I never went to camp.
Well, I went to music theater camp for years as a kid, but that was in an air conditioned theater and I was out by 4 p.m. every day. The whole go out into the woods for summer camp with other kids was not a thing I did. There’s a certain romance to it as media like Lumberjanes and The Parent Trap portrays.
Or terror if The Addams Family Values or Sleepaway Camp is your thing.
Or some sexy fantasy from your childhood of watching Meatballs and Wet Hot American Summer. I don’t limit you.
The point is that all I really have to go on for camp is some fictionalized version that we all experience.
Well, that and Play On Con.
Play On Con came on my radar about two years ago when I met the con director Dan Gilbert through mutual friends and a lot of karaoke. I missed POC 5 and I didn’t get to enjoy POC 6 as much as I wanted due to spending hours on end tabling for The Extraordinary Contraptions and having something of a mental breakdown for a good chunk of the weekend.
My second year at the con though? I finally got to play on!
One of the cool things about Play On Con since last year is that the convention now takes place at the Alabama 4H Center instead of a traditional hotel and convention space. This really helps shape the con into more of a summer camp experience versus a gaming/fandom con. The con organizers have taken advantage of that, using the camp spaces for archery, canoeing and other outdoor activities to their advantage. How often can I sat that I got to let out my inner Hawkeye at a convention and have it not mean a desperation for coffee or being a walking Fall Out Boy song? Not to mention my friends in the Vauxhall Garden Variety Players hosting a campfire sing along. Well, there was no fire, but there were sing alongs to the Reading Rainbow theme and ‘YMCA.’
Of course, there’s still plenty of regular con activities to be had. There’s the 24 hour gaming hall, which features an extensive game library and Artemis Bridge Simulator running way more than it did last year. Which, hey, if you want to play a game that tests how effectively you and your friends would be at running a starship, that’s the one. I got to play as a science officer on Thursday night during a game that we won with 15 minutes left, then exceeded our own expectations of life expectancy on level 10 before running ourselves into an enemy ship in a blaze of final glory. I also learned how to play Smash Up, but the Miskatonic Bear Riders weren’t quite as exciting.
There were also plenty of panels to be had throughout the weekend. In the space of a few days, I went to panels on monetizing gaming videos, creating animatronics for cosplay, costuming with cardboard, cosplaying on a budget, and women in fandom. I’ll admit that I went to one of those cosplay on a budget panels to get the achievement of going to a panel at 10 a.m, but guest Yoko Mizuhara was super casual and a fountain of information that made me feel a lot more confident in going forward with my cosplay projects for Dragon Con. Plus, her Maid Marion costume is super cute.
The Women in Fandom panel was the one I was looking forward to the most, but to be honest, it could have gone a little better. Program director Wes Wilson was very good about starting discussions about issues women have been facing in fandom and trying to shut down whitesplaining when it started, but the panel was very gaming heavy and it really could have benefited from having women from different fandom areas on the panel. I think Wilson was in a bit of a time crunch creating the panel this year since he said in the past that the panels have included women, but it was slightly disappointing to look to discuss women’s issues and the discussion being lead by one white guy.
The cardboard costuming panel definitely reminded me though that I love the people that attend this con and the ideas they come up with more than anything else. After a panel that discussed wearing cardboard, drinking, and a failed musical number, I followed them up to the archery course where I then proceeded to watch four people dressed in boxes attempt to play beach volleyball. I sincerely hope you should all be so lucky to witness such a hilariously majestic sight because it was amazing. I really should have gotten video, but I’ll just have to let that stay between me, the boxes, and all the pictures I took.
It’s not just cardboard volleyball though. It’s the fact that I can go to this con full of Malevolent Karaoke, table flipping, poolside karaoke, and achievements for play money and it’s all completely normal! Or that the Plaid and Pantsless Party can be saved by Batman’s iPod full of Bootie and that Iron Bartender can have competitors like Satan, a Tree, and Pimp Uncle Sam trying to use aloe drink and pumpkin liqueur in cocktails to very, very mixed results. I think my favorite silly, yet perfect for Play On Con moment for me was when I had a giant googly eye that was placed on my forehead and then it managed to stay there for the rest of the night. Considering my night included spinning fire, swimming in the pool for a few hours, and attempting an encore at Pool Katamari from POC6 before passing out, this was an impressive feat.
I think a fun part of this con that people keep missing out on is the performances. This year featured one half of the Extraordinary Contraptions on a reduced stage setup that made one of the comedians before them say “I feel like I’m the lead singer of Mumford and No Sons” and the return of Professor Shyguy. The Contraptions were a little more acoustic than usual since they only had a keyboard, an accordion, a double bass and a banjo between the two of them, but it was still a fun and energetic set that was a perfect start to an evening of fun. As for Shyguy, he was all over the place as usual and getting a bunch of us on our feet dancing on Saturday evening to get the party started. It was especially fun getting to spin my LED staff during the show, but if it annoyed anyone else, I do sincerely apologize. It just felt appropriate at the time and I thought it matched his green finger lights in a good way.
Honestly, after Play On Con, I really only have two complaints. One is that the harassment policy needs to be a bit more obvious to con attendees. I had one guy touch my leg hair without my permission and try to justify it by saying “he doesn’t see it that often.” If he or someone else tries it again, I have no problem reporting their ass, but that really grinds at me that someone out there thinks it is okay to do that. It may have not been sexual, but it was still a violation of my personal space and comfort. Two is that the parties didn’t seem as exciting this year. Maybe because there’s been more of a shift to nighttime pool activities that the parties didn’t bring as many people in, but it did seem to reduce the options a lot. The Plaid and Pantsless party was pretty awesome though. I’ll also admit that I kind of missed El Presidente’s shenanigans for running for Play On Con president. It’s hard to top an election that includes a fictional dictator, a baby, and a pinata. Maybe next year if I can get it together…
If you’re looking for a unique con experience, you really can’t beat Play On Con. With the atmosphere of a summer camp mixed with a convention and the best party you can imagine, I don’t think there’s a better way to play in the dog days of summer. Play on, Play On Con!