On the Floor at MAGFest 2017

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With the ongoing cyber-punk dystopia that was 2016 finally put to rest, I kicked off the new year with a favorite tradition of mine, MAGFest. Known unabbreviated as the Music and Gaming Festival, MAGFest is a four-day long convention of celebrating video games, music, and where the two collide. This convention is a bit personal for me. It’s been the one that’s had the most consistent returns and enjoyment out of the few other conventions I visit. I’ve attended several Katsucons and Otakons and neither has had the same type of magic of MAGFest. Yet this year was different, in a good way. I have a suspicion it’s because of one element MAGFest really digs into that, at least from my perspective, can’t be found anywhere else.

That element is: community. A fatal flaw of con-going for me has been the crippling isolation. I’m less open with strangers and even with 10 friends running around the floor, there are times being one of the crowd can feel lonely. In my experience, conventions are often a one-way relationship. Panels, workshops, and live performances are all consumed but never contributed to. For the last few years, one of the things apparent on the convention floor is how well MAGFest has been giving the attendees a chance to interact.

MAGFest sported an entire floor dedicated to tabletop board games, an entire library to check out with halls flooded with tables. I had the good fortune where a total stranger sat down with us to play a game of Smash Up even if we only had three players. There was a legitimate drop-in and play mindset that made the whole floor magical.

Two new features to this year’s MAGFest were an escape room and laser tag. I’m surprised I’ve never seen them at other conventions given their simplicity and enjoyability.

The escape room filled up and fast, requiring a staggering sign-up system to prevent every session from being booked on day one. I managed to squeak in with a troop of friends and was trapped in a science lab reminiscent of Portal. Despite having two walls made of cheap foam and several obtuse red herrings, the room proved incredibly fun if a bit disappointing due to the DYI aesthetic.

The opposite happened with MAGFest’s laser tag. Despite the set up being an empty convention room with stacks of chairs and giant football shaped beanie-bags for cover, this game was intense. Instead of vests, the area players are meant to shoot is a big block of sensors mounted on their guns. This proved easy to exploit as players would hide the block behind cover and be free to open fire without consequences. However, the undefined arena and the ability to block the sensor block with one’s body lead to a lot of players running around, constantly checking their sides for enemies that aren’t color coded made the match paranoid, hectic, and high energy. And then Megalovania kicked on. I’m kind of amazed my best experience playing laser tag was such a half-put together mess, but it was.

For several years, MAGFest has also been home to a computer museum, featuring some nasty nostalgia. I didn’t think I was capable of feeling old until I saw people gaming on the same Macintosh computers from elementary school. Even better were the old Nintendo Super Famicom machines with their original games and even modern independent games designed for it.

Finally, an addition that came to the convention last for were the Jam Spaces. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of these types of spaces before. They’re sections of the convention floor taped off for spontaneous public performances. Namely, if attendees have something fun they want to do like music and break dancing, they have a non-obtrusive space to do so. The result is fantastic, allowing attendees to hang out and celebrate as a group. This year, the Spaces got a fantastic amount of use with violinist, rock bands, and DJs. Later into the evenings, these Spaces become the highlight of MAGFest with full on mosh pits breaking out. The Jam Spaces allow for an experience no other convention has managed to replicate for me.

That was MAGFest 2017, a drastically different convention. I’m really hoping more conventions go this direction where the focus is placed more on folks getting together to be a community.

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