran game journalists, this type of event is everyday bread and butter. Dragon*Con isn’t a real video game convention, and the events on the schedule weren’t massive, industry-shattering revelations. Without a strong roster of game developers hosted in the city, Atlanta may never be home to a full-fledged game con. But at least it now has something (which is good for us here at Super Bunny Hop!) A gaming track is better than nothing. For an Atlantan who has had no previous opportunities to see and talk with the creators that make the games I love, it was the most exciting thing to happen in years.

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