The first video gaming convention I ever attended was the inaugural Missouri Game Con held in St. Louis (where I live) in 2016. Gaming conventions always seemed like cool events that other people attended. Those lucky people that lived within a 2 or 3 hour drive of the conventions were able to experience retro game sales, discussions, seminars, meet and greets with notable individuals of the industry and free games galore! I was never one of those people and I never considered a road trip or taking a flight in order to attend one so when I read that St. Louis was going to get their very own Gaming Con, I had to go. The 2016 event’s attendance exceeded attendance expectations and there were long lines to get in and a cramped space to move around once you did. It was hard to look at everything on display and for sale and to even talk to or meet any of the convention’s special guests. The atmospher
e inside was a bit chaotic which didn’t endear the event to my wife and two elementary school aged daughters who I had dragged along with me. I was hooked, however, and vowed to attend the convention (alone if I had to) the next year. Thankfully, the 2017 Missouri Game Con was a much better experience thanks to the organizer’s decision to change venues to a much larger space and my choice to buy tickets in advance. With more room to move around and more vendors and events, 2017’s MoGameCon met my expectations and then some. Now I was hooked on the concept of a gaming convention as a whole and decided that the biggest video game convention in the Midwest, the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee, WI, would be my next convention destination.
Two day pass? Check. Pre-purchased convention t-shirt? Check. Ticket to after-hours trip to the Garcade (a retro arcade located in the greater Milwaukee area)? Check. Room at hotel connected by skyway to the convention center where the MWGC would be located? Check. Plane ticket? Check. I was ready to go. I diligently checked the weather reports leading up to the event as news reports indicated that a “winter” storm in the middle of April would be blasting the upper Midwest over the same weekend as the convention. Thankfully, my flight arrived on the Saturday morning of the convention before the rain would turn to ice/snow hours later.
Eager to get into the convention, I dropped by bags off at the hotel’s concierge and quickly made my warm and dry trip across the skyway to the convention center. After getting my wristbands for the weekend, a map of the event and my t-shirt, I was ready to be overwhelmed by choices of what to do. The Missouri Game Con is an excellent event and I plan to attend every year I am able, but the Midwest Gaming Classic is on a different level. The event took up two floors of the convention center, with the lower level housing many of the smaller rooms and events and the upper level containing the massive vendor room as well as an almost equally impressive arcade room. I knew going into the event that there would be games of all generations and price ranges available for sale so I came with a strict budget but other than that, nothing specific I’d be looking for. I wanted to see what was out there before formulating a schedule in my head. While walking around, I felt like how I imagined a kid growing up with a credit card and a bottomless spending limit must have felt back in the early 90s each time they set foot in Toys ‘R Us.
I sat in on a live Retronauts podcast airing on the topic of how Atari got a raw deal in terms of being unfairly blamed for the video game crash of the early 80s and after that I perused the lower level’s rooms, including the Pixel Blast Arcade, Galloping Ghost Arcade, Guys Games and Beer room, Star Worlds Arcade as well as others. In these rooms I chatted with vendors and played as many arcade games as I possibly could. Same went for the main arcade room back on the upper floor which was packed with displays of home consoles and gaming computers in chronological working order right as you entered. Never played a Tandy or Commodore computer before? Here was your chance to see how amazing Donkey Kong could look at home compared to the Atari 2600 and Intellivision versions. Never actually touched a Vectrex controller in your life? Sit down and enjoy a few games of Minestorm. Neo Geo always too expensive to own or play? Well, it still is so here was your
chance to see it in person. A little further into the arcade were rows of pinball machines ranging from the basic but difficult electro-mechanical pins of the 50s/60s/70s to the more advance solid state standouts of the 80s to the early 90s as well as modern machines manufactured by Stern, including Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper licensed pins. I love pinball almost as much as I love arcade and console gaming so I was in heaven to be surrounded by this many free play pins. Apparently I wasn’t alone in that feeling as it was rare to walk by a pin from the 80s to the present that wasn’t occupied. I was patient and loitered near the pins I wanted to play and eventually they would open up so I would get a chance. There were a number of stand-up video games available in the main floor arcade but I didn’t waste my time on those as there were plenty of arcade games on the lower floors as well as the off-site Garcade that I’d be going to Saturday night. For me, this floor was all about the classic console and computer museum display and the pinball machines! The main arcade also hosted a number of competitions towards the back as well as one of two Old School Gamer Magazine booths, the other located in the main vendor auditorium which was giving away free magazines to anyone with an interest. I participated in the Kaboom! competition and had one of the best scores at the time, but it was woefully short of the skilled individual in 1st place.
Sunday was more of the same for me. I spent a bit more time in the vendor room spending my money on everything from Colecovision to NES to Genesis to Saturn and PlayStation. The sheer number of vendors was a bit overwhelming on day 1 but by day 2, I knew which vendors were selling items I was interested in and which would haggle a bit on prices. I bought a book from Old School Gamer Magazine’s own Michael Thomasson and spoke to Phoenix and OSGM author Leonard Herman about my purchase of his Phoenix edition 3 back in 2002. The snow was really coming down throughout the day and I was somewhat concerned that my flight home would be cancelled but as the day progressed, the snow tapered off just enough to keep the Milwaukee airport open and running as long as the destination city wasn’t experiencing the same level of snow fall. It was bittersweet to be leaving such an amazing weekend and event filled with like-minded video gaming “geeks” such as myself but I was pleased with how I spent my time and what I was able to accomplish. I will be on the lookout for the next MWGC event announcement later this year so I can properly plan another trip to wonderful city of Milwaukee and hopefully see some of the same faces I met this go ‘round. If you’re reading this and haven’t made the trek for whatever reason, I encourage you to do and please let me know so I can say hi!