I’m not into sci-fi, gaming or fantasy culture. I don’t know my Klingons from my Ewoks or my Green Lanterns from my Green Hornets. So Dragon Con – the four-day sci-fi/fantasy/fan culture convention held every year in downtown Atlanta – doesn’t seem like a natural fit for someone like me. But when enough cool people tell you it’s actually a really fun time even if you’re not into the culture, you start to think that maybe you’re missing out on something. So I went, I gawked, I learned about furries and Lolitas and Tribbles (oh my!). Here are a few other things I picked up during my inaugural trip into the great geek unknown:
You can’t see everything. You will want to see everything. You can’t. Don’t even try. I suffer from severe FOMO, (otherwise known as Fear of Missing Out), and I just had to accept the fact that I was just going to have to miss out on some stuff. It was sad, but I was the better for it once I just accepted it and focused on a few things I really wanted to see or do. Downloading the Dragon Con app –which included event and panelist information, event alerts and maps made it a lot easier to develop a gameplan for the weekend.
People in costume want you to take their pictures. I was worried I’d be bothering people if I asked them to stop so I could take their picture. Ramona, a Doctor Who fan and Dragon Con veteran who I met while getting a drink assured me that people get upset when people don’t ask to take their pictures. “Most of us have been working on our costumes all year,” she said. “It’s a compliment to us if people ask to take our pictures.”
Don’t dismiss the small stuff. The celebrity panels can be great (who doesn’t love them some William Shatner?). But one of the coolest parts of the weekend for me was a panel on the history of ventriloquism I stumbled on with a friend during an hour when there didn’t seem to be much else going on. Let’s ignore the fact that one of the worst nightmares I’ve ever had involved a bunch of ventriloquists’ dummies who came to life and made me their prisoner. This ended up being a really interesting, fun hour that I never would have attended normally, but which I’m really glad I did. Of course, they can’t all be winners – another friend reported that a panel on Jack the Ripper was a snoozer. The takeaway: Wandering into something unexpected can be cool, and if it isn’t, you can always leave.
Bring snacks. Trust me, standing in line after line and fighting Doctor Who costume-clad crowds will wear you the hell out. You will need sustenance. Luckily, I was able to rely on the kindness of my well-prepared friends, who mom-ed me with pretzels and granola bars.
Wear comfortable shoes. Even if you’re only planning to stay for a couple of hours, the sprawl of the event will do a number on your feet. Unless you’ve brought along your personal foot massaging Wookie, I’d recommend gym shoes or flats.
Con-ers can party. Not only were there events and panels going on virtually around the clock (who’s up for Steampunk After Dark at 11 p.m.?), but Trader Vic’s at the Hilton and the bar at the Marriott seemed to be constantly packed. Add to that some racy panels (Dragon Sex!, Sexing Up History and BDSM 101, to name a few), and several women wearing little more than body paint as a costume. it’s pretty apparent any notions you had about Dragon Con-goers being anti-social virgins are pretty off-base. Mostly, anyway.
You really don’t need to be into sci-fi, cosplay or fantasy to have a good time (I promise). It helps, of course. But as someone who has tried – and failed – to get into either genre, I was a little leery of spending a weekend surrounded by people who live and die by who’s hooked up or been killed on “Game of Thrones.” It turns out I was worried for nothing – people-watching alone provides plenty of amusement, not to mention several pop culture-focused panels (Down In Fraggle Rock was a favorite), plus there are plenty of friendly people willing to explain references to the uninitiated. And if all else fails, there’s always drinking and/or flirting (see above).
It smells weird. I was warned about this, but didn’t get it until I was in the thick of it. There’s an odor that permeates Dragon Con that isn’t bad, per se, but definitely distinctive. It’s a strange, heady comingling of several scents: body odor, face paint, sweaty plastic and hormones. When more than 50,000 people are pushed together in small rooms, crowded elevators and packed streets over the course of four days, it’s inevitable.
Gender-swapping is a thing. A woman dresses as a female version of a traditional male character and vice versa. Examples: Sexy female Darth Vader, dude Princess Leia (beard and sidebuns). I’m learning so much!
It’s really, really fun. Like, really. More fun than you think it will be. I’m already starting to think about which gender-swapping character I want to dress as next year. Uh oh. I think I’m in trouble.
Did you attend Dragon Con for the first time this year? What did you think? What advice would you give others who haven’t been? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below.