Although most attendees aren’t even remotely related, the gaming convention PolyCon has become a family reunion for many people in the 29 years since its creation.
The convention is produced by Cal Poly students and alumni, and draws an annual crowd to participate in everything from board games, card games, live action roleplaying (LARPing), pen and paper roleplaying games, video games, Nerf Wars and everything in between.
This year, it was held in the University Union (UU) at Cal Poly, and took up the entire second floor. Joe Parzanese, the event’s coordinator, said the crowd is varied, and some “con goers” are in their 70s.
“Predominantly, you end up getting the basic roleplaying sci-fi geek-type person,” he said. “But you do get a variety of historical miniature players, war gamers and things like that.”
The convention runs for an entire weekend, with games that can run from dusk until dawn. Attendees can rent dorm rooms to stay in during PolyCon, because convention staff doesn’t allow people to sleep in the UU at night.
“There are 2 a.m. games, but this is not a hotel,” Parzanese said.
In the past, the convention was larger, but due to the recession only five dealers were able to set up booths to sell wares ranging from period costumes to books, games and even 10-minute massages.
“No one who sells things in L.A. or San Francisco wants to drive 320 miles, especially when (we) are one-fifth the size of the cons up there,” he said.
But some people came from much farther than 320 miles to attend PolyCon. Cal Poly alumna Aimee Moisa took a plane and three trains from Kauai, Hawaii with her 2-year-old daughter Emma and husband Jon. She first attended the convention in 1990 and met her first and second husbands there.
“I don’t have any physical family here,” Moisa said. “But these are my relatives. I’ve known half a dozen of the guys in there 20 years. And the rest of them I’ve met over the course of the last 20 years.”
This is the first time her daughter attended PolyCon, although she isn’t old enough to play the games. Moisa said she loves to play Dungeons and Dragons, a pen and paper fantasy roleplaying game, but spent most of the convention visiting friends and introducing her daughter to them while her husband played games and performed medieval combat demonstrations with the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).
“This group is the kind of the group that you can really just trust,” she said. “Trust yourself with, trust your life with, trust your family with. And that’s what I love most about them.”
Moisa wasn’t the only mother at the convention. Christine Cipriano brought her daughter Mia to PolyCon last summer. Cipriano said Mia primarily plays in the Nerf War, where participants shoot each other with foam darts. Her daughter wore an adult-sized black vest with her guns, ammunition and a Nerf sword sheathed on the back.
“She really loved it,” Cipriano said. “So every time she hears about PolyCon, she (says), ‘Oh, we’re going to play Nerf Wars?’ So we bring all her Nerf stuff, and this time we went and got a vest.”
Not only does the convention attract players, but also people who like to run games, dubbed Game Masters (GMs).
Atascadero resident Michael Judd created and constructed his own fantasy roleplaying game, Gildan, and planned to give it a test run during the convention. Unfortunately, no one signed up to play his game, but he considers it all a part of the creative process.
“The original idea behind this was to use technology to create,” he said.
Judd was also a guest speaker, and had a time slot to show his own micro-budget films, “God’s Forsaken Children” and “Drama in the House on Haunted Hill.”
“’Drama in the House on Haunted Hill’ is actually designed to help people understand how public domain stuff can help them, to show them an example of how they can use public domain to make money,” he said. “I was originally making it to inspire troubled young men. To show them what to do with a little money and a lot of creative work; give them some type of (outlet).”
There is a lot of variety at PolyCon, hosting every flavor of gaming experience a casual or hardcore gamer could want. One of the largest games ran was Pygmy — a large-scale game featuring a 128 square-foot board game. Morro Bay High School history teacher Sean True was one of the founders of the game, which was created 20 years ago.
“It’s a large scale roleplaying game where everything is there, as opposed to a pencil and paper where they sort of ask you to imagine everything,” True said. “We build everything and we have everything very interactive.”
Players walked around the giant game board, which True said took five and a half hours to set up, holding clipboards with cups full of dice, going through miniaturized terrains including a jungle, snow mountains, a desert, a turbulent sea and medieval fortresses.
“We like to keep our rules as simple as possible because our game is designed for pick-up players who have never played before to be able to jump in and very simply run things,” he said.
The Pygmy pieces used in the game were based off ones they found in a store in Santa Monica — a part of the owner’s private collection. When the owner refused to sell them, they called up the original manufacturer in England. They no longer made the figurines, but still had the molds and they made some up for them.
“It’s kind of our labor of love that we’ve been doing a long time, and we get a lot out of seeing other people getting to play and have fun with our game,” True said. “Everybody thinks that we’re crazy and maybe we are, but it’s a blast once a year to get together with people you don’t see otherwise and get to have some active art, and that’s what Pygmy is.”
Although some attend PolyCon for the games, other attend for the demonstrations.
Basia Brown is a member of SCA and came to the convention in full period costume. She was also there and to promote SCA, but she said she’s attended PolyCon for seven years. She likes taking part in the Dungeons and Dragons tournament, where players are judged by their acting skills, problem solving and overall sportsmanship, she said.
“It’s really great how the same people come back every year, and it’s like a big family reunion,” Brown said. “I really love that because people move away but we all come back for PolyCon.”
Originally published in the Mustang Daily.