For years I’ve said I was going to check out more conventions, and for years I would either fail to budget and plan for this goal or I would fail to remember it altogether. Well, I decided that 2017 would be my year of conventions! By that, I mean I attended two extra conventions (it would have been three, but I missed the discounted Anime USA membership). MAGfest, in particular, is a convention that I’ve intended to attend for several years now, but each year I would forget about it until it was right on top of me and I didn’t have the money to spare for registration. After years of failure, I finally achieved my goal at the beginning of this year!
Was MAGfest worth it? Did my years of anticipation pay off?
The first thing I should mention is that MAGfest is a bit of a departure for me. Up until this year, I had only attended anime conventions while MAGfest is a music and gaming convention (Get it? MAGfest? Huh? Do ya?), and there is definitely a different atmosphere between these two convention genres.
For starters, I’m used to very large dealer/industry halls with merchant upon merchant hawking their wares in separate artist areas. MAGfest combined the two into one area, and the artists definitely overpowered the vendors, with the whole area being relatively smaller than what I’m used to. The reasoning is pretty sound, though: this arrangement allowed for three large halls to be filled with nothing but video games!
Every anime convention I’ve ever been to has had a gaming hall, with some being bigger than others. After MAGfest, though, I will never be able to look at an anime gaming hall as “big” ever again. With one area dedicated to gaming of all kinds, another to indie developers, and yet another to arcade games and cabinets, there were more than enough games to keep any gamer occupied for the convention’s four-day period. Oh, and the game areas were open around the clock. Who needs sleep when there are games to play?!
There were even areas where music and gaming intersected. Within the first game room, there were two different Rock Band set-ups where players could sign up to sing while others took turns on the instruments. Outside the hall, a gentleman was set up with Rocksmith, allowing real guitarists and bassists to plug in and try their hands at a large library of songs, while those of us who liked to sing could still step up to the plate and put our vocal skills on display.
Of course, MAGfest came with the usual trimmings of panels, workshops, and events, although at a cursory glance it felt to me as though there weren’t as many panels as I normally see at anime conventions; however, the events were spread across multiple panel rooms, which could be the reason why it felt that way to me. The convention also featured live events such as zombie tag and laser tag which, unfortunately, I could not participate in since I had my infant son with me all weekend. Something to look forward to next year? I believe so!
Since MAGfest is part music convention, you can easily surmise that there were concerts galore, as well as multiple “jam” rooms where musicians could congregate to play together and where bands could come to show off their stuff. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the convention were the two “jampods”–areas in the public spaces where musicians could set up and perform short sets. In reality, these spaces were just carpeted areas with boundaries made of yellow tape; however, they added a level of spontaneity to the convention, because you never knew what to expect when passing by.
Perhaps the biggest difference between MAGfest and an anime convention was the difference in cosplay volume. While MAGfest had more than its fair share of cosplayers, their numbers were significantly smaller and less diverse than what I have come to expect from anime conventions. This isn’t a strike against MAGfest, just an observation.
As is my tradition at any convention I attend, I made it a point to visit the closing ceremonies on Sunday. I was able to learn a bit more about the culture of the convention as a result. What stood out to me is how experimental the people running the convention are willing to be. For one, they hold something called “MAGfest Labs” every year, where they take new ideas and experiment with them to see if they will work in a convention setting. If they work, then the ideas are carried over to the main event.
The staff were also open to “unofficial” contributions by people who were willing to provide services. For example, the Rocksmith guy I mentioned earlier was only there because one of the people who runs MAGfest happened to meet him at a different event and asked if he would be willing to set up his gear at MAGfest. The guy agreed and has apparently been coming of his own volition for the past few years. Staff also stated that if attendees have an idea that they are willing to put in the effort to implement, then the MAGfest staff will work with them to make the idea a reality as long as space is available. Obviously, this doesn’t mean everything goes, but I found it impressive that the convention organizers were willing to work with attendees who wanted to contribute to the convention. It takes the idea of “by fans, for fans” to a whole new level.
Before I end this, I must mention a few more things: First, whoever designs the various signs around MAGfest deserves a huge pat on the back. The humor in them led me to take pictures of every official sign that I came across. On top of this, the convention maps were epic, capturing the feel of the convention instead of just being a bland “you are here” reference. The attitudes of staff and attendees were also commendable. No one gave me a hard time about my giant stroller and, in fact, staff and attendees tended to be very accommodating. One staff member actually stopped a line of people who were entering the vendor area so that I could have an opening to get in with the stroller, and countless attendees stopped to say “hi” to my son.
Overall, MAGfest was a very pleasant experience that I would love to add to my yearly roster of conventions.
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