Geek Weekend

Posted Jan. 12, 2009, at 6:32 p.m.

From Old Town, the power of 20-sided die. From Bangor, the power of pop culture nerdiness. From everywhere, the power to create whole worlds. With these powers combined, they summon Earth’s greatest nerd power — Super Geek!

When not taking on the form of the world’s biggest nerd, Super Geek is Gibran Graham, founder of BangPop, Bangor’s comic book convention, and Monique Bouchard, co-founder of this weekend’s SnowCon, a nonelectronic gaming convention set for Jan. 17-18 at the Black Bear Inn in Orono.

“We come from two different ends of the pop culture spectrum,” said Bouchard. “I’m a gaming geek, he’s a comic book geek. I like [Dungeons & Dragons], he likes DC Comics. Together, we form Super Geek.”

SnowCon was conceived around the same time as BangPop. Graham approached his longtime friend Bouchard about designing a Web site for the convention, but as it turned out, Bouchard had something similar in mind for her main passion — gaming.

“So the secret origin of SnowCon is that BangPop went to the highly experimental laboratory of Monique Bouchard Design, and was bitten by a radioactive graphic designer,” said Graham, laughing. “Actually, what happened was, I asked Monique for help for the BangPop Web site and design, and she said ‘Oh my God, I was thinking about doing a big geek thing for gaming, just like BangPop!’”

Graham and Bouchard agreed that if BangPop was a success, they’d try a gaming convention during the winter. BangPop was a huge hit, so as soon as the event came to a close, preparations for SnowCon began.

Bouchard is a die-hard (pun intended) gamer — she has been playing since college. She met her husband, Drew, while he was running a game in Bangor. She’s a card-carrying member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. If you rolled a 3d6 for intelligence and charisma, the Lady Bouchard would get an 18 for both.

“I started in college. I would have started in high school, but my gaming associates weren’t into girls playing games,” said Bouchard. “What kind of idiot doesn’t want a chick to play D&D?”

But play she did. Gaming is big business, and, as with most subculture phenomena, the stereotypes surrounding the types of people who game couldn’t be further from the truth. Gamers are not hygienically challenged teenagers, living in their parents’ basements, guzzling Mountain Dew and eating Funyons by the truckload. They come from all walks of life, from a 12-year-old playing a Pokemon card game, to professionals in their 30’s, 40’s and older, getting together on the weekends for some socializing and Shadowrun, a popular futuristic role-playing game.

“It seems natural to me, why I love it. I love the theater of it. And it’s a great story,” said Bouchard. “You get to participate in these incredible events. How often do you get to figure out how to ransack a semi without alerting the driver, and diverting the vehicle from its course? You get to do these wild and heroic things. It’s very appealing to me.”

According to Bouchard, today’s massively popular turn-based computer games, such as World of Warcraft and the Final Fantasy series, have their roots in turn-based, tabletop role-playing games. White Wolf’s “Werewolf” and “Vampire,” games based on “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings,” and even good old D&D and its many spinoffs remain popular. Bouchard believes gaming has much to teach everyone, especially younger people.

“You learn how to be a graceful winner, and a graceful player and a good sportsman,” said Bouchard. “It’s really personal and interpersonal, and you don’t have a computer to hide behind. That’s the joy of it: you’re with a table full of people for six hours. It’s just a luxury to sit and communicate like that. It’s wonderful.”

Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, the doors will open for two days of panels, films and nonstop gaming. The Vikings of Vinholm, the Shire of Endewearde and the Mandalorian Mercs Costuming Club will show off their fancy duds and weaponry, and the documentaries “The Gamers” and “The Gamers 2: The Dorkness Rising” — both loving tributes to gaming culture — will be screened. Fantasy authors Valerie Griswold-Ford and Kristen Britain will sign books, and, in the only electronic element to the convention, the Nintendo music cover band the Sidescrollers will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Magic: The Gathering, Deadlands, Serenity, Warhammer, Settlers of Katan, Arkham Horror, Killer Bunnies and many more are just some of the games that will be run during the convention. As of Tuesday, there were still slots available for game masters to set up a game (there are also vendor booths available). Both Bouchard and Graham stress that any and all games are welcome.

“You are not alone, no matter what you play,” said Bouchard. “We want gamers to connect with other gamers, whether they play D&D or Pokemon.”

After all, the whole point of SnowCon is that it’s all about nonelectronic games, and the inherently social aspect of them. Then there’s the fact that there’s a lot of bang for your buck with a board game or an RPG, or role-playing game — you can get multiple hours of use out of them, often for less than the cost of a video or computer game.

“The important thing about SnowCon is that all the gaming is nonelectronic. No screens, no consoles,” said Graham. “That’s the great thing about board games and RPGs. You can buy a DVD and watch it once or twice, or you can buy a board game and get endless hours of fun.”

While the first priority is to connect gamers with other gamers in eastern Maine, Bouchard and Graham hope that area businesses will see what an audience there is for gamers, and will host events for them.

“I’d love to see a local business or a restaurant offer up their space once a week for a game night,” said Bouchard. “There’s definitely a demand for it.”

SnowCon runs from 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday, Jan. 17, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, at the Black Bear Inn and Convention Center, just off Exit 193 on I-95 in Orono. Admission for both days, including any and all gaming, is $30; admission and gaming is $20 for Saturday and $10 for Sunday. Admission for those who only want to watch is $10 for Saturday, $5 for Sunday. Youth 12 and under are free with paying chaperones. For details and a full schedule of games, discussions and films, visit www.bangpopmaine.com.

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