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Gen Con 50 Museum: An Homage to the Rise of U.S. Gaming

Beth Heile
United States
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From gallery of Aldie
In between filming game demonstration videos at the BGG booth during Gen Con, SPIEL, and other conventions, we occasionally get to roam free in the hall and film more unusual fare: notable displays, costumes, events, or exhibits. It was my pleasure to make the considerable walk over to Lucas Oil Stadium and view the Gen Con 50 Museum, which created in honor of Gen Con's 50th anniversary by Paul Stormberg and Jon Peterson.

While roaming, I was lucky enough to snag a couple of minutes with Mike Carr, the only known attendee of every, single Gen Con for all fifty years. He attended the first Gen Con at age 16 and has a long history within the gaming industry since then, notably as vice-president of game design at TSR and designer of Dawn Patrol.

Mike was kind enough to donate a few minutes to speak on camera, but I wanted to highlight a number of interesting facts that I gleaned from him, from the museum, and from other attendees:

• Gen Con is named for Lake Geneva, Wisconsin where the first event was held, and the event was originally called Lake Geneva Wargames Convention. The name is also a derivation of the Geneva Conventions, since the international agreement is a common theme in early war games.

• Gen Con was first held at the Horticulture Hall in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The Gen Con 50 museum mapped out a space on the field of Lucas Oil equal to the dimensions of the original building.

From gallery of LindyBurger

• While Gen Con has been hosted in a variety of locations, the three locations it is most known for are Horticulture Hall in Lake Geneva (1968-mid 1970s), Milwaukee's Convention Center (1985-2002), and its current home in Indianapolis (2003-present).

• A new major gaming influence has arisen roughly every ten years at Gen Con, with a matching rise in attendance: war games (mid 1960s - mid 1970s); D&D (mid 1970s - mid 1980s); indie RPGs (mid 1980s-mid 1990s); CCGs, as started by Magic: the Gathering (mid 1990s - mid 2000s); and Eurogames (mid 2000s-present).

• Although Gen Con LLC has not publicly posted the attendance numbers for 2017, casual estimates put the amount greater than the last high-water mark of ~61,000 in 2015. The past seven years have seen the same amount of attendance growth as seen in the previous 43 years combined. (Editor's note: In an August 21, 2017 press release, Gen Con reported "an approximate attendance of 60,000 unique attendees", while highlighting "its ninth consecutive year of record turnstile attendance, reaching 207,979, an approximate 4% increase over 2016". —WEM)

All in all, the museum was hosted with great love and genuine respect for all things gaming, and the influence this annual event has on the U.S. gaming market. I walked through twice on Sunday, and both times I was stopped by museum staff asking whether I had questions or wanted to know more about an item or display.

I'm personally fascinated by my family's history and genealogy, and I got the same feelings cruising through this museum. I started attending Gen Con in 2005, which was already well-settled into its space at Indy, and found my modern-day memories deepened by learning of Gen Con's history. (I originally wrote "Gen Con's origins", but that gets us confused with Origins, and that's another story!) I don't know whether the museum will return in future years, but I highly recommend the experience if it does. My new dream is for someone to get the same idea at SPIEL in Essen, Germany so that we can get a sense of the history of gaming events on both sides of the pond.

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Fri Sep 8, 2017 3:17 am
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