I attended Fanime recently to do what I do – meet people, speak on careers, and feel increasingly older. By the way, the latter isn’t intentional, it’s a side effect caused by age and the occasional cosplayer who reminds me I need to work out more*.
As I walked among the conferences and cosplayers, artists and dealers, this Elder Geek had a rather disjointed series of reactions. Enthusiastic snatching up of rare items in the dealer’s room would seem frivolous to me – but then I’d recall when I was glad to find that rare item in my youth (and I purchased a few things this convention, rare for me). Some goings-on would seem ridiculous, then the realization struck me that the point was to be crazy and bizarre and have fun – I just occasionally forget that as my focus is professional geekery. Panels on professional geekery would seem serious, but often get silly or sentimental as sure people cared about your careers, but we didn’t want to be too serious in a friendly atmosphere.
The convention was play. The convention was serious. At the same time.
Then I realized the two elements of frivolity and professional focus went hand in hand. I remember specifically when this insight happened; I was in the artists alley, looking at a vendor who had some art from the suddenly-omnipresent show Steven Universe up, and I saw how fun and serious come together at conventions. It was a powerful enough flash of wisdom it felt like a lightning bolt, which is why I remember it so well.
You are of course right – I’m going to write about it. As an Elder Geek, it’s my job to analyze these kind of things.
As an Elder geek, it’s also fun for me. Fun and seriousness are the things I want to explore.
The Modern Convention: Fun And Serious In The Same Package
Over the years I’ve noticed conventions taking on more and more focus on professional development – creation, skill-building, software, and more. We geeks have always had a hands-on element to our passions, which is why I refer to us as “Applied Intellectuals.” As time has gone on, conventions seem to focus on that practical (and paycheck-delivering) element of our geekery – which I’m all for.
But if you step back, the choice to do professional panels and workshops at a convention may seem a bit odd. Conventions are wild, crazy, silly, and let’s face it fun. It’s a chance to dress up as Sailor Lannister, or see an AMV about Adventure Time set to music from Gwar. It’s where you blow money on frivolous and fun crap, or a TF2 bathing suit calendar**. Conventions are geek unbound.
Conventions are crazy and careerist. Putting on costumes and discussing how to be a writer while dressed as Rorschach from the Watchmen. Sure some people are there for more one side or the other, but a lot of people seem to go to conventions for both.
That’s because the two sides of silly and serious are really inseparatble.
The fun of conventions is awesome. It is liberating. It is social. It is even an experience that can teach you a lot about yourself as you cut loose. That disinhibition is often needed, usually relaxing, and at times insightful. There is nothing, nothing like being at a 20,000 person event and watching the joy on people’s faces – and then realizing just why it’s important.
People who know that joy, who’ve had those insights, often want to develop themselves. They also need the professional experiences, the career advice, the voice acting classes so they can create or expand a career. Part of their joy, their fun, there interest is to be part of the “scene” of the convention and geekery as a creator or a coder or a writer. One insight at a panel can make your career, one event can give you the tool or inspiration you need to truly be something new.
We need the fun of conventions as we need humans really do need fun. But also conventions are a place that are ideal for people to get serious and learn. The fun opens us up and relaxes us, teaches us and lets us be us. The career elements, the serious elements, focus those of us looking to channel that geekery (wether realized at the convention or elsewhere) into productive form. Often we need the fun to realize what we need to focus on – as many of us doubtlessly experienced in our own careers, where a momentary insight of “something” set the path for us.
When I realized this, there in the artist’s alley, decades of convention attendance suddenly made a little more sense to me. The convention scene’s dichotomy isn’t a dichotomy at all – it’s self-reinforcing, fun and focus. At it’s very best a good convention lets you cut loose – and then shows you where to go when you are loose. A good convention reinforces all of you – and all of the geekdom in attendance, whatever there needs.
After that insight I didn’t even feel that old. I was just a guy who saw his place in the big scheme of things. The Elder geek doing career panels and insightful events, and helping run things so the crazy and the serious could continue.
I enjoyed the convention even more after that – and Fanime is a blast as it is.
The Importance Of Play
An aside to my realization about conventions existing in that dichotomous space, I want to focus on the importance of play in human beings. It’s something I could probably do more of as an Elder Geek as I’m usually pretty serious.
Humans need to play. Not just children, but all humans. We need moments to cut loose, get crazy, experiment, pretend, get away so we can get into something else. Play is exercise of mind and emotions, and a situation where we let our guard down to be more ourselves and less what we think we are (and others think we are).
Conventions are fantastic to fill this need. Conventions are great opportunities for play, for fun, with people of like interests and focus. Conventions, in short, fulfill a very human need – the need for play doesn’t end with childhood, no matter what people may think when they pretend to be serious. There’s no difference between a child playing war and an adult playing Fantasy Football except we credit the latter with somehow being mature.
So as much as I do serious things, as much as I’m Mr. Career and Mr. Civic Geek that’s what I do. That’s what I’m good at. That’s my contribution to the play/work fusion of geekdom. Not everyone should be like me, do what I do – a convention of nothing but me would be boring***.
I sincerely hope conventions never get too serious, too professional, too practical. They’re a great chance for fun in geekdom.
That fun of course leads to new opportunities to be serious, professional, and practical – but we’d never have these opportunities if, for a moment, we weren’t playing around.
– Steven Savage
* I’m looking at you, every guy playing Gray Fullbuster or a guy from Kill La Kill
** If you think I’m joking, I’ve seen several pieces of “beefcake TF2” art at conventions. The Scout is in the lead, followed by the Medic. I don’t need to think about this.
*** But handsome.