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Zenkaikon 2018: Thia’s First Con Experience

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I recently got to have one of the best experiences of my life thus far. That was my first time at a convention. I am so glad my first con was Zenkaikon in Lancaster, PA. Lancaster is a great town with lots to offer con goers, so it was the perfect place for Zenkaikon.

To be honest, I was anxious going into Zenkaikon. I am not fond of crowds. I had never done press at a large event before. I just wasn’t really sure what to expect when I walked through the doors. I was grateful to know that I had friends with me in Vanri and Crymson. I also was lucky enough to have some friends waiting inside.

I was greeted by the truly awesome staff right off the bat. These volunteers really made this convention experience for me. They were always patient. They looked out for guests and patrons alike.

me conMy first panel was called; “Overcoming Con Anxiety.” I attended it with Vanri, who wrote a more in-depth look at the panel but I can tell you that it was full of helpful tips. This panel was a great way to start off my first convention.

There were a lot of firsts during the convention. I had my first bowl of real Ramen, which was amazing. I went to my first burlesque show with Cosplay Burlesque. I got to help with press interviews. I met new friends and got to see old ones. I stepped outside my comfort zone and opened up to new experiences.

I had a wonderful time and cannot wait for next year. I was in a place where I got to share my love of anime with some really cool people. If you have never been to a convention please do yourself a favor and go.

I do have some tips for you, though. Bring water and stay hydrated, friends. Make sure you have some healthy food with you, too, as food can get expensive and too much sugar will just make you crash. Have friends with you. A huge help for me was knowing where my friends where and if I got nervous they were there. Take a breath. Find a place where you can take some time away if you need it. There are plenty of corners to take a few moments if you need to.

Take some chances. I am glad I did. Have fun. Enjoy the chaos. Remember why you are there; to enjoy the things you love.

Zenkaikon was a wonderful experience. I am so grateful to the staff for making me feel so welcome. I am also happy that I went to Zenkaikon. It was probably the best first convention experience I could have had! Hope to see you there next year.

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Always keep sparkling!

 

Zenkaikon 2018: Empathy

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I had the absolute pleasure of attending Zenkaikon 2018 this year. I will gush about all the fun that was had for hours. However, I want to talk about a very specific moment.

As press, I go there to work. I love going to conventions, but I love them more when I’m working them. I love watching other people have fun, asking guests questions and talking to people. It fills me with absolute delight.

So, as I prepared to interview one of the many amazing guests at Zenkaikon, the unthinkable happened. I was bumped into and our camcorder went flying from my hand. Even the guest attempted to dive for it as it hit the carpet and broke. The flood of emotions that filled me in those seconds is hard to describe. I picked it up and my heart sank, there was nothing I could do, it was broken and the whole weekend of interviews was flying out of my hands.

A couple of things happened all at once. As I breathed through the desire to cry and seeming apathy of the person who bumped me, I heard a couple of voices.

__yhqNo5_400x400Mae & Kyle of Fandom Spotlight jumped up and offered to record it using their camera.

I could have cried. I used their mic (a mic I was NOT used to using, so here is hoping all went well) because it had their name on it and I wanted everyone to know who these amazing people are. They even offered to sync it up and send it to me.

We couldn’t ask to make better friends at a convention. I honestly didn’t expect so much help, but they offered more, even taking the time to give us tips on things we can do differently, things we can do better as beginners. Kyle said that something similar happened to him at another convention: he dropped his camera and it broke. Another press stepped up and helped him out. A little bit of pay-it-forward but mostly, “Hey I’ve been there and it sucks.”

I’m sure you are wondering about the camcorder. Anthony, a member of the Zenkaikon staff in the press department asked to look at the camcorder while we were interviewing. I had already asked if they wouldn’t mind being amazing and allowing us to use their equipment for the rest of the day since we were in all the same interviews; however, during my interview Anthony was able to fix the camcorder. In about 10 minutes, he put everything back together.

We did lose some footage and we are attributing it to the camcorder dropping but Kyle, Mae and Anthony are our superheroes, MVPs, angels for the day. Not only did they save my sanity and our interviews but they also rolled out with that empathy, that desire to help so quickly. I was stunned. I was stunned and my heart was full.

