New gaming trends and the pandemic give a ‘new twist’ to the event

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Navigating through the tables and exhibits at Gen Con showcasing fantastic worlds of dragons, aliens, wizards and wizards inside the Indiana Convention Center, Carolina Brown and James Wood stopped by a booth promoting a card game called “S *** Happens”.

“I’m just a sucker for bad words about games,” said Brown, after playing a demo version of the game with her boyfriend.

“He tried to splash me around a bit,” she said, pointing to Wood. “And he was excited about Gen Con, so I thought I would show some interest in his interest.”

The game itself, “S *** is coming,” and its open-mindedness seemed to suit an unprecedented 2021 Gen Con, as the convention accommodated hosting thousands of people during an ongoing pandemic. This year, organizers have cut capacity in half and implemented a hybrid model to accommodate people both in person and online. Masks were required for everyone – although some attendees, of course, incorporated masks into their costumes.

The world’s largest table games convention attracted around 70,000 people in 2019, the last time it was held in person. This year, with reduced capacity, Gen Con could accommodate up to 35,000 people during the four-day event.

But even in fewer numbers, game and cosplay enthusiasts came to play with unwavering fervor.

More than 350 game publishers and sellers have offered opportunities to play familiar games and discover new ones, some of which have yet to be released. A costume contest drew a cast of pretty literal colorful characters, from an old-fashioned Harley Quinn to Amity Blight, a young witch from the Disney animated series “The Owl House.”

“I can express myself,” said Sylvana Uchytil, 11, who had dressed up as Amity Blight. Their family shares a love for all types of games, traveling from Marshall, Illinois to experience Gen Con.

His father, Brad Uchytil, says seeing this passion passed on to his sixth grade student gives him hope for the next generation.

“Ever since I was in college I’d say I was a pretty big nerd and this one kinda followed in our footsteps,” Brad said. “I saw (the game has) become more popular than it was when I was young… it’s very heartwarming to know that it’s not as cool as it used to be.”

Ali Kozuch of Colfax poses for a photo during GenCon on Saturday, September 18, 2021 at the Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis.

Games appear to be growing in popularity during the pandemic, with more and more people spending time at home, said Mike Goodridge, who interviews gamers and reviews games for his YouTube channel “Games Played Badly”. He says the pandemic is also influencing the types of games produced, with more independent creators entering the scene.

“People are trying to create wellness games because the pandemic has so much anxiety for everyone,” Goodridge said. “They really want to make a game that helps calm people down, puts them in a safe space, you know, some nice warm sleeping bags.”

Two-thirds of Americans play video games:For many games was an escape, a pandemic stress relief

Video games have also grown in popularity during the pandemic, according to USA TODAY. The number of Americans who play video games increased 6%, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and 55% of those polled said video games were a source of stress relief.

“Games allow you to think in ways that you can’t do in your day-to-day life,” said Jo Horton, who traveled from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to GenCon with Rod Lipka, her husband. “You know, lateral thinking, puzzle solving.”

The imagination aspect helps too, as does the endless variety.

Cadence Yungwirth of Wisconsin poses for a photo during GenCon on Saturday, September 18, 2021 at the Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis.

“A lot of people are exposed to the games of Monopoly and Scrabble,” said Horton. “And there are so many more options out there, with so many different mechanics that people haven’t explored.

“You never get bored.”

USA TODAY contributed to this report.

Contact Rashika Jaipuriar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rashikajpr.



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