FRIDAY, Sept. 4 — Joe Shall is a stocky, 34-year-old man who makes up for his burgeoning bald patch with a goatee that stretches to his chest. He is amiable, with a quick chuckle, and says he’s hopeful more will make it out to the first-ever videogame convention he and his wife, Stephanie, planned after their enormously successful Lansing-based annual anime convention, Shuto Con.
It’s called Random Battle Con. And it’s showing admittedly meager attendance compared to the 6,000 people who went to Shuto Con last year.
Naturally, the Shalls have more modest hopes for this weekend’s extravaganza, being staged at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Lansing. About 115 signed up for the online pre-registration. By early afternoon Friday, they had a solid handful of walk-ins too.
Videogame-lovers milled about in pink or blue hair, wearing anime costumes or dressed like ninjas or characters from videogames; others sit in the dim glow of the arcade room, staring at computer screens with intent looks on their faces.
The convention will run all weekend, and for those who didn’t pre-register, it costs $90 for a three-day-pass to the scheduled videogame tournaments, the planned costume competition and other events.
They’re hosting many of the same events they had at Shuto Con: video game tournaments, first-person shooters and even a costume competition scheduled for Saturday.
But Random Battle Con is supposed to be distinguishable by being more videogame-centric, Shall said.
John Hubbard, a nurse tech from Grand Rapids who also runs a new “geek culture” website, was setting up his camera to interview people.
He started the website — migeekscene.com — last year, and debuted it during Shuto Con. Hubbard said he loved Shuto Con and never ran into any “drama” that people hear about on geek culture websites.
For some reason, several people mentioned a bullying problem to me, without my prompting. So I asked Hubbard what he meant.
“Unfortunately even in the geek community, one would call it bullying attitudes,” Hubbard said. “But I didn’t see a hint of that at Shuto Con.”
Image: Alison Krumlie, who works for a console game supply company. Photo by Michael Gerstein.
And the longer we talked, the clearer it became that what people here call “bullying” or “incidents” can include anything from making fun of overweight people to men sexually harassing female co-players, though organizers said sexual harassment is rare.
“Oh dude. I mean, like some of the people I’ve talked to unfortunately, like women that are in cosplay and stuff like that, they just got creepy dudes that just have no respect whatsoever,” Hubbard said. “The ones that ruin it for everyone … .
“You won’t see any of that stuff happening here; that is not tolerated here,” he said.
Stephanie Shall said there were instances of sexual harassment or sexual assault at previous Shuto Con events, however.
She and Hubbard agreed that “cons are clamping down” on sexual harassment, which they say is often an issue at larger conventions in L.A. and elsewhere. She said they report harassment here, and either “reprimand them or kick them out.”
“We’ve had numerous cases in which we’ve had to actually kick them out for sexual harassment,” Shall said. “It happens everywhere; it happens at football games, it happens at cons, it happens at the fucking store.”
Organizers say they’ve taken steps to make sure those instances happen as infrequently as possible.
Folks here sell all sorts of things, from a table that peddles armor to the Party Table, which will draw anything you want for $1 in crayon (I had Chris Fiore, the self-described “professionally trained artist” there draw a portrait for me, which is exceptionally generous with the amount of muscle mass it portrays).
Alex Page runs a business with a table here called Deosil Designs, which sells the Legend of Zelda-themed tarot cards that she and Noa Page designed and drew themselves.
Page said they raised some $17,000 through Kickstarter to print 1,000 copies of the deck, and they’ve already sold about 700 since last July. Now they have about 300 left. She said she was even able to work part-time at her “real job” once she started selling the tarot decks at conventions and online through her Etsy store, which is based on the project.
She said she wanted to make a tarot deck when she was an illustration student at Grand Valley University, but just didn’t have time.
“We just kept going and going. And we started out with just the first 22 cards … and I was like, ‘no, we have to finish this; we have to do an entire working tarot deck,’” she said. “We did all characters from Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask.”
Noa, her business partner, makes comics and earns her living entirely that way. Page also does tarot readings for free.
Beside the video game tournaments for everything from Super Smash Brothers to Pokemon and beyond, there’s also an event in which you can learn to craft armor.
It’s called “ARMOUR ACADEMY: CHAINMAIL,” and con-lovers can learn how to make “traditional European four-in-one weave chainmail,” which the event describes as the same design that was used throughout the Roman Empire.
I asked everyone I talked to what they were most looking forward to, and one con-lover said what is probably a common sentiment here: “Just looking forward to gaming and having fun with friends,” Alison Krumrie said.
For more information, see randombattlecon.com