Thank you friends for being so amazing and helping us in our time of need.

Zenkaikon 2018: An Overview

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My mind is still a buzz from our weekend at Zenkaikon, a convention I will never get tired of talking about, that I absolutely adore, and that I look forward to every year.

This is only my second year at Zenkaikon and it did not disappoint.

I want to point out something extremely important: whilst the panels, guests, vendors, anime, games, etc are all of the utmost importance for a convention, there are two things I look forward to the most:

  1. The Staff
  2. Lancaster, PA

Of all the conventions I have been to, the staff here has never been rude to me or anyone else that I’ve seen. I also walk through those doors with an understanding that these people are not getting paid, they are volunteering. They are doing this for the love of it, for the fun, for the Zenkaikon community. They are trying to tame a convention of people. Every different type of person under the sun and, honestly, I think it would be easier to tame a rave of drunk squirrels then to keep a convention under control.

IMG_2845I also don’t mistake urgency for rudeness. I’ve seen them get loud. I’ve seen hurry people. I’ve seen them say ‘no’ more times than I can count. I’ve never seen them get angry. They have to be loud so you can actually hear them over the general convention noise. They have to hurry you along because you are one of over 5,000 people they have to make sure is safe. I love the Zenkaikon staff.

Lancaster, PA, is also AMAZING. Having grown up in the area, I knew Lancaster for two things: the Amish and the farms. I had no idea there was an actual downtown area until we drove into it last year. Now, thanks to an amazing Zenkaikon guide (MrEvilena1), not only was I able to figure out the convention and have so many questions answered, but he also pointed out delicious food. Granted, this year was a bit crazy, but the food never disappoints. It just get’s better and Vanri is so excited to tell you all about it.

On top of all of that,  I got to meet The Triforce Quartet, Sarah Wiedenheft, Jessica Calvello, Quinton Flynn, Jad SaxtonJonathan Maberry, Corgi Cosplay and the always wonderful Cosplay Burlesque. Of course, every year I am terrified of the guests and every year I realize that they are just a bunch of people. They’re mostly just nerds who love talking to people and being at cons. That makes my heart soar.

If you’ve never been to Zenkaikon, I urge you to go. You don’t know what you’re missing!

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C2E2 is Still Better than Comic Con

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Yah, I said it.

I used to go do Wizard World Chicago every year, like a religious pilgrimage to the closest shrine of comic geekdom we had. Then, one year, everything changed and it was suddenly Comic Con Chicago. Vendor booths, artist alley tables, and dealer areas were eaten away to make room for roped off and curtained no-go zones for those who paid big bucks to get signatures from celebrities like Bruce Campbell and Patrick Stewart.

Around the second year of that, if memory serves, we also went to C2E2, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.  I believe it was their second year, and it was a small convention, but it reminded me of the early years going to Wizard World.  We had a blast and decided that would become our regular yearly stint.

A bonus was that we always had to make the choice between GenCon and Wizard World. WW always won out due to price.  With C2E2 being earlier in the year, that opened up the opportunity to start going to GenCon as well.  We went to Comic Con one more time after starting to go to C2E2 and, if possible, it was worse than the time before.  It wasn’t about comic books and artists anymore.  It was all about getting in to pay ridiculous sums just to get a glossy picture of an actor signed.

C2E2, while mostly about comics and artists, doesn’t pretend that it’s only a comic book convention.  They do dedicate most of the floor space to comic artists and vendors though.  The amazing part is that in just 7 years they’ve gone from a small show with just shy of 28,000 attendees to a juggernaut topping 80K this past year.

McCormick Place is the perfect venue as well.  Where Comic Con is limited in growth by the Rosemont’s (Donald E. Stephens Convention Center) limited space at 840,000 square feet, McCormick Place boasts 2.6 million, 1.2 of which is all on the same floor.  Just three years ago C2E2 topped New York Comic Con in size, with over 670,000 square feet of space used.  It’s safe to say if it exists in the world of geek culture and you can’t find it at C2E2, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Due to its size, I recommend any attendee go for more than a day.  One day used to be enough for us, whether it was Wizard World, Comic Con, or the early years of C2E2. After the 2015 trip though we knew that wasn’t going to be enough. We were there from opening until about an hour before the floor closed and we felt like we only saw half of it.

