Convention Coverage: Diplocon 2007

Guest Post

Although the existence of such fine information outlets as Amish Otaku belie the existence of a not-quite-underground network of gamers, anime-addicts and DDR freaks in Lancaster, PA, it’s not entirely unfair to say this network is rarely used to its full potential. This isn’t to say that the otaku of Lancaster go without their respective fandoms most of the time, but rather that the various pockets of these oft-linked fandoms remain largely distinct for the majority of the year.

Then, of course, there is Diplocon (the most recent instance of which was on Friday-Sunday morning, November 2-4).

Diplocon, for those who don’t know, is the annual convention hosted at Franklin & Marshall College and organized by the F&M Anime Club, DDR Club and Gaming Society. As with the past two Diplocons, this year’s featured a room dedicated to board/card games, several dedicated to various video games – including the ever-popular Dance Dance Revolution, one devoted to pencil and paper RPGs, and a pair of rooms that hosted round-the-clock anime showings. There was also a combined dealers’ room/artists’ alley, where amateur artists hawked their wares and services, and one particularly large vendor served up everything from discount DVDs and manga to Pocky, import CDs and model kits.

Boasting 210 attendees over the course of 33 hours of convention (thanks to the relocated DST switch), Diplocon effectively filled the entire floor of the building, with some overflow as well. This marks it as definitely one of the smaller conventions around, but given that it’s only in its second year (although this was the third convention) and its cost is coming entirely from allocated funds from three of the college’s student clubs, it’s hard to call it anything short of a success.

As with last year, there was a panel presentation given by a guest – a professional in the field of web comics and someone who has been in the game for many years. Michael Poe, currently of Errant Story and formerly of Exploitation Now, and his wife, Hillary “Impy” Hatch, returned for their second consecutive year as Diplocon guests and once again offered a premiere panel that shed some light on the world of web comics. It went over quite well, as did their panel the year before, and it garnered a significant number of the attendees, despite being held during what many con-goers were doubtless considering dinner time.

In addition to having freeform time in many of the rooms, there were also competitions for serious prizes, including Halo 3 and Super Smash Bros. Melee tournaments for the console gamers, a Munchkin competition for fans of the now-famous Steve Jackson game, and a Magic the Gathering booster draft, with dozens of booster packs direct from Wizards of the Coast (one of the convention’s sponsors). Guitar Hero 3 also featured prominently on the schedule, as did a Settlers of Catan competition, and, by popular demand, Karaoke Revolution.

Unfortunately, while food from a few sources was readily available in the area, being on a college campus meant that the majority of it was geared toward students on the meal plan, and as such was somewhat pricey as far as such things go. This became an issue particularly later at night, as only one of the dining facilities and the relatively nearby Turkey Hill offered any opportunity to get a bite within walking distance – neither of which is particularly affordable. Many attendees found it preferable to make use of the Jolt gum and Bawlz (highly caffeinated gum and energy drinks, respectively) provided by the convention to each attendee rather than returning to whatever rooms they may have booked for the night. While this certainly helped to keep things going overnight, it compounded the food problem and led to some hardcore burnout around mid-day on Saturday.

Other problems included an altercation with several of the younger convention attendees, who were apparently being extremely disruptive in the hallway, ignoring staff, and overall causing a nuisance during some of the convention’s busiest hours. Unfortunately, while the convention staff members were generally familiar with each other, attendees could only discern them as separate from other guests via a small star sticker on their badges, which were hard to make out unless you were specifically looking for them.

Although the convention began on Friday at 6:00 P.M., things remained relatively quiet, with well under 100 attendees arriving to take part in the first day’s events. By early afternoon on Saturday, however, the area that – during the week – plays host to eight to ten classes of thirty-some students was jam-packed with guests of all ages, genders and costumes. Indeed, although Diplocon does not boast an official cosplay event, there were, nevertheless, many recognizable (and a few not-so-recognizable) characters from games and anime series wandering through the streamer-bedecked hall. Similarly, even though it’s an event that was started by college students, it nevertheless is a somewhat family-friendly convention, with a large number of high school and even some middle school students making their way around during the daylight hours (and more than a few after dark as well). By Saturday evening, things were at fever pitch, with some rooms overflowing – the gaming room, notably, was so full that staff members had to take some of the games (and those interested in playing them) elsewhere in order to find the space necessary.

Come Saturday night, at 2:00 A.M. (which came an hour after 1:59 A.M.) there was still a good 10% of attendees present, and a very dramatic (and excited) game of Risk: Godstorm going down in the gaming room. Cleanup, and gameplay, proceeded into the wee hours of the morning, and although the convention officially ended 15 hours earlier than it had the previous year, it still packed a lot of activity into a relatively short period of time.

The staff, particularly those who aren’t graduating this year, have fond hopes for next year’s convention and will be building on the groundwork the past three conventions have laid. Obviously there’s room for improvement, and growth, considering the rather impressive turnout for a convention that is, admittedly, not exactly in the most-visited of locations. Among the things some attendees mentioned they would like addressed are improved planning for the screening rooms, increased staff presence, and the addition of a masquerade event of some sort. At the moment, however, the convention staff is still busy recovering as they enter into the final weeks of their semesters and plotting how to allocate the funds raised by Diplocon 3.