San Diego Comic-Con isn’t the only major annual genre convention that takes place in the world - or even in the U.S., but it’s one of the largest and most significant, both because of its history and because it’s where many big announcements from studios and publishers about new releases are made. These are only some of the reasons that thousands of people flock to cons like SDCC every year.
Everyone ends up getting something different out of their con experience. Some want to browse and hang out with friends, others want to pick up merch, and even more still simply want the chance to meet the creative teams behind their favourite franchises. Regardless of any of the specific activities they get into, people make their yearly pilgrimages to these massive nerd events because they’re hoping to have a good time.
As we come up on this year’s SDCC it feels like an excellent time to remind everyone while there are certainly backend organisational things about cons that could be vastly improved to better the overall experience, there are also a number of small, easy things that attendees can do to similarly help make things run more smoothly for everyone.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you. Whether I’m there as a reporter or just someone taking in the sights, conventions stress me the fuck out in ways I don’t care to go into detail about. While there are plenty of things at cons that make them “fun,” there are also tens of thousands of people jam-packed into the convention halls’ finite amount of space where employees do all they can to corral hordes of fans from one ridiculously long line to another.
Attending means throwing yourself into the roiling masses with the tacit understanding that everyone’s general experience is going to be influenced by the people around them. When you pass by crowds of excited cosplayers going on about the latest trailer for the Big Franchise™ and get a tiny contact high just from their positive energy, that’s the dynamic in positive action. But that dynamic can also play out negatively when people don’t make the basic amount of effort to be mindful of one another, and that’s when things tend to get messy.
Regrettably, basic common sense about how to be a person in crowded public spaces is a rarity in our society, but it is one of the most powerful things that can have a drastic impact on the atmosphere of a con. For example, because convention hall spaces are so densely-packed, it simply doesn’t make sense to stop moving in the middle of a busy walkway when you can be all but certain that there are people behind you who intend to keep moving forward.
Sometimes people drop things, get separated from their friends, or get lost - shit happens. But it’s in the moment when people’s field of focus turns super-inward, like when folks stand at the tops of an escalator full of people, that chaos ensues.
It’s not that anyone’s necessarily trying to be rude, exactly. People aren’t being considerate of one another in small, innocuous ways, but because there are so many people, those small actions add up and have an amplified impact. We all have those moments where something on the show floor catches our eyes and we feel the immediate impulse to “ooh” and “ahh.” That’s perfectly fine. But one can usually gaze in awe at something, take pictures and/or video of said something, and make sure that they aren’t full-on blocking foot traffic at the same time.
Because cons transform city streets and footpaths into roiling hives of sweaty bodies, people sometimes feel the impulse to throw up their blinders and shift into pure tunnel-vision mode as they attempt to beeline from one point to the next. But again, you really can’t block out the rest of the world when you’re at an event like that, and you certainly can’t knock people out of the way because you’re not in that space alone. Everyone should be able to come to a con with the reasonable expectation that people will be respectful of their time and space - “should” being the operative word here.
Cons are about socialising just as much as they’re about pouring over collectibles, and at some point, everyone ends up interacting with someone they don’t know. You’re waiting in line to get into a panel, and who knows, maybe the person standing in front of you is sporting a pin that means something to you and you want to strike up a conversation. Hey! That’s fine and if the person seems receptive, a “Hey, I like your pin a lot” or some such is a solid way of saying hello.
But if someone doesn’t seem particularly interested in chatting or has made it explicitly clear they’d rather be left alone, here’s a tip: Leave them the hell alone.
Perhaps you see an epic cosplayer who blows your mind and you feel compelled to let them know how impressed you are. If you’d like a picture, ask the cosplayer if they’re willing to pose for you. If they are, great. If they’re not, that’s that. Folks shouldn’t really be aggressive with one another at cons and everyone would do well to keep their hands to themselves.
None of these things are at all revolutionary or groundbreaking ideas. Everyone should know that cutting in line is a surefire way to piss people off and that taking a shower and slapping on some deodorant before venturing out into the summer heat on your way to a convention centre is in everyone’s best interest.
And yet these ideas somehow evade people whenever convention season rolls around, and every year, without fail, everyone ends up experiencing different degrees of stress because of it.
But, as we all prepare to make our way to cons, wherever they may be, let’s all try to bear in mind that things don’t have to be that way. People can and should choose basic thoughtfulness over arsehole behaviour - because ultimately, it’s that choice writ large that usually makes or breaks a con.