Even this year, with two days in Chicago, we didn’t see everything, but we ran out of spending money about lunch time on Saturday and the crowd was getting to be a bit much.  Take your time. Don’t rush; and don’t spend all your money right away.  Best practice, see everything you want to see, and if an item you saw earlier in the day is still on your mind, then go back and get it.  Better to have to backtrack than buy something early and find an item you want more later, but have spent yourself out of funds.

Here’s some other tips for anyone new to large cons:

  • Deodorant
  • Comfy shoes – the show floors are hard despite the carpet
  • Backpack with water bottle compartment – water fountains are free
  • More deodorant – halfway through the day, you’ll wish you could jump into the bathroom and refresh with a damp paper towel and application of deodorant
  • Print/poster tube – pick it up early at one of the many booths selling Dick Blick products. You’ll be glad you did if you buy any art.
  • Phone charger/backup battery – Your battery will drain fast if you use your phone for anything inside a steel and concrete building with no signal strength
  • Dress light, even if it’s cold outside – no matter the temp outside it will be hot in the hall. A short cold walk beats a long sweaty day on the show floor.

Of course, C2E2 is also an entertainment con, so it has a long list of celebrity guests, and some of them cost a lot just for one signature.  The convention does a great job of giving the celebrities space without taking away floor from the comics, artists, and vendors.

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Many of the celebs you meet will also vary in price for autographs from free on up to $60.  I would avoid the meet and greets, though, honestly.  My wife did a meet and greet with Wil Wheaton this year. $60 for a picture with him that he didn’t even sign.  Want that signed? Another $40… yeah, a little disappointing for a long-time fan.

Sure, you get to stand next to them for a second, maybe get a, “Hi, how are ya!” but Michael Cudlitz (Walking Dead, Band of Brothers, Southland) was doing autographs and taking a ton of selfies with fans at his table, and actually talking to people.  We watched from the line to meet Timothy Zahn and it was great to see Mr. Cudlitz treating all of his fans like friends.  He didn’t even sit behind his high table they set up for him.  He came around the side, standing right there with the fans, and it was fantastic.  Granted, Cudlitz had far fewer people in line, but damn if he didn’t show the utmost appreciation for every single one of them.

Other than all that, plan ahead.  Make sure you know what you want to see, and prioritize. You can be in line for a signing longer than anticipated, so don’t schedule anything back to back.  Look for things that aren’t at your local shop, or easily ordered cheaper on Amazon.  Really scope out the deals and find those items that you must have and are hard to find.

Make frequent trips to the car to drop off stuff, but also to get out of the crowd and noise for some fresh air.  The population of a decent-sized city descends on that convention hall and sometimes you just need to get away from it to recharge before diving back in. Above all, have fun.  Any convention you go to is ultimately about that.  Sharing your love for geekdom and having fun.  That’s what makes it all worth it.

Zenkaikon 2017, A Wild Ride

It’s a beautiful Monday in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I sit here listening to birds chirping, Vel playing video games and the pounding of the keys between sips of coffee and I can’t help but feel an empty little spot in my soul, a spot known to well as Post Convention Blues.

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Cosplay Masquerade

We spent three days at Zenkaikon, held at the Lancaster Convention Center in Lancaster, PA. With a star-studded guest line-up, a full schedule of panels and some amazing places to eat nearby, we were excited to go… and a bit nervous, as this was our very first Zenkaikon.

The convention is celebrating its 11th year, which is no small achievement for a growing convention with a highly dedicated fan base (for years, my friends have been screaming at me to go) that will fold you in like family as soon as they realize you’re a newbie. Over the course of those three days, we were so positively overwhelmed that it was exhilarating. Even the local restaurants were happy to see the flood of cosplayers, some embracing the event by giving discounts to con-goers and holding cosplay contests.

