Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Gen Con 2015 Seminars and Workshops

Gen Con has a long list of seminars, workshops, meetings, and other get togethers that allow attendees to zero in on their favorite part of the hobby. Some focus on role playing as a player or as a campaign designer; others focus on crafting and painting models and miniatures for all sorts of games; others concentrate on game design, development, and distribution; still others focus on writing skills, tips, techniques, and advice for publishing. I attended a few seminars, here's a sampling:
  • Pathfinder Card Game Developments--a panel including the game's designer discussed the soon-to-be-releases Mummy's Mask adventure with its new system for selling those items collected during an adventure that you really don't need. They also talked about an online/app version of the game that is close to completion and was available at their booth in the exhibit hall. It was an interesting presentation but I realized I am not into the game as much as the other people in the room.
  • Medieval Food and Cooking--medieval cooking expert Daniel Myers discussed various myths and truths about food from the period of 800AD to 1500AD in Europe (his definition of medieval). He said that English cuisine was quite good until they learned to boil things! He debunked a lot of myths, especially the "they used spices to cover up the flavor of spoiled meat." He said the medieval people would leave the meat on the hoof as long as possible and only kill an animal if it was going to be eaten immediately. Butchers could only sell meat the day they butchered it, unless they killed it in the evening. Then they had to sell it before noon the next day. Also, spices were expensive relative to today, so it would be much cheaper to just kill another animal than to eat rancid meat and use lots of spices to cover up the flavor. He said they ate any meat they could catch, so they had a much more varied diet than we do. He also talked about vegetables, the fancy feasts they put on, how the church's dietary restrictions impacted the diet, and lots more. The point of the seminar was to let writers have more accurate depictions of food and eating in their books, shows, and games. The presentation was great.
  • Teaching Through Games--Christopher Harris, a former teacher and now school library administrator, talked about using games in education, especially for home schooling. While most games are good at practicing critical thinking, just playing games won't really be educational. Games need to be tweaked to bring out the instructional content available. For example, Evolution by North Star Games can teach about biology, ecosystems, and Darwinian principles. One way to adapt it for teaching is to take out the carnivores and see how that changes the ecosystem. Without natural predators, herbivores survive and thrive for a few rounds but, soon enough, food production doesn't keep pace with animal reproduction and mass starvation happens. This result can help students understand why limited hunting by humans can have a positive impact on the environment. Harris also had a great definition for games: The voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. Games can often be delightfully unnecessary as players discover new and varied ways to overcome difficult obstacles through intelligent play. Harris has a line of books about games in education for secondary schools and is working right now on elementary and pre-K resources. The seminar was excellent and well worth the time.
  • Ghost Stories--a panel of ghost hunting experts were supposed to tell us about various hauntings in Indianapolis. I was expecting a sort of ghost walk without the walking. Unfortunately, they followed a slide show for a bit which discussed some hauntings in Chicago, then they switched over to telling some of their own experiences and asking the audience for their experiences. The presentation was disorganized and they weren't the dramatic story tellers I am used to on ghost walks. They were very low key and were just as interested in hearing from the audience as in telling their own stories. The highlight came when a train at the nearby station came in, causing a rumbling noise that some people thought was some sort of psychic phenomena. Overall, I found the presentation disappointing.
On the other hand, the hotel where the Ghost Stories seminar was held has amazing architecture. The reason the train rumbled the seminar room is because the hotel is built into the downtown train station. Visitors can see the steel girders and even stay in rooms that are train cars!

Crowne Plaza attached to the convention center with an above-street walkway

Coming into the hotel from the convention center

Train car with rooms and a statue

A better shot of the statue

Hotel lobby looks like a train station

Workshops included teaching about painting miniatures. I saw an amazing case full of miniatures that were in some sort of competition.

The Phoenix and the Gorgon (if you couldn't guess)

Red dragon about to get the drop on Cthulu

Futuristic battle minis

Futuristic marine minis

Ancient Spartan warriors

Not sure what era these guys are from

Another workshop had people crafting foam weapons. Then, they had a small arena to test out the weapons!

Battle area

More of the battle area

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