My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 1

Last weekend was the eighth edition of Big Bad Con. I have had the privilege of attending every single instance and even to be part of the staff for the last few ones. It’s my very favourite weekend of the year, my Christmas.

In the last 25 years I have worked for many other conventions (organized events, volunteered, or been on staff) and attended many more, but Big Bad Con is different. It launched in 2011 with a mission to build community among tabletop and live-action role-players. Within a few years, this expanded to mean more: to make the community welcoming to all and particularly to marginalized, vulnerable, under-represented groups. Here are a few of the practical steps taken: 

  • In reaction to some regrettable failures on the national convention scene, Big Bad Con established strong community standards that start with an anti-harassment policy but is meant to also provide the backbone to model positive behaviour.
  • In 2016, a meta-game was created to encourage attendees to adopt those behaviours: Big Bad World, a con-long game about being welcoming and fostering community.
  • The team of staff members and volunteers includes community advocates and accessibility consultants.
  • Offer personal pronoun ribbons at registration and encourage their use throughout the con.
  • Handouts and game registration forms provide information on game safety mechanisms and encourage their use at the game table.
  • Encourage GMs to provide content tags, maturity level, and trigger warnings with their game descriptions to help attendees pick the games that are right for them.
  • Provide all-gender bathrooms in the convention areas, with signs providing information on the amenities.
  • Offer advanced boarding at Games on Demand for those who require more time.
  • Set aside a Quiet Room for those who need to take a break.
  • Designate space for those with mobility impairments.
  • Invite special guests of diverse identities based on their track record of community building.
  • Encourage fledgling game designers to run playtests of their game projects.
  • Post greeters and hosts on all shifts to welcome attendees and help them find what they need.
  • Set up a Discord server with dedicated channels to help attendees find games, players, food, lodgings, etc.
  • Poll the community for games they would like to play and recruit GMs to run these.
  • Carefully review attendee feedback every year and make changes to provide a better experience.
  • Train volunteers (the Rangers) to help improve attendee experience and to recognize when to escalate a situation to the appropriate staff.
  • Provide as clear a chain of communication as possible… and keep working at it.

I can talk freely about how cool those ideas are because they’re generally other people’s ideas, although I am honoured to have helped implement a few of them! 🙂


Thursday Night

For the first time, things officially started on Thursday night instead of mid-day on Friday. I was late getting to the event because (A) San Francisco Bay Area traffic sucks, and (B) I was feeling down because Edmund could not attend, so it was my first convention by myself since 1994. I considered blowing it off except for the games I was supposed to run on Friday, but I knew once I was there I would have a good time.

After Edmund dropped me off at the Walnut Creek Marriott in the evening, I checked in and dropped my luggage in the room I was sharing with a new attendee, M.S.; it was a very nice room with two queen beds, a little living room area, and a balcony with table and chairs. We under-used it because the con was so good, but we did make good use of the little refrigerator.

I missed most of Thursday night’s events but I was in time for the soda-pop social organized by Brie and John Sheldon. It was wonderful to connect or reconnect with other attendees all bubbling with excitement. The Sheldons thoughtfully provided an opportunity to socialize without pressure to drink alcohol—and without competing with scheduled games. I got to say hello to lots of friends, some I have often gamed with and some I had only encountered online until then. (To be continued in the next post.)

Read other people’s impressions:

  • Alex McConnaughey’s Twitter thread on working as Big Bad COn safety staff.

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