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Noodle King

Before I go into more about the convention itself, I want to point out that central Lancaster, surrounding the convention center, is beautiful. Even on the outskirts, I loved the area. It had the center city feel without the center city issues. There were some traffic pattern issues to deal with, of course, the convention was in town and there was a race on Saturday, so some streets were closed. However, I never felt the need to rush back to the car, the walk to the car (there was more than one parking garage within a two block radius) was refreshing and the weather this weekend made it more of a stroll than a rush. Not to mention the diversity in food and food pricing was an added bonus. From The Rabbit and The Dragonfly, a coffee bar with a great theme and amazing food, to The Noodle King, a treasure of Pho that we found thanks to our good friend Paul and even the smoothie shop across the street. We were not disappointed by our eats and the walk to each location was worth it.

Now, Zenkaikon…

I’m not even sure where to start. The lines for registration moved quickly and the staff at the front was not only knowledgeable and friendly, but also confident to tell me when they didn’t know the answer to a question I had. This wasn’t just a theme for the front, but for all of the staff I encountered that weekend. They were friendly, willing to walk with me if I was confused, and quick to go find an answer (if they were in a position in which they could leave their post) or tell me who to speak to. What I appreciated most, besides the friendliness of staff (so many pleases and thank yous), was the admittance of lack of knowledge on a particular subject. I’d rather get an “I don’t know” than several different answers from several different staff. I loved how they handled lines (Cosplay Burlesque’s line spanned two floors) and how, even come Sunday, they were still pleasant in making sure everyone was having fun. I want to thank the whole staff for a wonderful experience.

On to the guests! Charles Dunbar (Author), Cosplay Burlesque (Preforming Arts), Cosplay

The Slants

The Slants

Pro Wrestling (Preforming Arts), Ellen McLain (Actress), Greg ‘Greggo’ Wicker (Game Show Host), John Patrick Lowery (Actor), Karl ‘Uncle Yo’ Custer (Comedian), Keith DeCandido (Author), Kuniko Kanawa (Cultural Presenter), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Actress), Sonny Strait (Actor) who had to cancel last minute due to illness, Steve Blum (Actor), The Slants (Musical Guests). So many guests and so little time. We had the pleasure of speaking with Cosplay Burlesque, Ellen McLain, John Patrick Lowery, Uncle Yo, Keith DeCandido and The Slants (EPIC CONCERT!). Every one of them was an absolute delight to speak with and I will treasure those experiences forever. Those interviews and insights will come up in other articles as soon as possible.

The chosen theme for the year was ‘Under the Sea,’ so of course we started our Opening Ceremonies with Uncle Yo in… what I can only explain as an octopus corset (complete with tentacles) and swimming goggles being the amazing MC that he is, introducing guests, throwing candy and making jokes with the wonderful Maddy from Staff, who had a squid on her head. They spoke of cosplay contests, LARPing, game rooms, video rooms, events big and small, also panels, 18+, Con Safety from the lovely Princess Kiwi all before Uncle Yo lead us in a beautiful promise pinkie swear to leave the rest at home, be at the con for us, to have fun and make new friends.

Videos included Black Butler, Assassination Classroom, One Punch Man, RWBY, Yuri!!! On Ice, Baka and Test and many, many more. It’s a wonderful time to catch that first episode to see if you are really interested and want to dive in. I now have Yuri!!! On Ice on my list along with Erased, Steins Gate and a few other wonderful recommendations from other con-goers.

18157271_1071751016303094_6028366417503715593_nOf course, gaming was well represented and I don’t just mean THE MASSIVE AMOUNT OF OVERWATCH COSPLAYERS (I loved them all) who all looked amazing. Aside from LARPing and a room full of people playing board games was Artemis (which I forgot all about and am so mad at myself), Pokemon Sun and Moon, Mario Kart 8, Rocket League, Smash Brothers U and more. I was impressed by the steady stream of gaming through out the con and a Magic: The Gathering Tournament. I’m sorry I didn’t get to play some video games while I was there, but, alas, I was there as press and not to play games. However, I’m getting a game in next year.

