Gen Con Tips & Advice

Gen Con logoGen Con is nigh! With less than two weeks to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there, here are some links.

Sean K. Reynolds (of Paizo) says…
Gnome Stew (ENnie Awards-winning blog) says…
Erik Mona (of Paizo) says…
DoingIndy.com says…
Examiner.com says…
The Illuminerdy (ENnie Awards-nominated blog) says…

OK, enough about that. As you can see, there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is going to be different. I am going to rehash what I posted last year (it was my most popular post ever!). To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is this: Don’t be a dick.

However, the things about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.

Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The handicapped, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. This year, she has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.

The average con goer is, shall we say, Plus-sized. OK, that’s fine. I could stand to lose 40 pounds myself. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds 2′ – 3′ to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught his or her eye. When I’m pushing her, I’m watching for this sort of thing. This year she’ll be driving herself and I actually worry she’s going to get beat up.

  • Be Aware of People Around You

Moving through large groups of slow moving people is a challenge in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes its because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack. You’re not in a High School hallway, stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive. Also, if you’re pushing your kids in a stroller, you really need to watch where you’re pushing them. My wife almost got t-boned by a stroller last year because the mother had her head turned one way, watching something, and was pushing and walking in a different direction… in a CROWDED hall way (not even the Dealer Hall). She also almost got run into by a guy walking very fast and not watching the direction he was walking. His friend yelled to to his attention, otherwise he would have tripped over my wife’s (in motion) wheelchair. Situational Awareness is a thing. You don’t have to be a fighter pilot to practice it. Seriously.

  • Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.

Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con, often for 4-6 hours at a time. Frequently, walking around the city during the Con can be like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. The A/Cs in the convention center will have trouble keeping up with a roomful of gamers when it’s hot and humid outside. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses!

  • Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.

Often, those of us using wheelchairs move a little slower than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.

Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.

More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving 5 seconds to you?

  • Give wheelchairs a wide berth; don’t step over them.

This last thing is just actually a castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. If I’ve had a really bad day, I hope the elevator breaks and falls back down to the ground floor with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.

  • Don’t be a dick.
Categories: Conventions | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Gen Con Tips & Advice

  1. Thank you for posting this. The past two years I have been appalled at how people step over a person in a wheelchair in a crowded area, just to get out faster. Who wants to have someone’s crotch on them because they are literally being stepped over? I’ll be sharing this on a few Facebook pages in hopes to bring more awareness. Thank you again, much appreciated.

    • tink333

      Ugh. I had hoped I was the only one who had seen this. It is craziness that someone would think stepping over the feet of a person in a wheelchair is acceptable. I’m sorry to know you’ve seen it/had it happen to you.

      Thanks for getting the word out. :)

  2. I guess I have a follow-up question: How well do you think the GenCon organizers do at providing accommodations for people in wheelchairs? Is there enough space in between seats and tables in the gaming rooms? What are your thoughts?

    • The gaming rooms are pretty tight, though it varies from location to location (I found the JW Marriott’s gaming rooms a bit more spacious than those in the convention center, for example). Last year, the garbage cans in the middle of the intersections were a problem. They created a bottleneck that made navigating a wheelchair through there difficult. Most of the issues we had with accommodations were actually the fault of the Convention Center. The bathrooms, for example, sure they had handicap stalls, but the one closest to my table didn’t have an automatic door, and the sinks were so high my wife couldn’t reach them while in her chair. There’s always at least one of the skywalks that has a broken automatic door, as well. In particular, the Convention Center side door in the skywalk from the Westin has been broken for two years. TWO. We wrote them a nasty letter last year, but it didn’t really do any good.

      On Author’s Avenue (where I spend all my time now), space is tight. If we aren’t lucky enough to get a table on the end, it’s really tough to maneuver the chair (and it’s small, little more than an office chair on wheels with an electric motor). So far, we’ve been lucky. Some vendors have their booth areas too crammed packed for her to drive around in, but she can walk a little; it’s just the convention is too big for her to walk the whole thing for four days. Heck, the walk from our hotel to the Dealer Hall is at least 2X – 3X her limit.

    • tink333

      Hi, I’m the wife in question. :) We played a pre-Con Pathfinder game in the JW Marriott, and getting to a table at the back of the room would have been really tough if the Con were in full swing. Think tightly crowded restaurant. There is never enough room between tables for a wheelchair to pass. I usually wear my voice hoarse calling out loud but polite excuse-mes.

      I had a nice email conversation with one of the convention officials about the absurdity of there being lots of automatic, wheelchair-friendly door openers if one entered the convention center from the street, but there is not one, single, solitary automatic door to a single public bathroom. I also explained that the lovely handicapped only single-room restrooms were well-equipped, though a wheelchair-bound attendee cannot open the access door without enlisting the assistance of another person and having to have that person remain in the room in full view of the commode until the handicapped person is finished and ready to exit. Those doors weigh some ungodly amount (they are obviously weighted to close automatically), and they open toward the hallway. They should be unweighted, or better yet allow access and egress via a wall push button.

      Hilariously, after my husband assisted me inside and and stood inside the room while I took care of my needs, I realized the paper towels were mounted ten feet away from the handicapped-access sink, and they were mounted above my head (probably at the height for a non-handicapped person. He had to hand them to me. :) Remember, this was in the special handicapped only, single-room restroom.

      I never realized how haphazardly some of the ADA access laws were implemented in many places like the convention center that are supposedly ADA compliant until I spent more and more of my time in a wheelchair. When I make a complaint or send email to places like the convention center, it is always with the hope that they will truly implement improvements. The guy with whom I discussed the restroom situation with was genuinely surprised that the doors on the single-room handicapped restrooms were weighted. We will see if he kept his promise to fix them. :)

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