Convention Survival Kit for Parents

It’s convention season again. Things are in high swing for the months of August and September. Here’s a few handy tips for parents who are just getting into this sort of thing from someone who’s been to way too many of these and lived to tell the tale.

Whether it’s a small-town game convention with just a couple thousand to the over 125,000 people who mobbed the San Diego Comic Con in 2007, there are a few things that always seem to come up in common. What do I do? How do I find out what’s going on? Don’t these people ever take a shower?

What do I do? I mean, I don’t play these things! A lot of parents are faced with this dilemma. A lot of it really depends on you, and on the event you’re going to. Playing along with your kids can be a lot of fun and you might find you like it after all. But even if your child is off playing something with lots of explosions and that really isn’t your thing you don’t have to just stand there bored. If they have board games in their tabletop gaming area I recommend you take a look. There’s a whole lot more out there than Parker Brothers, and you might be pleasantly surprised and find something you really enjoy. Here’s just a few from a game company that has consistently turned out good work for years – Rio Grande Games. You may recognize this one from it’s XboxLive version.

How do you know what’s going on? Well, most of these things have a website with a huge schedule on it. Print that sucker out the night before and make sure everyone has a copy. Having people mark their preferred activities and agreed upon check-in times is also going to be helpful during the rush when everyone is running around. Get a hold of an event map and make copies of it too. Make sure you scope out the “information booth”, the places to get food/drink, and the big events. It’s also a good idea to mark rendevous points for check-ins and for going home, and making plans for parking. Another thing that might help is to find out immediately upon arrival how that particular event marks their staff. At Penny Arcade Expo, for example, all the helpers wear long-sleeved black t-shirts with the word “Enforcer” written on them in white letters. Each event has their own variation. That way you know who to go to if you need help.

Don’t these people bathe? There are always a lot of jokes about conventions and hygiene. It really isn’t all that funny. With lots of people crammed into small spaces for hours at a time in the hottest part of the year in the up-close-and-personal range that most games require you’ll always be dealing with that. Even at the smaller events you’ll get that one guy who’s been clawing his way up to the top of the heap in the Warhammer tournament for the last 36 hours straight with barely a restroom break and no one wants to sit downwind.

Here is my solution to all those problems. I call it my Convention Survival Kit. I’d suggest including the following items:

These are made for taking care of people who are bedridden or whatever and they can’t shower. They’re excellent for having around while you’re at the con for quick freshening up. They’re available at most pharmacies. Look for the ones that cater to older folks (if they’ve got a good selection of canes, that’s a good sign). If you can’t find them on your own ask the guy in the pharmacy and if feel you need an excuse/explanation say your little brother broke his legs skateboarding or something. To make them a little more packing-friendly, take them out of the big bag they come in and put them in a sandwich-size Ziploc.

Secret Platinum. This goes for you guys, too. I know they say it’s made for a woman but it’s strong enough for a man. And now it comes in scents that don’t make you feel like you just hugged your Gramma (Glacier Mist is reassuringly light and flower-free). Get the gel stuff so it doesn’t look like your armpits have terminal dandruff all over your black t-shirt. Your armpits WILL NOT SWEAT. At all. For 24 hours. It’s kind of freaky how they won’t sweat. Try to get a little sample size but if you can’t, bite the bullet and haul the whole thing along. It’s worth it. Just don’t put it on all over. People sweat for a reason and if you stop yourself from sweating completely you can get into serious trouble from heat exhaustion.

Tooth Wipes
Dead serious. You might have seen these around and they’re no joke. You just wipe your teeth and tongue off with no water or rinsing required. OralB has something called a Brush-Up that is even better. I carry a couple of these in my glove compartment for those days when I have to get lunch from the drive-thru. Find these at your local personal products section.

First Aid Kit
Just one of those little travel-things you can get in the little-tiny-bottles-for-traveling section handles a lot, or if you’re feeling adventurous you can make your own. Just make sure you include several sizes of Band-Aids, some burn gel packets, antibiotic cream packets, alcohol wipes, and some of those single-dose packets of useful stuff like your favorite cold medicine, allergy stuff, non-aspirin pain reliever, Pepto-Bismol, or whatever. You may not have a cold or anything right now, but after seriously abusing your system by not sleeping and eating Lord knows what for several days and swimming in a stew of other people’s germs and halitosis you might just pick something up. Having at least one dose handy until you can get more can be a godsend. Check your local 7-11 for them.

And please make sure you have any prescription medication with you, too. Double or triple check on that. And if you have a Medic Alert bracelet or pendent make sure to wear them. I know they’re not cool but if something goes awry these are really a help to the onsite medical staff.

One of those little spiral notepads that are smaller than an index card and a pencil out of a Yatzee set are perfect. Anything along those sizes is fine. You would be amazed at how many times you’ll want to write down someone’s email address or something and you won’t have anything with you. If you’re a hardcore pen-and-paper player you can skip this – you’ll have it anyways.

Deck of playing cards
I know you’re in the middle of hundreds of games. But you’d be surprised about how much waiting around there can be. A pick-up game of whatever you’re fond of might be just what you need to make the minutes fly by. It’s also great for talking to people. I learned this from a gal I met playing hardcore Go Fish with all comers in line at a Star Trek convention. She’s a dear friend to this day.

If this is just a day-trip, you can exchange the bath-in-a-bag for a couple of something like these single wet-wipes and use the traveling section first aid kit with a few Tylenol thrown in. But still make sure you have a day’s worth of any prescriptions on you, just in case.

This entire list fits into a medium-sized Crown Royal bag with room for a energy/candy bar of your choice and can be slipped into the outer pocket of that backpack full of sourcebooks your child is hauling, or a purse. I choose this container for two reasons: a) it’s simple to get and works nicely and b) it’s camoflage because these are traditional dice bags for pen-and-paper gamers.

This list, your printed schedules and maps, a good pair of shoes and a bottle of water will bring you through just about anything that can come your way in true gamer style.

8 Responses to “Convention Survival Kit for Parents”

  1. Great advice. A buddy and I attended Gen Con last year. Despite being lifelong players, neither of us had ever attended. We had a great time, but the gamer stench was almost hard to believe. Another friend, who has been there a bunch of times suggested that if put a $100 bill on the floor of the expo area and set a bar of soap on it, it would still be there when the convention closed.

    Anyway, I think this article should be mandatory reading for all convention attendees.

  2. Sadly enough it isn’t just gamers … I remember going to SemiCon, the semiconductor industry’s mammoth summer show (well, it has seen a E3-like shrink) one year. This isn’t the technical conference, but more the big marketing thing. Anyway, the stenches around that place …

  3. I always want to sit these kids down and say “Look guys, there are girls here. They are into the same things you are. They will talk to you. As long as you don’t stink.” This is doubly true for anime conventions.

  4. X-men soap on a rope.

    Then you’d have takers.

  5. There’s already a booming line of twenty-sided dice inside clear soap on a rope.

  6. I’ve idly talked about getting samples of Shower Shock soap (that’s the caffienated stuff they sell on ThinkGeek) for PAX, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

  7. Drat, I was hoping this would help me figure out how to survive PAX with a 2 1/2 year old and a 6-month-old.

    Probably not going to happen, eh? Oh well, there’s always the year after the year after next, or something.

  8. You’re right; this is mostly aimed at the grown up dragged down to the convention by their tweener/teen.

    At PAX, we do get quite a few little kids, and Gabe and Tycho’s families are usually running around as well. My gang are mostly grown up now. Let me ask around and see if I can’t get together some pointers for you.

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