Debrief: Dragon Con 2022

Debrief: Dragon Con 2022
Atlanta, GA – September 1 through September 5, 2022

Boom! Dragon Con 2022 is in the books!

And it was an experience of highs and lows.

Attendance was reported at 65,000, and while it was definitely higher than the 42,000 from 2021, it was still pretty manageable. The big issue was the convention’s pandemic precautions (or lack thereof… more on that later), but I could still get behind an attendance cap in the 65,000 to 70,000 range. It felt comfortable enough.

As usual, we did a lot of good charity work this year. Open Hand Atlanta will be receiving at least $190,000, which is $70k more than we raised in 2021.

Dragon Con was also a getaway from reality that I really needed. Life and work have been insanely busy lately, and it was refreshing to decompress with the geek family, especially the former Scapecast folks that my wife and I hadn’t seen for three years.

On to the discussion!

From the Top

First on the list, I want to thank the track directors and their volunteer staffs for welcoming me into their homes for the weekend and offering the chance to talk on their stages.

Second on the list, but by no means any less important, I’d like to thank the volunteers. There are so many who help bring this convention to life every year. In fact, the vast majority of the people who keep the convention moving are volunteers. I have nothing but gratitude for the folks who kept the tracks  and programming moving, especially Safety and Tech Ops. These folks push the limits and innovate to keep this show moving. Your hard work does not go unnoticed.

Number the third, I’d like to thank the convention for having me back as an Attending Professional. This was my fourteenth Dragon Con and my seventh as an Attending Pro. I appreciate them having faith in my abilities to both participate and moderate programming events, and really enjoy spending the weekend having fun, catching up with my geek family, and meeting new people.

The Highlights

I’m a big fan of helping people and building communities. One of the ways that we do this is through the  Dragon Con Newbies program. Our walking tours and Q&A sessions helped well over 500 people get their bearings and start Dragon Con on the right foot. Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony, and Kevin Bachelder are amazing friends and a joy to work with. Thanks to all of our tour leaders and wranglers for volunteering their time and knowledge, as well as our team of moderators in the Facebook group who worked extra hard this year to keep the malcontents out.

Oh, and we made it on DCTV this year! (Our part starts at about 19:00.)

Speaking of building communities, the Digital Media Track was on it this year. I took part in three panels, each of which was pitched to the track by Mike Faber, Tyra A. Burton, and me. From discussions on show hosting and the evolution from audio to video to the panel that I moderated on shaking your tailfeathers – #failteathers! – the philosophy of working and building the path forward together was living and breathing throughout. Especially in the case of Marc Leary, whose very first panel at Dragon Con was mine. He did magnificent work and I hope to see him out there again soon.

I also loved meeting some old friends for the first time in person. I have worked with Deanna Toxopeus for a long time through RevolutionSF, and it was great to meet her and her family after they made the trek down from Canada. It was her first Dragon Con and a group of us got together for dinner and an escape room. The escape was pretty challenging, but we did beat it in the end.

The other big highlights were talking about 2002’s Spider-Man (with Michael BaileyKevin CaffertyToniAnn MariniDerek B. Gayle, and Gary Mitchel), AppleTV’s Severance (with M.C. Williams, Felicity Kusinitz, Kevin Cafferty, and Lindy Keelan), and the 1982’s Blade Runner (a late addition to my official schedule).

Though truth be told, I did talk way too much on the Blade Runner panel. I guess I need to do some deeper dives on that one. (Add it to the ever-growing list, right?)

The Lowlights

The disappointments also focus on community.

A month before the convention, in an effort to fight COVID-19 numbers in the area, Dragon Con announced that they would be requiring masks in all indoor convention spaces at the event. The community was contentious about the mandate – we did our fair share of whack-a-mole in the Dragon Con Newbies group since we only promote official con policies – but Dragon Con was adamant. The policy would not change.

