Let Your Freak Flag Fly
At Dragon*Con, it's come as you are -- or as you've always dreamed of being
The Klingon punch was the beginning of the end. No beer, no wine, just plastic cups full of wicked cherry something. Mmm, yummy. "What's in this thing?" I ask, but the Klingons only smile and pour more test tubes of liquor. I bum a smoke from Xena, drain my cup. Then blam: Suddenly I'm at the Travelodge, watching group sex.
This is Dragon*Con 2002, the country's biggest sci-fi convention, Atlanta's annual four-day feast in August of costumes, gaming, panel discussions, and the occasional naked, drunken gropefest. This is convention life, not conventional life, and there's no confusing the two. This is Trekkies and Star Wars fans and Xena look-alikes and goth kids wearing dog collars. This is Spider-Man and Superwoman and little blue-eyed girls with glitter fairy wings. This is 300-pound mamas in bustiers and thongs, flesh spilling out on all sides. They know what's up -- they're big, no shit -- but here, they might be someone's fantasy. They walk through the crowded lobby fat and proud, knowing that for every guy who screws up his face in disgust, there's some dude who wants to bury his face in those jiggly suckers. This is a free weekend pass, a choose-your-own-adventureland. This is group sex at the Travelodge. Wanna watch? You can.
Dragon*Con began in 1987, the brainchild of Ed Kramer, envisioned as a social event for role-players and gamers, a notoriously unsocial bunch. But as the genre expanded, so did the convention. Games like Vampire: The Masquerade brought in the goths and the girls. The many-tentacled fan community brought in the costumes. Blockbusters like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, with their multimedia tie-ins, brought in kids and families. And meanwhile, the game industry keeps expanding, grossing $9.4 billion dollars in 2001. That's over a billion dollars more than the film industry. And yet, with 20,000 people in attendance, Dragon*Con still feels like a meeting of the marginalized. What happens if the majority of us really aren't "normal" after all? It's like a science fiction story.
Like the best works in its genre, Dragon*Con is about questioning our world. Our beliefs about body image, race relations, sexual relations, and gender politics. ("I like women," says a man wearing a metal leash around his neck. "But I also like men. I'm married, but it's an open marriage.") It's also about a lot of fans getting a big dose of their favorite medicine. In the Tolkien Room, fans watching a sneak preview of the Lord of the Rings game wear "Frodo Lives" buttons and quote the Ring Trilogy like scripture. In the Gaming Room, Dave Arneson, co-founder of Dungeons & Dragons, gives a history of the role-playing game that started it all, as a roomful of people scribble into notepads. And in the NSDM Room -- that's National Security Decision-Making Room -- a former naval officer lectures on global politics as part of a push for three new games that turn Department of Defense training software into a consumer game for the amateur military strategist. Like Risk only, well, riskier. The military games are this year's most conspicuous gaming trend. (About a new game set in Mozambique, the schedule declares, "Dragon*Con 2002 is proud to offer a modern miniatures war game that will give you a chance to blow some very bad guys into some very small pieces!") The sad injection of reality in your SF.
But if you ask your average dominatrix or stormtrooper at the conference, they will probably tell you that Dragon*Con is all about acceptance. Are you a skinny, role-playing misfit? Not here you aren't. A lightsaber-toting, Boba Fett-quoting Star Wars geek? Look around, son, there are thousands like you. Spank fetishist? These are your people. As they say at Dragon*Con: Let your freak flag fly. But stay away from the Klingon punch. Or hell, I dunno: Have two.