Chances are, you’ve played a video game or two in your day. Maybe you haven’t picked up a controller since Mario made his first (of many, because man she was helpless) attempts to rescue Princess Toadstool. Or maybe you’re a little tired this afternoon because you stayed up too late last night obsessively launching birds at pigs. Me, I picked up an Intellivision controller as soon as I was old enough to grip things, and I’ve been at it ever since.
Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to spend last weekend with 3,000 other people at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria for MAGfest 9, an annual four-day celebration of music and gaming.
Between Thursday and Sunday, we strolled through a 24-hour-a-day, 10,000-square-foot game room equipped with every console, PC and arcade game you can imagine. We took quiet breaks in the tabletop gaming room, where most groups seemed content to play Magic: The Gathering, but classic board games such as “Scrabble” shared table space with copies of “Settlers of Cataan,” standing at the ready ready for anyone who wanted to wander in and start a game. And we rocked out to nightly concerts featuring game-music bands including The Minibosses, Protomen and Metroid Metal (think metal-tinged covers of game theme songs).
Ordinarily, I am not what you would call a hard-core gamer. At cons like MAGfest — and the much larger-scale PAX — I tend to embrace the culture more than the actual games. When I do stop to put down the camera and play for an hour or two, it is usually in the service of some game I played a decade or more ago, just wondering if my muscles still have the memory to know when to twitch and jump and punch and hit and kick. (Apparently, they do: I beat the arcade version of “Killer Instinct 2” twice on Saturday, and I am still as bad at “Mario Kart“ as I was in 1998.)
The stereotype is that gamers are solitary, anti-social creatures, but the best part about a con like MAGfest is how easily it disproves those labels. Everyone is having fun, and when you walk into a ballroom at 3 a.m. you can walk up to any stranger and ask to join whatever game he happens to be playing. The entire event is about camaraderie; people play games at home alone all the time, but they come to places like MAGfest to share the experience with others. And that is about as social as you can get.