Has DragonCon Changed, or Have I?

A stupid and misleading title: of course, it’s both.

My first DragonCon was 2001, and since then I haven’t missed one. We just wrapped up my 13th. A lot is still the same since those early days. The dealer rooms have ALWAYS been a clusterfuck, no matter where they hold them. Huge lines for registration (because the computer always breaks) or some of the more popular panels are entirely normal. The elevators are still, always, packed. And despite our best efforts to shame them, body odor offenders are common.

But a lot has changed, too. The teeming crowds in the hotels at night have gotten properly apocalyptic in size. The goths and the late night raves have given way to a sort of jock-ish Spring Break / drunk at all costs atmosphere. With that has come the reports of sexual assaults, far more frequent ambulance sirens at all hours, and the inability to get much sleep even in the “quiet” hotels. 

Plenty of people are up in arms about what the convention has become. I feel like I should be as well, but of course this is a pointless gesture. Limiting membership won’t stop the “damn kids” from showing up, and it’s not like a personality filter can be applied. Things change, and grow, and you can’t go backwards. You can change and grow with it, or you can abandon it.

As I considered all of this I realized that my own attitudes and tendencies have changed as well. In 2001 I was just 22. My job had taken the first significant turn towards “this is a real career now” earlier in the year, and just a few months before I’d bought my first house. I didn’t do any drinking that year but had a blast with the whole ordeal. I was there with good friends, geeking out over our mutual thing at the time (Wing Commander), and it was great. It was surreal. 

In the intervening 13 years, I’ve gotten married, become a father (she’s 6 now), moved house, and the job has taken more and more turns towards seriousness. I also do tend to drink more, which is of course common for people in IT. I can’t deny that I’m still a geek. That part of me can never die. But the geek in me has changed a great deal.

Those sorts of geeky things of yesteryear don’t excite me the same way. I don’t want to costume anymore, because it doesn’t seem worth the effort, expense, and suffering to make it happen. Attending panels mostly just annoys me as the socially maladjusted stand there to pontificate at the microphone as if people want to listen to them rather than the panelists. There’s nothing in the dealer rooms that I can’t find online, and it’s not like I want most of it anyway: my life doesn’t take me to sufficiently nerdy places as to want to own a new pair of goggles or a handcrafted leather fanny pack or rare old action figures or custom RPG dice. 

There’s also the rather thorny issue of the increasing criminal element. I mentioned above the sexual assaults, and it’s unfortunate to say that they appear to have become a trend. I’ve asked the DragonCon Security team if they’d be willing to release numbers of reported criminal incidents, though I fully expect their response will be no (or to ignore me). The openly misogynistic attitudes that have cropped up as well, this year as relates to having a pro-feminism panelist kicked out over a minor-at-best rules violation, grate incredibly. When attending a panel about being a Geek Parent, the wide consensus was that so many people are outright afraid to bring their kids to DragonCon because of all this.

So if the convention has changed so much, and I’ve changed so much, and the two of us don’t have much to offer one another anymore, why do I keep going? The ostensible answer is “to see friends”, and it’s certainly true I have a blast with them and love to spend time with them. But, by and large, I can do that outside of the con, too. Spending this much money to spend time with them seems… silly. 

And yet, I did pre-register for next year. At this point it’s effectively habit. Chances are good I’ll still snag a hotel room, too, and begin planning for yet another years’ pub crawl. DragonCon is an abusive, nerdy spouse, I suppose. I wish that didn’t make me feel like a bad person.