Also, a congratulations to the winners of the Cosplay Contests, Cosplay Masquerade, AMVs and Karaoke. We had the pleasure of seeing thousands of cosplays, witnessing all the entries to the Masquerade and seeing the winning AMVs. Everyone did and incredible job. Even if you cosplayed just a little (such as I did) or a lot, everyone looked wonderful. I was even sandwiched between two doctors in my closet TARDIS cosplay. Most of all, I’m so proud of every one of you. It takes such heart, courage and bravery to step out in the first place, even if it is just presenting the AMVs you’ve worked so hard on, getting up on stage in front of hundreds to preform a skit with your friends or by yourself, or buying a cosplay or making it. I’m so proud and was so honored to be among you. You made the convention and kept it going. It’s your work, your ideas, your dedication, and your patronage that keeps Zenkaikon going each year and makes it so special. I love your love!

The Fan and Guest panels where filled with diversity, fun and interest. From Steven

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Uncle Yo

Universe to Doctor who, Retro Gaming to The K-Pop Dance Challenge, Dungeons and Dragons to Mermaids, virtually no fandom stone was left unturned. There were food panels, game design, make up, paper-craft, Miyazaki (honestly it’s not an anime convention without a Miyazaki panel), Fan Fiction, Orphan Black, Kimono Dressing, Star Trek… the list goes on. One I will note is that as much as Zenkaikon looks like an Anime convention it is so much more than that. It is evolving into an all-out nerd fest and I love it. There are still heavy anime elements, but there was literally something for everyone. From Vendors, Guests and Panels you didn’t have to be Anime savvy (cause I’m certainly not) to have the best time. If you are reading this and ever thought that Zenkaikon isn’t for you, I’m telling you that you are so wrong, just go. If you don’t have a blast, I’ll owe you a milkshake, but it’s an incredible melting pot of the nerd culture and you deserve it as much as it deserves you.

Bring the kids! I saw much more children there than I’m used to seeing at a convention. They were in cosplay and loving life. The con is full of family friendly content! However, if you are a bit twisted like I am, there was plenty of 18+ panels to wet your whistle. I saw my first ever Burlesque show and I got so excited, I accidentally slapped a friend in the face (I promise to tell the story in another article). From Mature Anime to What Did I Just Watch? to Guests Against Humanity (I MISSED IT), there is enough warped to go around and plenty of people who will happily welcome you!

If I haven’t convinced you to go by now, there is no hope for you. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this convention. I honestly can’t. I only wish there were clones of me and my staff so we could have literally been everywhere and seen everything. We are already making game plans for things we should do differently next year, plans to make to be better organized, equipment upgrades and gaming ideas.

To all the friends I’ve made, the friends I found, the people I’ve hung out with and the amazing guests and staff of the convention… thank you for giving me a weekend I will never forget. Thank you, thank you, thank you… and see you next year!

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Real Women of Gaming & CommonGeek.tv

Convention Impressions: Too Many Games 2016

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Date: June 24 – 26, 2016
Venue: Oaks Convention Center in Oaks, PA

Real Women of Gaming is getting on the convention beat! Our first Press Pass came from Too Many Games and it was a great convention for us to get our feet wet with.

What Kind of Convention is it?
As the name suggests, Too Many Games is a gaming convention. The Convention had 3 panel tracks and an event stage, but the majority of the space was given over to a large gaming room and an even larger marketplace. The arcade/gaming room had arcade machines and consoles running fighting games, racing games, and rhythm games for anyone to test their skills against their fellow con goers. There were also at least 30 machines running various versions of Nintendo’s beloved Super Smash Brothers for both free and tournament play. Rounding things out were a tabletop gaming area and a indie game showcase.

Too Many Games is definitely a small convention. The focus is on the games room and the marketplace. The convention did manage a respectable lineup of guests from the gaming youtube and podcast ‘verse including The Completionist and the Angry Video Game Rolfe, but don’t expect representation from major studios or established indie studios. Sorry, no autographs from Ken Levine or surprise game announcements from Double Fine.