After the fact, it feels like little more than lip service. Adherence to the mask mandate was minimal. It was ignored in the larger public spaces. Most of the track rooms that I visited barely acknowledged it and hardly enforced it in their spaces. I know of only two fan tracks that enforced it one hundred percent.

A friend of mine who volunteered told me a story about a man who walked into a track room without a mask. When my friend asked this person – a fellow con volunteerto don a mask, he replied that he was doing a headcount and would be gone in five minutes. My friend pressed the issue: It was a con policy and, as a volunteer, he had agreed to abide by those policies. He responded by getting verbally violent, complete with a nice bouquet of cursing and epithets. My friend reported this abusive volunteer to the convention, but who knows if anything will be done about it.

Tangentially, let me tell you that abusing my people was one of the last straws in a former friendship of mine. A few years back, this former friend got abusive when another friend of mine (a volunteer at that convention) asked his party to move away from the fire exit. The volunteer was acting on direction from someone higher up, but the former friend showed his true colors and unapologetically unloaded his frustration on someone who didn’t deserve it. Being a friend means telling someone when they can be better. When they refuse to rise to that challenge, then they aren’t friends of mine.

Okay, back to the task of enforcing a mandate on this scale, let’s go one step further. Granted, the State of Georgia and the City of Atlanta don’t have mask mandates, so enforcing Dragon Con’s mandate in any public space was a challenge. In that case, it came down to the attendees to follow the policies that they agreed to when picking up their badges. They failed to do so. A simple covering over their mouths and noses was too much of an inconvenience. I’ve heard it said that Dragon Con attendees are more likely to follow the rules because science fiction tells us what happens when civilizations fall. I’d say that practical data has proven that idea false.

The mask issue was a microcosm of libertarian ideals. That level of arrogant selfishness has been rising at Dragon Con for a while, but it really seemed to metastasize around this year’s mask mandate. From stories of people bullying disabled attendees for moving too slow and taking up space to reports of sexual assault that were outright ignored by Atlanta police officers, the asshole quotient seemed really high this year.

Every convention has its share of these stories, but it felt palpable this go-round. It’s telling that a simple request to look out for your neighbors is a bridge too far for so many people. These are the kinds of people who would hide being bitten by a zombie because it’s everyone else’s fault that they didn’t just avoid the apocalypse.

It’s also notable how many of my friends have contracted COVID-19 since the convention ended, even while meeting the mandate. They were responsible in a sea of people who refused to be, and they continued that responsibility by testing and reporting so others could keep an eye out.

My 2022 con experience was fun and I’ll likely come back again, but there’s still an underlying current of disappointment. Convention policies create an implied contract between the parties. By stating that they would require masks but falling down on actual enforcement, it’s pretty obvious that Dragon Con and the attendees broke that contract.

Time and infection data will measure if there are any further repercussions or consequences. For what it’s worth, my little pod is still testing negative.

Additional Notes

First, the bat-cake.

Second, the parade.

Third, the Dragon Con exercise program.

Fourth, the Lifesouth blood drive.

Finally, a Swag n Seek story.

My primary giveaway this year was books. On the way up from Crystal Ballroom at the Hilton, I pulled out a Star Trek novel in preparation for hiding it when someone spotted me.

“Did you get that in the vendor’s hall?”

I told him no and that I was planning to hide it for someone to find. He asked if that was a thing and I said yes, but noticed that he kept staring at the book. So I asked, “Do you need a book?”

“What?”

I handed the book to him. He was silent as we started up the escalator.

“For real?”

“Yep. Just for you.”

A wide smile broke across his face.

“I… I… I LOVE THIS F***ING CON!”

It was right place, right time for that guy.

Wrap-Up

If you want to attend next year, the next Dragon Con will be held from August 31 to September 4, 2023. Memberships (badges/tickets) are on sale now, and hotels will be available soon. Even with this year’s lows, I still recommend the experience to everyone. There’s nothing quite like Dragon Con.

353 days until Dragon Con 2023.

DragonConStop

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