Conventions: The Older Otaku's Lament

by Ryan Mathews,
As I sit here typing this, my fiancée, the lovely and talented Anne Packrat, is on her way to Ohayocon by herself. I'm staying home. This was not my idea — it was hers. She made the suggestion because she loves me. Anne knows I'm grumpy at conventions. She knows what she could look forward to if I went along: two solid days of bitching, mixed with constant apologies for bitching so much. I end up having little fun, and run the risk of ruining the con for her.

It's not so bad staying home. I can watch as much anime as I want here, without having to crane my neck to read the subtitles. I don't have to worry about a dramatic moment being ruined by high-pitched giggling from the front row. I can even watch a dub if I want to, without some jerkwad yelling "DUBS SUCK!" at the top of his lungs. And if I really need that "con experience", I can stand outside my apartment door for an hour and a half before going inside.

I don't know when I started to hate conventions. It certainly didn't happen overnight. There wasn't one pivotal moment when I suddenly decided that cons weren't worth the effort. Hell, the worst con I've ever been to (not counting some really tiny ones that aren't worth remembering) was Anime Expo 97, and I've been going to conventions for six years since then. It's been more of a slow burn of annoyances, building up over the years until now, when I look at attending a convention with the same enthusiasm as I do eating a large plate of lima beans. Essentially the only cons I can stomach are the ones large enough to have can't-miss content, such as a premiere. The smaller ones are nothing but a three-day pain-in-the-ass.

I'd guess my biggest problem with conventions is that I've been to so many of them. My first con was Anime Expo in 1992. In the intervening years, I've hit on average between three and five cons a year. (Please don't write to tell me how you go to five times as many, unless you can also prove to me that you aren't insane.) For a long time, the magic of conventions, meeting all the new people, chairing my panels, going to lunch with other fanfic writers, seeing exciting anime for the first time, was enough to make me forget all the stupid annoying screw-ups. But as the years went by, the novelty faded, I stopped writing fanfic, and anime became so easy to buy that I no longer needed conventions to see it. With most of the distractions gone, I was forced to notice all the things I hated.

The long waits in line, items missing at registration, programming changing without notice, events held in rooms too small to hold them, vital information missing from the program, inconvenient or insufficient parking, video screens too low to the floor, crummy game rooms featuring crap from last year, incompetent and/or rude staffers, and on and on. And I get to pay for all this! Not just for the con, but for the hotel, too! And if try to save a few bucks by staying at a Days Inn "off-campus", the cheap-ass hotel will charge me the full rate each time I enter the parking lot, which essentially holds me hostage there for the day.

And then it hits me...

The same crap has been happening since 1992! That more than anything is what makes me so cranky. Most of what I bitch about, not all, but most, is pretty easy to get right. I can forgive a newbie a mistake or two, but people have been holding anime conventions for well over a decade! At what point does it finally become a science?

Here's a couple of examples of what I'm talking about. In a small Ohio convention a few years back, they didn't bother to label the programming rooms. Not on the rooms, nor on the map. You had to stick your head into each room to see what was going on. In another small Ohio convention, no food map was provided. There was a list of local places to eat, but no map to tell poor dorks like me from the other end of the state how to get there. I point out these mistakes, because you don't have to have run a convention before to know that's not how you do it. You just have to have attended one!

I've pretty much given up hope of seeing a truly smoothly-run convention. I think a big part of the reason is this worship we have for the idea of "fan-run" conventions. Maybe fans don't know how to run a convention. Maybe we should give the pros a shot and take cons out of the hands of an endless succession of barely-not-teenagers who are constantly repeating their predecessors mistakes. But that's a much larger can of worms than I care to open, so I'll save that rant for another time.

This year I turn 37. It's a lot older than I ever saw myself. Each year I go to cons, I see fewer and fewer people my age (well, unless you count some of the guests), and can't help but wonder if I need to grow up. In my circle of friends, most have dropped out of the con scene. It happens. You get a real job, get married, have a kid or two, and suddenly spending a big wad of money and time to see a convention is really low on the priority list.

What about Anne? Well, for one thing, she's too young for me (just shy of 25, to be exact). For another, she's a cosplayer. She could care less about most of the con, so long as she has the chance to walk around with other cosplayers and get her picture taken. I don't have that going for me.

So this weekend I relax at home. Instead of the dealer's room, maybe I'll hit Suncoast. Instead of a video room, maybe I'll finish those fansubs of Scrapped Princess and Stellvia of the Universe I've been meaning to get around to watching. Sounds good to me.
If you've got differing views on conventions, especially if you're as old as I am and having been going to them for as long, I'd like to hear from you (mathews1 at!

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