Gaelcon runs again this October bank holiday, same as it always does, same as it always has. When I was a teenager, Gaelcon was the be-all of Irish gaming. The con was our annual pilgrimage, the weekend where gamers from around Ireland came to let their hair down.
Card games like Magic and L5R dominated the main hall. Rooms of wargamers put on dazzling tactical displays. Roleplayers stalked the corridors and cut each other down with foam swords. I remember the noise and bustle of the crowds back then.
Gaelcon was festival and spectacle, a four-day carnival sideshow run by and for the pleasure of the geeks and freaks.
Yesterday? One quiet hall full of board games, backed by one vendor who had reportedly pushed out everyone else. It took me five minutes and three laps of the hall to find the card game organizer. This is not a complaint! It astonished me how much Gaelcon-and by extension Irish gaming-changed in the years when I wasn’t active. It’s an old man feeling of time passing me by, and I’m only thirty six.
I blame the Internet. To plagiarize Frank Herbert, in any discussion of gaming it deserves to be written thus:
Buy games? The Internet! Find meetups? The Internet! Gossip and news? The Internet!
For the life of me, I cannot think of any force more transformative than widespread Internet access. Change is change, neither good nor bad of itself. Yes (old man, rabble rabble) we had Internet back in the nineties and early noughties, but it was both expensive and immobile. Dialup on desktops compared to wireless on smartphones.
The Internet permits local gaming communities to flourish in dispersal. Games stores are as much a hub now as they were back then. Galway has Dungoens and Doughnuts, for example. Now though, players also have the ability to organize groups and sessions without one.
Gamers remain gamers despite the sea change in habits. No other group is as open and friendly and welcoming to strangers and weirdos as games. I struck up conversations by standing still, and got invited to play when I peeked over shoulders. It takes real effort to go to a con for a weekend and not make friends. I so managed, but let’s leave it at I’m in a place right now.
I still had a great time. I played board games. I fucked minds with the many worlds theory. I roleplayed as a tough-talking Latino murder hobo crime-scene investigator.
I regret that I didn’t make the time to attend (or volunteer) for the entire weekend. Next year!