ConnectiCon and the “Fandom Meet-up” Writ Large
ConnectiCon refers to itself as a “‘Massively Multi-genre’ convention,” and, although that is entirely true, my experience in attendance this past weekend felt like it achieved that goal in a somewhat unintended way. Normally, I would expect a fan convention to please its attendees by way of vendors, events, and guests, all somehow unique or important to whichever industry towards which the con is geared. At ConnectiCon, which took place this last weekend in Hartford, CT, my initial disappointment at what I pessimistically viewed as slim pickings for events catered towards my fandoms became extremely irrelevant. This event was a small convention, a “chill-con” as a friend of mine remarked, and, after a day of losing myself in the crowd, it became apparent that the lack of heaps of just plain stuff made ConnectiCon a whole lot less flashy, and a whole lot more successful as a convention. The weekend was about the people, representative of their fandoms, almost universally friendly, and enamored with the prospect to do not much more than hang out in this particular setting, a Fandom Meet-up Writ Large.
Lugging my bag past ever-increasing groups of cosplayers and photo shoots, I passed through the door of the hotel attached to the convention center, immediately made aware of just how much the lobby was an extension of the event itself. Roving bands of fans excitedly met up to head into the main hall while my friend, halfway into his costume, took me up to the hotel room in which we would be crammed with three other people, all exceedingly friendly and expertly costumed. Before I know that this would become a running theme, we headed to the main hall, meeting up with a couple other friends of mine, and set off to explore what ConnectiCon had to offer.
Down to just three of us, the others having gone off for various photo-ops, we perused the schedule of events, and my creeping terror of being underwhelmed for the day resurfaced, as none of the offerings seemed particularly outstanding. While there were tons of options, not one seemed to be an event that I felt I could not miss, panels and screenings widely lacking the presence of professionals presenting industry secrets or fun sides of their personality to the crowd. In fact, almost all of the events on our schedule were fan-run and heavy on audience participation. Attending one of these choices, our little group had a blast anyway, the focus being on pure fun, rather than putting interesting fandom info and appearances first and counting on the fun to blossom forth on its own, as is usually the case. By this point, I started to understand the way ConnectiCon works in drawing its attendees.
The main hall of the convention was next, as we navigated surprisingly easily through the somewhat widespread merch stalls, in a shopping experience more akin to an anime version of an open-air market. Again, the offerings seemed sparse in comparison to the grand showing of my con experiences of the past, but not without at least a few particularly fun, if not unique, items around. Most importantly, for every booth that I passed without a purchase, more legions of friendly cosplayers requested pictures of my friends, complemented my Carol Corps. T-Shirt, or just generally interacted with us in a positive way. Though our entire sweep of the floor was done in a rather short amount of time, it had confirmed to me the true draw of this small-con dynamic, in the pure celebration of fandom to each individual attending, rather than the exciting exhibits.
Feeling that I had seen and began to understand the way ConnectiCon works, I decided to try to jump into something I had never allowed myself time to do at a con: play D&D. As I awaited my random grouping at the D&D 5th Edition tables, I met a father with his two children, and, later as we sat down, an enthusiastic older couple. What little doubt I had kept about the occasionally toxic people who share my RPG obsession was immediately pacified in this family-oriented group, an outcome I had both expected and hoped for due to my average interactions throughout the con that day. I had a blast with these complete strangers, and, all of us being mostly unfamiliar with D&D as of late, suffered my first TPK (total party kill) ever, with laughter.
That night, featuring various dance parties and even more costumed meetups, remained reminiscent of what I dislike about musical festivals, turned positive here. The events themselves were not a draw, as much as the chance to spend time with friends in the setting. Still the same amount of flower crowns though. Of course, people were still partying in costume, making friends throughout and continuing to exude one of the most accepting presences I’ve ever seen at a convention. My understanding of the feeling of ConnectiCon having been cemented earlier that day, I jumped in wholeheartedly, and saw many people, generally shy, do the same, in the presence of their comforting fandom groups.
As I woke up the next morning and trundled back to the bus home, I felt none of the slight feeling of loss that accompanies even the best nerd conventions I’ve attended, having inevitably felt that there was so much I missed. Instead, I felt welcomed to a group of new friends, a triumph similar to what nerdom in all of its forms at least slightly seeks, acceptance as one’s own self in a group obsessed with the same obscure thing that you’ve found an enormous connection to. Sure, ConnectiCon has a share of big-name guests and talents, interesting vendors, and a variety of gaming options, but it succeeds mainly on those things not getting in the way. The classic convention draws are downplayed, forced into fun curiosities of setting to attract the real feature, the fans, and their meet-up.
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