One of my favorite parts of attending gaming conventions is interacting with families—kids are so enthusiastic about the games that they love, and it’s heartwarming to watch parents and kids sharing their passions with each other.
If you haven’t yet taken the con plunge with your family, it might be time! Conventions are becoming more family-friendly every year—and more and more families are enjoying the adventure of a convention together.
“One of my favorite developments as a convention director is the increasing family presence at our con,” Erik E Carl, Director, TsunamiCon LLC (Wichita, KS). “There’s nothing more important to bonding with your kids than play, and a lot of us learned all about playing games from sitting around the table with our parents or older siblings when we were young.”
Do Your Research
A good family-friend convention has something for everyone, no matter their age or interest—they may have special kids’ tracks, kids’ spaces, or even a mini kid-con inside the main con. Do little research to find out which conventions have what you’re looking for. Visit the con’s website or social media pages, and ask other parents who’ve attended the convention about their experiences. What worked, what didn’t, what were the highlights of the event?
It’s also useful to find out if a convention has rating scales or descriptions for the games that they’re offering. “These ratings matter because they are quick identifiers for not only parents and their children but also for adults who may prefer less mature content settings,” says Mysty Vander, UnCon (UnCoventional Gaming Convention). “Look at the schedule beforehand for the type of games you think are appropriate for your children.”
Create a Great Experience
You know your children better than anyone else—their interests, experience, physical and emotional ages, and their reaction when surrounded by thousands of strangers are all going to have an impact on your experience at a con. Planning ahead of time—and keeping expectations low—helps ensure everyone has a good time. Consider things like food, bathrooms, naps (or just breaks), and the kinds of activities your child is ready for.
“Don’t force your child to sit in a long session if you have not practiced this yet,” suggests Jack Berkenstock Jr., MHS, Executive Director/Co-Founder of The Bodhana Group. “If you know your child has any challenges with either patience or maybe attention and focus, assist by choosing sessions that match with their skill level, or by taking occasional breaks during appropriate times.”
Take the opportunity to be present with your child, especially at the gaming table, to ensure that they have the best possible experience. “Be attentive and involved in the sessions that your child is interested,” says Berkenstock Jr. “If they want to play Tales of Equestria – you can stand being a Brony for just an afternoon! Don’t be afraid to be silly and get involved. This helps everyone have fun together and teaches good skills.”
Meeting other gamers is one of the great joys of conventions. And meeting other gamer parents? Maybe even more so. Having a community of parents who are there for the kids creates a safer, calmer environment for everyone—and could create some long-lasting friendships.
“I’m not the only parent at the cons,” says father and gamer Matthew Dimalanta. “We all tend to get to know each other and look out for each other’s children. If you see your kid playing with another kid… it’s a good idea to strike up a conversation with the kid’s parent.”
He recommends something he does for his own family—talking to people before the convention, especially those who run kid-specific events, and making sure they know how to contact you. “For example, different events (like a Zombie Apocalypse LARP) had a thing specifically for kids. I talked to them ahead of time and they had my phone number just in case. Same deal with the arcade and the escape room. No matter where he was, there was an eye looking out for him.”
Be Prepared for Emergencies
No one likes to think about bad things happening, but it’s important to be prepared, just in case. Make sure that your child knows what to do if they get lost, scared, or hurt. Conventions can be loud and overwhelming for adults; the effect on children is heightened.
And check with the convention to see if they have a section for lost children, or a system for reconnecting lost kids with their parents. “Some conventions give badges with matching numbers so they can establish parent to child relationships if they get separated,” says Berkenstock Jr. “Download the map ahead of time if they have one available to be able to agree upon a meeting spot. Sometimes conventions can be very large and crowded and overwhelming if it is your first time. Usually registration or a designated area (if they have one) is best.”
It may seem obvious, but don’t forget to have a great time—and let your family do the same! Consider starting a convention scrapbook full of photos, character sheets, and other goodies that everyone can work on together after the event—it’s a great way to reminisce about all of the fun you had and get excited about the next one!
A Few Family-Friendly Cons
Here are a few family-friend conventions recommended by parents, based on their own experiences with their families. The big draws were: inclusivity, safety, dedicated family gaming areas or rooms, mini-kid cons inside the larger cons, tracks specifically for kids and teens, and lots of kid-focused content.
- Big Bad Con
- GameHole Con
- Geek Girl Con
- PAX Unplugged
- Save Against Fear
- UnCoventional Gaming Convention
- UK Games Expo
* Photos courtesy of Bodhana Group/Doug Hilton Photography and Matthew Dimalanta