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The fellowship of the games

Writers and role-players, together at last at MisCon 18



MisCon 18. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, and if that’s the first thing that comes to mind, then you’re not too far from what MisCon really is. MisCon, short for “Missoula Convention,” is an annual science fiction convention that brings over 300 people from all over the Northwest to Missoula for a “celebration of literacy and the arts.”

Now in its 18th year, MisCon encompasses not only what you would typically think of as sci-fi, but also over 60 different events ranging from writer’s workshops to role-playing games to art exhibitions to live music. This year’s convention will be held during Memorial Day weekend, Friday through Sunday at Ruby’s Inn.

Bob Lovely, president of MisCon, describes the convention as a celebration of literacy and the arts in a family-friendly environment, with a science fiction and fantasy theme. Authors from around the Northwest will read and discuss the craft of writing, from the creative process to getting published. The guest authors also put on a Writer’s Workshop to help aspiring fantasy writers get their works published. There is an art show and an art auction. There is gaming, Lovely says, 24 hours a day for three days. There are even people dressed in real armor with swords talking about medieval history, craft and science.

“It’s not just people sitting around talking about books,” he explains. “It’s not just people looking at art, it’s not just people playing games. It’s a wide variety of activities, and people enjoy that because they have lots of options on what to do at various times during the weekend.

“Basically, I think Missoula is a very progressive, artistic city,” Lovely says, noting that attendance increases every year. “There are lots of literary activities going on here, and we are a celebration of arts and literacy. We bring a lot of smart, creative people to the local area, and to local businesses.”

One of this year’s guests is John Dalmas, a 77-year-old fantasy author and MisCon panelist who has been coming to the convention from his home in Spokane for the last 12 years. Dalmas has written 28 books and makes the rounds of sci-fi conventions throughout the Western states. At last count, he says, he’d been to over 120 of them.

“Basically,” says Dalmas, “a sci-fi convention is a collection of people, usually quite varying sorts of people, who have in common a liking of science fiction or fantasy, and they get together and have a big party.”

MisCon is one of the smaller conventions in the Northwest, Dalmas says, drawing between 300 and 500 people each year, depending on the featured guests of honor (this year’s are author C.J. Cherryh and artist Ellisa Mitchell). One of the things Dalmas enjoys most about it, and about sci-fi conventions in general, is the creative atmosphere they generate.

“I think the importance is the exchange of ideas. Science fiction tends to be a literature of ideas. There are certain types of people who find those stories attractive, and it gives us the opportunity to be around people who feel more or less the same way about that.”

This year, Dalmas will be part of a Writer’s Workshop critiquing the manuscripts of aspiring writers. He will also participate in several writing panels and a presentation about Mars.

While MisCon is generally known as a science fiction convention, many of the attendees are avid gamers whose sole priority will be to get together with their friends and play.

“My aspect has always been the gaming,” says Gallant Games co-owner Andy Mocko. “I think [MisCon] originally started out as a science fiction convention and then it kind of branched out with the gaming. I think gaming is a really big part of it now.” Mocko has been attending the conventions for the last nine years, and is one of two local businesses selling games and merchandise at MisCon.

“We pretty much tear down the whole store and bring it there,” says Mocko. “Everything you see here is probably going to be there. After that, we usually stay up late, lose sleep for a weekend, and try to find some games to play and hang out with people in the gaming community that I only see once a year at MisCon.”

Role-playing is one of those things that you have to experience rather than hear about, because it’s hard to explain, Mocko says—the best way to picture it is to think of the Lord of the Rings movies, only instead of just watching the movie on screen, you’re one of the characters.

“It’s more of an active interaction,” he adds. “Rather than just watching the movie, you are actually able to decide what the person does in the movie.” Mocko adds there are hundreds of different games in all kinds of genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, vampires, Star Wars, historical, miniature and strategic.

“As a hobby,” he says, “I think it’s one of the top-notch hobbies you can get into. You can use your mind in a lot of different ways, technically or creatively. Time is the biggest thing—sometimes you can sit there for six hours playing a game. It’s a way to unplug and socialize without TV and the Internet. I love TV and I love the Internet, but I do enjoy sitting down and talking to people face to face.”

The gaming community is strong in Missoula, Mocko says. It’s active enough that on a given weekend there are about 15 people playing games in Gallant Games and countless others hosting their own at home.

One of those in-store gamers is John Wright, an assistant manager at Starwest Satellite who also plans on attending this year’s MisCon. Wright sits rolling dice at a table covered with small helicopter-shaped figurines. His friend, Connor Seidenschwarz, sits across the table from him, locked in a game of Dark Age.

Wright, too, says the reason he goes to MisCon is to get together with all his friends, playing games or just hanging out. One group of his friends will be renting a hotel room at Ruby’s Inn, and whenever they need to chill out after long hours spent around the game table, that’s where they’ll go.

“I play video games,” Wright says, “but for the most part, I like playing the role-playing games because it gets me out of the house, gets me out with my friends.” He rolls the dice and uses a tape measure to find the distance between two figurines laid out on the table. “I like the social stuff.”

The other local merchant at MisCon is Muse Comics, formerly The Splash Page. Owner Amanda Fischer says her store has been participating in the convention since 1996. “We go as a store, but we also go personally,” she says. “We go play the games once we’re there. You see your customers fairly regularly, but there are plenty of people in town that you don’t get to see at the store that you get to see at MisCon.”

While MisCon 18 is among the smaller of the country’s sci-fi conventions, that very smallness makes it special to participants.

“The conventions that we have in the inland Northwest are smaller,” Dalmas says. “They range from maybe 300 to 1,500 people and they are like big family reunions. A lot of the people who go to Missoula will also go to Pasco and to Spokane, so we get together in a fellowship. And that for me is the charm. When I go to OreCon in Portland or NorwestCon in Seattle, there are a lot of people I don’t know. The high points are running into the people I do know. There is really a strong sense of fellowship in the people who go to conventions, and that’s an important attraction for me.”

Tickets to this year’s MisCon are $25 per person at the door, with a $50 family rate. For more information, call 251-9463.

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