Hobocon – The First Documentary Ever Filmed at Gen Con

Poster for Hobocon showing three exhausted gamers at Gen Con in IndianapolisAs this year will be my first at Gen Con, I thought I should get a better understanding of what I’ll be getting into. I have been browsing Gen Con’s online forums, but I also picked up Hobocon, “the first documentary ever filmed at Gen Con” shot by and starring three gamer friends Rob Couch, Jason Slingerland, and Wilhelm Rumpf, in 2008.

The underlying premise of Hobocon is that the three friends will be hobos at the convention in Indianapolis, or as the back of their DVD jacket says, they’ll be spending a “weekend at Gencon with no food, no money, and nowhere to sleep”. Based on that description I was expecting more of a narrative from the 75 minute movie, but it was slow in emerging. In short, the movie is a glorified home video and could have been called “Gen Con 2008: Our Experience”. They do try to stick to their premise or “stunt” as they refer to it, by not bringing food themselves or booking a hotel room. Yet by selling or bartering pins that say Hobocon they manage to get a McChicken sandwich, a number of snacks, and some pizza. Through their Charisma scores and the generosity of others, they also manage to secure some hotel room floor space. The movie is incredibly short on the three friends actually playing any games at Gen Con, though it never has any lulls and does not drag on and on.

Would I go so far and be so snarky as to agree with Robert Couch when, in the first seconds of the film, he says “Oh man, this was a dumb idea, this was a really really stupid idea.”? No, the idea has some merit. Its execution though could have been brought off in a more informative, entertaining manner. Unless someone actually appears in the movie, I don’t imagine any viewers will watch it more than twice, but at the same time, it’s a very solid, basic overview, I think, of what a Gen Con attendee can expect to find at the convention. It’s also a good movie to show to a relative to help explain what goes on at a gaming convention.

The Highlights

Though it wasn’t captured on film, I enjoy the description Jason Slingerland offers of the security guard shouting at the party while they were trying to sleep in the convention center, “This ain’t a hotel, b#$%&, get out of here!” Inexplicably one of the gamers also complains about a scantily-clad cosplayer, saying “What the hell? I mean it’s just crazy. It’s just crazy. Why would you wear that?” There is no explanation or interview with her. They just move on. The Gen Con Prom, or as they refer to it, the Nerd Prom, easily has the best music in the film and the segment is very brisk and slightly eye-opening. I also enjoyed the three friends’ giddy glee about their sleeping arrangements for their second or third night in a cramped storage closet in a hotel suite. It sounded as though one of the occupants would be unaware of the entire arrangement, adding a level of danger to the enterprise.

What It Could Have Been

I was surprised by the lack of gaming culture presented in a movie about gaming by gamers for gamers. The basic battles of the documentary, finding somewhere to sleep or something to eat, are not presented as gaming challenges, when they easily could have been. The gamers seem to forget their roots with that most basic of RPG cliches, the watch schedule. Two of the gamers could have taken turns sleeping while the third kept watch. “Here comes a Level 3 Blue Shirt,” they could have said. “We passed our Stealth check this time.” They could have busted out miniatures to represent the guards and drawn up patrol routes. I would have loved watching one of them give a cry of “Magic missile, magic missile!” when confronted by a dastardly Blue Shirt. There is no questing for loot, XP awards, or leveling at the convention. The premise of an elusive One Ring item could have been an interesting angle. There is not even a single “Red Warrior Needs Food Badly”.

Hobocon Throws Down the Gauntlet

While I will be staying at a hotel in August, the idea of outdoing Hobocon is so very tempting. Gamers always have their own ideas of how an adventure could have been handled better. Like many gamers, I would also be pickier about sticking to the rules of the challenge. I also have more extreme levels that I would go to. It would almost be worthwhile to go to an Indianapolis homeless shelter or to try to sleep in a public park. At one point in the film, they are near the concessions after it had closed and I thought we might see some dumpster diving or begging for scraps, but that never happens. Instead, the gamers are very practical and civilized. They are not feral nerds, but instead use hand sanitizer on the pen knife to divvy up the McChicken sandwich. They talk humorously about possibly sleeping in the bathroom stalls, but they never sink so low. I know some gamers would take that as a challenge and proudly boast of having done so. My wife came up with her own solution for their sleeping schedule problem, suggesting bringing your own large tablecloth to add to a table to make it look fancier, meanwhile one of your friends sleeps under the covered table. How much XP would you award that idea? As role players we’re all used to answering the question of “What do you do?” I would be interesting in hearing or seeing other gamers’ solutions to the basic premise of Hobocon.

Watching Hobocon

It seems the movie has been screened before at Gen Con, but you can also buy a copy of it from either Indie Press Revolution or Noble Knight Games. Sadly Netflix and Hulu don’t offer it as of April 2012.

Hobocon poster image copyright Imminent Entertainment, used with permission.

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