Gaming

Nor-Con: Get Your Con On!

“What would you do if you could do anything in a Star Wars movie?”

“I’d stop Jabba the Hutt.”

That came from Jeremy Bulloch, the revered human beneath the helm of Boba Fett. Resonating across a comfortably-modest stage with a humorously matter-of-fact tone, Mr. Bulloch’s was one of the many snippets of good-humoured nerdery that warmed a drizzly Norfolk Showground last weekend.

Initially, arriving early had me wondering. I’d had experience with morning arrivals at London’s MCM Con a few years ago, which always felt rather dead – or at least Zombie Walker-level alive – until around 1pm. And having been awake since 5 to commute, it’d become more overwhelming than anything else.

Not here. I think what distances Nor Con from larger Cons is its proclivity for remaining authentically lively, friendly and unyieldingly geeky no matter how many folks turned up. Between the Norwich Star Wars Club, kitted-up cosplayers and roster of indie artists, there’s a noticeable sense of local community there; something that feels an inviting hybrid between a relaxed live gig, and a celebratory yard sale held by your favourite pop culture collectors.

I probably should’ve seen the friendly nerd-dom coming, really. Outside the event’s rather glaring title, I didn’t really need to enter the arena at all to see the spangling white Ecto-1 replica plunked near the entrance. Driven by one of Spielberg’s Gremlins, of course, while Slimer and a some-twenty-foot inflatable Stay Puft laughed it up with a couple Daleks beside the TARDIS. If nothing else, it set the tone for the grin-inducing encounters I had from then on.

A lot of Nor Con functioned like a nostalgia museum, featuring discussions with various actors surrounding their experience on films such as Star Wars, Harry Potter and Doctor Who, and a K.I.T.T replica signed by David Hasselhoff. It wasn’t just about the pop culture giants of the screen, either. Hefty portions of the event were devoted to gaming, with contributions from Norwich Gaming Festival affording attendees a go at Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Mega Drive, or take a dive into hyperspace in a Rogue One VR mission. That was more a nosedive in my case. Apparently X-Wing proficiency isn’t in my skill-set.

Outside the attractions, the event is intensely fan-driven, and it was more often that drive that produced the memorable moments. Running into Chewbacca was a highlight, or having myself zapped by a remote-controlled Dalek. Or getting photobombed by Pikachu. It was encouraging to see so many clubs and societies welcoming those with pop culture interests. Indeed, our own GameSoc appeared, complete with prosthetic cosplay-horns. The role-playing society holds LARPing workshops every other Sunday outside the UEA bar, so if you’ve never tested your mettle in a foam-dagger showdown before, I’d recommend checking that out.

The welcoming occasionally extended into mini events, such as a pageant-type Cosplay Comp, or a lucky dip promising the Master Sword as its top prize. Commiseration lollies were circulated as necessary, as well as the option to purchase some of gaming’s most recognisable weaponry.

There’s always a bit of a concern attached to convention prices. With a student loan happily fizzling its way into rent and utility heaven, my bank statement hasn’t always looked as pretty as all the cool Con stuff I wangle. The price tag is often validated by quality or collectability, but considering the time and effort obviously behind Nor Con’s varied marketstuffs, I’m surprised by how many reasonably-priced stalls I found. Most were handmade, running the gamut from fleecy Pokémon plushies and Rick and Morty pins, to hand-engraved containers to store your D&D gear, not to mention the several independent comics bursting with the ironic, the endearing and the odd. Example? There’s Humon’s satirical Scandinavia and the World strips for one, detailing the reactions of each country to various national happenings with a tastefully stereotypical bent. Or the Chubbiecorn colouring book, featuring various plus-sized unicorns engaged in all manner of daily activities. Ever wanted to decorate a monocled gentle-corn as they read their morning paper? Me neither, until I discovered I could. The only thing I was perplexed by was the lack of Blade Runner love, what with 2049 recently out.

The amount Nor Con packs into its modest arena serves to evidence of the thought the organisers must’ve given to accessibility. Perhaps especially given the culture of cinema-going, video gaming and/or cosplay-creating the con ultimately celebrates, it follows that not everyone may have the funds to gain access to the spiritual family conventions can offer some people. A general day ticket is roughly the same price as your standard London Con, yet tinted with a local creativity that – for me at least – quite surpasses it. I don’t want to give the impression I’m hating on MCM, but as someone who prefers something a tiny bit more relaxed, my Con was on in Norfolk.

25/10/2017

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charlienicholson


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