It's inevitable. Even with all the great high-end computer games and now the massively multiplayer market boom, gamers still like to gather in groups. They like to know that there are others like them, with a passion for games of all sorts. They like to discuss strategy, fight battles and generally have a good time in ways that are not possible during a single player experience.
So where do the gamers go? Well, for the most part the convention, or con, is the epitome of gamer society. Call it a gathering of the tribes. Like the salmon, there is an undeniable need to seek other others and return to old stomping grounds. Many gamers are near-religious in the support of the cons.
For the longest time cons were mostly about the pen-and-paper role-playing and board games, or perhaps about live-action role-playing. Then we started to notice a crossover audience where paper players moved into computers or vice versa. Now, the computer game room is a staple at most cons, even ones dominated by table top games.
We conned organizer Cheryl Llewellyn into talking with us about Ben Con, a convention in Denver were all the profits go to charity. She talked to us about gamers, conventions and the crossover between paper and processors.
GiN: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became involved in Ben Con?
Llewellyn: I've been attending gaming conventions since 1993 and I'm a meeting planner by trade. My first convention was Gen Con, held in Milwaukee, at that time put on by TSR. After attending that monster of a convention I began looking into my own community for gaming conventions. I found two, Genghis Con (the largest in the Rocky Mountain Region) and TactiCon.
I started attending and after attending a few, I started to help out. At the time Genghis Con needed a Guest coordinator, some one to make sure that we had guests at the con and take care of their needs while on site. My friend Robin Hartwig and I undertook this task and we gradually become more and more involved with the coordination side of Denver area conventions. And in 1997, the Denver Gamers Association (DGA) asked if I would consider taking over as the convention coordinator. Which I happily agreed to do.
Ben Con was started in 1995 and during the early years Robin and I continued to coordinate the Guest of Honor for both conventions. I then left to pursue the opportunity, as the convention coordinator with Genghis Con, while Robin stayed with Ben Con.
Last fall Robin asked me to come back and join the Ben Con team again, but as their Convention Coordinator this time. So here I am.
GiN: Can you talk for a bit about Ben Con and what is offered at the convention in the way of gaming?
Llewellyn: Ben Con is the nations first all benefit gaming convention. It is sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Benefit Gamers Association (RMBGA). The RMBGA is a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation whose purpose is to raise money for needy charities that impact the Rocky Mountain region, with a focus on Colorado. It was started in 1995 by a group of people who wanted to play games and do good things for the community. Each year we are able to raise almost $10,000 for charity.
We offer a wide variety of gaming at Ben Con; Role-Playing, Collectible Card games, Board games, Live Action, and Miniatures. With the recent release (August, 2000) of 3rd Edition D&D from Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro we have seen an increase in role-playing gamers.
GiN: It’s interesting to see a convention where all the profits are donated to charitable organizations. Most Cons that we know of are moneymaking operations. Why have you decided to run Ben Con as a charity fundraiser?
Llewellyn: The founders of Ben Con decided that they wanted to make a difference in the community. They felt that this could be achieved while playing games. The motto of the RMBGA is "play games, have fun, do good." Each year we have been able to raise approximately $10,000 for the chosen charities. We are hoping in years to come to be able to double this amount.
GiN: How difficult was it to start Ben Con?
Llewellyn: Starting a convention from scratch is always difficult. The first couple of years are slow while you are trying to stand firmly on your feet. The first year was very successful for a start up con. We about 700 people attend and met the goal of raising $10,000 for charity.
GiN: What is involved in putting together a successful con?
Llewellyn: I think that the first thing would be the people. Since Ben Con is run completely by volunteers, without them the con just wouldn't happen. Second would be the attendees, this is why we work so hard all year putting this together.
GiN: We noticed that you are based in Colorado, and that Ben Con is in Denver. Surprisingly, Colorado is in the top ten states as far as Game Industry News readership. Would you say that Colorado is a state with a high gamer population?
Llewellyn: I'm not sure; I haven't really seen any statistics for Colorado. We do have a fair amount of gamers and a lot of talent in this area. We have people that come in from all over the country to make Ben Con happen.
GiN: Lets talk about games for a moment. Conventions are known for their role-playing tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons and the many, many others out there. What do you see is the attraction of games like these compared to games that are played on the computer?
Llewellyn: I believe that it would be the socialization. Sometimes the games on the computer are great, but it is a whole different world to play with six to seven other people. They don't react the same way as the computer, they don't think like the computer. There is something very special about working hard for four hours to complete an adventure and forming relationships with the people at the table. It you accomplish your goal there is nothing like sitting around with the people that helped kill the big bad guy. You just don't get that with a computer monitor.
GiN: Do you think that the recent surge in multiplayer computer games, and single player RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, has hurt or helped the popularity of the pen-and-paper based games?
Llewellyn: I think that in a sense that it has helped the pen-and-paper based games. There are people out there that had never played D&D until they picked up a copy of Baldur's Gate. They then found out more about conventions and decided to see what they were all about.
GiN: I know you said you were trying to add a computer games room to your convention. We have seen this done successfully for conventions around our area (the Washington DC metro area) and were wondering if the people attending your convention were asking for this addition?
Llewellyn: Each year we get a few more people asking if we are going to have a computer room next year or why we don't currently. The answer is typically the same – we can't find anyone who is willing to come in a set up a computer room. It takes equipment and time to run a computer room and there just does not seem to be a lot of resources out there that are willing to come in and set up, or at least not in the Denver area.
GiN: Do you think there is a large crossover audience that role-play and also play computer games?
Llewellyn: I don't have the statistics for this but if I had to guess I would say about 75 percent of our audience role-plays and plays computer games. I know that most of the people I know do this. However, I would have to say that it would be more males than females that do both.
Speaking very generically, I believe that computer games appeal to more men than women. I'm not saying that women don't play but in my circle of friends I find this to be true.
GiN: Lets talk about a serious issue for a moment. Ever since the Columbine shootings, and indeed before that even happened, there has been an assault on violent games. Mostly this has been aimed at computer games, but also at paper-based RPGs that invariably involve killing something be it other humans or monsters or some other adversary. Being close geographically to Columbine, has this affected your con at all? Do you think games (both computer and paper-RPGs) are too violent or are games and the gamers that play them being unfairly singled out?
Llewellyn: Cons over all in the Denver have increased by attendance. I don't believe that Columbine has anything to do with the gaming community at this time. At the time of the shooting there was a hint that the shooters were involved with D&D but we did some checking and they didn't belong to the Denver area gaming community.
Both as a gamer and a parent I feel that people don't take responsibility for their actions. They need something to blame all of the "bad stuff" on. I believe that the first responsibility lies with the parents of any of these children. If you help your children form a good foundation in life, teach them what is right and wrong, and talk with them about things that they see if their life then society wouldn't need to find scapegoats when it comes to these kinds of things.
GiN: What is the best part, for you, about running Ben Con?
Llewellyn: Seeing that the attendees are having a good time. When I hear a few years later what a great time it was. When they talk about it to their friends. When we hand that very large check to the charities.
GiN: Why do you think that Ben Con has been successful?
Llewellyn: The hard work of the volunteers that make it happen and the good will of the attendees. Like I said before without them, Ben Con couldn't happen.
GiN: How can a gamer get more information about your con?
Llewellyn: You can visit our web site at www.bengames.org. There you can find information to join our mailing list, both on line and program distribution list. Our hotline number is 303-745-2115 if you should have any other questions.
Play Games, Have Fun, Do Good. Hope to see you at a Ben Con in the future.