Conventions! For lots of adults the word might evoke dry meetings and boxed lunches. For anime, video game, and comic book fans, conventions mean whirlwind weekends of nonstop action and fun.

Here’s what you can expect to find at a geek convention.

Cosplay

)Source: Anna Fischer )

(Source: Anna Fischer )

Conventions are where cosplayers shine. Many work all year to prepare costumes for their favorite convention. You’ll see costumes ranging from simple to remarkably complex—but all cosplayers love being appreciated for their work.

For kids, cosplay is an awesome chance to meet their heroes in real life. As long as you ask politely, most cosplayers will be thrilled to take a photo with you or your kids—just don’t touch the costumes without asking. Some of them are fragile. If you ask a cosplayer for a photo, try to get them out of the line of traffic. The cosplayer and everyone else trying to walk through the con will appreciate it!

Some cautions: Not every costume is particularly family-friendly. Some are frightening, with prosthetic and makeup effects that simulate injuries. (Gory cosplay goes hand-in-hand with some of the genres.)

A lot of costumes can also be really revealing. If you’ve picked up a comic book or watched an episode of anime, you might’ve noticed that female characters tend to end up in a lot less clothing than male characters. Obviously this is intentional on the part of the creators, but what it means is that cosplayers recreating those costumes also end up scantily clad. There are lots of discussions about this in the cosplay community. A movement called “Cosplay =/= Consent” was started to bring attention to the fact that cosplayers dressed in very little clothing are not asking for sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior.

This is something that’s important to remember, whether you’re a first-time congoer or not. Many people aren’t used to seeing people walking around town in real-life bikini chainmail. But cosplayers are not fantasy characters; they’re real, hardworking people, and respecting them (and teaching your kids to respect them) is important.

Panels

(Source: cabbit)

(Source: cabbit)

Convention schedules are all about panels. There are comedy panels, cosplay and crafting panels, serious social justice panels, and everything in between. Check out our article about Emerald City Comicon’s programming for families to get a taste of what you can experience.

Going to panels is one of the best ways to engage in discussion about whatever geeky thing you’re interested in. It’s also a great way to learn about conversations that are happening in the industry or around a particular piece of media.

Merchandise

(Source: MicroBry)

(Source: MicroBry)

The dealer’s hall at a convention is frequently jam-packed with shoppers. You’ll find books, DVDs, posters, action figures, games, stuffed animals, and more.

There are also vendors who make their own merchandise—at comic conventions you’ll find people who have crafted their own jewelry, soap, clothes, and comics. There’s usually less of this at anime conventions, where there’s a firmer boundary between hand-crafted merch and the official stuff. At comic conventions, though, goods from popular artists will be mixed in with the rest of the goods.

Congoers get in the spirit of the con by buying pins for their lanyards or other fun things that mark them as proud geeks.

Artist’s Alley

(Source:  Jagrap)

(Source: Jagrap)

Like the dealer’s hall, Artist’s Alley is a place to load up on merchandise. But the vendors in Artist’s Alley are usually local artists selling their own prints or comics. Shopping at Artist’s Alley is a great way to support freelance artists and get prints that might not be easy to find anywhere else!

Contests and Tournaments

Anime conventions usually have fashion shows and skit contests for dedicated cosplayers who want to show off. Likewise, gaming conventions like PAX offer lots of gaming competitions—whether it’s for free t-shirts or for glory. Some gaming tournaments (both tabletop and video game) will last just for a day, and others will last the length of the convention, with one triumphant winner crowned at the end.

Also, keep an eye out for scavenger hunts. Sometimes they are organized by fangroups, and sometimes by the convention staff itself. But they’re always a fun way to explore more of what the convention has to offer.

Gaming

Gaming hall at PAX Prime (Source: Simone de Rochefort)

Gaming hall at PAX Prime (Source: Simone de Rochefort)

From tabletop games to video gaming halls, conventions usually have some gaming action going on. At anime conventions, cosplay chess is a popular event. Cosplayers take the role of chess pieces on a board.

For tabletop fans, many conventions have a library of board games you can check out. There are also often tabletop roleplaying sessions that you can get involved in.

And of course, video games are a must. Gaming halls at geek conventions feature console freeplay rooms, retro game rooms, and music game stages. At gaming conventions, it all gets taken to the next level. Companies set up booths with demos of upcoming games, and fans can stand in line for hours for a chance to play.

Screenings

Conventions will often screen films, episodes of popular series, and fan-made videos. This can be a great way to get introduced to a new series or just to wind down during a long day. As usual, the content may not all be kid-appropriate, so look into what the screening consists of before you take your kid for some chill-out time.

Celebrities

(Source: heath_bar)

Celebrity signing at San Diego Comicon (Source: heath_bar)

Voice actors, comic-book artists, game designers…conventions are a place where geeks can meet their heroes and role models. It’s a great experience, not just because fans can snag autographs and photos with their favorite media personalities. It’s also a chance to ask questions about the industry and learn from the experts. Some panels hosted by experts cover the ins and outs of their work, allowing young people a valuable chance to learn more about what that work entails.

Larger conventions also bring in popular TV celebrities as guests—from “Star Trek” to “Supernatural.” You can stand in line for a chance to chat up your favorite actor or writer.

You can get into the panels for free (with entry to the con) but the autograph and photo sessions usually cost a little extra. If you don’t have something to sign, you will have to buy an official photo—this can be as little as $15, but also as much as $85. It depends on what price the actor wants to set. Prices are usually listed on the convention website. Getting a photograph taken with an actor is also an extra cost.

As with cosplayers, it’s important to remember that celebrities are people. You might be wowed to see them walking around the convention floor, but that may not the time to strike up a conversation with them. And asking for photos from celebrities who are just walking around the floor is generally not acceptable, since there’s a system (and fees) set up for that.

Pros and…Cons

(Source: heath_bar)

(Source: heath_bar)

Like I said earlier, for geek fans conventions mean a weekend of fun. As with any large gathering of people, this can lead to a bit of insanity, so be warned!

If you go to a convention with younger kids, know that it’s pretty common for people to get excited and use foul language.

It’s also important to know what the convention’s harassment policy is—if it has one. It’s not that conventions are inherently full of harassers. As Rachel Edidin details in her excellent article about the necessity of harassment policies, conventions are places where we are all out of our usual element. Groupthink can come into play when someone is harassed at a convention, and we question whether the behavior is acceptable or not. It’s important to be aware of what is appropriate at a convention, so that you can help keep the space safe for everyone.

If you think a convention might be a fun event for you and your family, I think you should try it out! Whether you go for one day or a full weekend, conventions are an exciting way to dive into geekdom. Still worried about where to start? Check back at Pixelkin for our Convention Survival Guide, coming soon!

Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.