The panel tracks covered a decent range of topics but didn’t offer anything you wouldn’t typically find at a small enthusiast convention. There were Guest FAQs, retrospectives, music and animation appreciation panels, and discussions about current topics. It was a full schedule but I’m guessing that the fairly sparsely attended panels were not the draw for most people at the con.

What was cool?
By far my favorite part was the Indie Games showcase. I got to spend time with at least twenty developers of both video and tabletop games, trying their games and talking to them about their projects. The items on offer ranged from rough prototypes to extremely polished and professional demos. Everyone I met was eager to show off their work and talk about what they wanted to accomplish, what their influences were, and what got them into game design in the first place. There were definitely a few creators there whose projects I will be following closely from now on and some of them may even be featured in future posts on this blog.

The marketplace had a heavy focus on retro video games and I saw a few rare finds on offer. If you’re a collector then you already know that events like these can be a goldmine or a bust depending on what the vendors have on offer. Board games also had decent representation and I was pleased to see a few items that I had been keeping an eye out for. There were also a few booths selling figures and other collectables and, of course, enough funny t-shirts to clothe an army.

I also liked the arcade more than I thought I would. I’ve never been a big fighting game fan, but there was enough variety that I could find plenty to keep me occupied. There were also a few Japanese rhythm game cabinets which were in high demand. Fortunately, I never had to wait too long for a turn at a cabinet and there was always someone ready to jump in and play a round with me. (I lost, a lot).

What was lame?
The venue itself is nothing to write home about. The Oaks Convention Center is essentially a big steel warehouse with concrete floors. Because the convention was divided between two large halls, one for the marketplace and indie showcase and one for the arcade and event stage, it could be awkward getting around. The bathroom lines could get pretty long (it is a con) and the food was overpriced and mediocre (again, con). That said, it’s not the worst place to hold a convention, but it’s not as interesting or cool a venue as some that I have been to.

Who is it for?
If you are all about buying and playing games, this is a great convention. There was a lot on offer to play and over 50 vendors in the marketplace, making the whole thing feel like a big swapmeet. If you are interested in indie games or talking about game making with the people who are doing it right now, then the Indie Showcase alone is worth getting a ticket. There were concerts and cosplay wrestling, so if those kinds of shows are your thing then that’s a decent reason to attend. Just expect to kill some time in the arcade and marketplace between shows you want to see.

If you are more interested in the cosplay scene, community meetups, or people watching, then Too Many Games is hard to recommend. The venue is bad for photography and there wasn’t a lot of cosplay around. Aside from smash tournaments and a pokemon event, there wasn’t a whole lot in the way of organized community meetups either.

Did you like it?
I definitely did. Too Many Games felt kind of like someone had taken the gameroom and dealers hall from a larger convention and turned them into their own thing. I’m used to attending conventions that are a little more scattershot in what they offer and it was cool attending a convention that had a strong focus on gaming. I also liked the fact that I could get to things that looked interesting without fighting through fifteen thousand other people to get to it. Sometimes small conventions can feel empty or like they needed to stretch their content but Too Many Games stayed engaging and entertaining for the whole time.

Anti Bullying with Frags and Beer

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Vivian James

With convention season in full swing, and our own visit to C2E2 coming up in a few weeks, I want to talk a little bit about bullying and harassment at conventions.  These events attract a lot of people.  In 2014, C2E2 alone boasted about 63,000 attendees.  It’s only natural that a few bad eggs will show up in a batch that large.  Just this year at MagFest, a cosplayer was harassed for dressing as Vivian James, a sort of mascot for The Fine Young Capitalists as well as the online consumer revolt against corrupt gaming journalists.  This is just the most recent case of problems at conventions around the world.  Taking this in perspective, conventions receive a great deal of scrutiny because they are supposed to be a place where people gather to share interests, fun, hobbies, and build a network.  In reality, it is like a small city descending on an area, sometimes no bigger than a city block, policed by staff who really aren’t police.  I’ve been going to conventions for years now, and despite the size, scope, and all the horror stories, they tend to be relatively safe, but that doesn’t mean we should take the atmosphere of a convention for granted.
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