Every week, I post the Weekend in Geek where I list the conventions going on across the country and, when I can find them, across the world. It’s occurred to me that there are people out there who go glassy-eyed at the mention of conventions. I should know. I work with some of them.

What’s a convention?

When talking about conventions in geek culture, the common definition is that it’s a gathering of fans who have come together to celebrate their fandom of choice. Some conventions are devoted to a single fandom like Star Trek or anime. Others, like my favorite, Dragon Con, are devoted to a many (or all) of the fandoms. There are conventions like Gen Con that are devoted to all kinds of gaming, from board and tabletop to LARP. There are also conventions that have a more literary bent. You name it, there is probably a convention dedicated to it. If not, there will be someday.

Basically, you get a bunch of people together who are really into a thing and it can become a convention. They can be more intimate affairs at local colleges or they can be huge media fests like San Diego Comic Con. At the heart of all of these is love for the material being celebrated. Sometimes, I think that’s something people forget.

Why Do People Go to Conventions?

People go to conventions because they love something. They go to conventions because they want to be around people who share those same feelings. People also go to conventions to be around people like them. For some people, it’s a chance to truly be themselves and wear their geekdom with pride. In an age where it’s still more acceptable for someone to dress up and paint themselves in their sports team colors, it’s awesome to have a chance to craft a costume and be your favorite character for a few hours. Conventions give you that opportunity.

I like to joke that going to Dragon Con is like going home to “be among my people.” I remember the first time I arrived in Atlanta for the con. After I got off the MARTA at Peachtree Center, I started the trek to my hotel room and when I passed by a young woman dressed as Leeloo from The Fifth Element walking with someone in a Starfleet uniform and a Stormtrooper from Star Wars. I let out a sigh of relief because it was awesome to be among my own.

Some people go to conventions for the non-stop partying aspect or just the hours full of revelry. Some people go to conventions for people watching and just hanging out. Some people, myself included, like talking about things so much that they end up on fan panels where they talk with their fellow fans about an assigned topic. I have fun doing it. My mom thinks I’m crazy. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Not All Cons Are Created Equal

As I prepare for Dragon Con, I’ve been talking to some of my coworkers about my adventures. I mention the con and they give me a blank look. Then, I say that it’s a lot like San Diego Comic Con. Thanks to the almost absurd levels of media attention SDCC gets, that usually gets some sort of nod of understanding. Then, I explain the differences. See, San Diego is closer to Los Angeles which makes it easier for the major studios to spend a lot of time and resources to advertise their projects. In the past few years, it has become known for the convention that produces major entertainment announcements. Dragon Con is more of a fan-run event where it’s all about celebrating the things we love instead of a place for advertisements. It may not get the huge media blitz of SDCC, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Recently, there was a great deal of kerfuffle surrounding the rise and fall of DashCon, a convention that was funded through crowdsourcing and supposed to be a celebration of Tumblr. Things did not go as planned and its failure to be successful was turned into an internet meme. That made me wonder about how fans are supposed to know which cons are “legit.”

Do your research. How long has the con been running? Are there any reviews online? Do they have a website with up-to-date information? I’m not saying that just-starting-out conventions are a bad thing. I remember going to the first year of The Steampunk World’s Fair and it was a blast. If you’re looking at going to a brand-new convention, it’s good to check to see who the con’s organizers are and if they have any prior convention-running experience.

When you get to the convention, just relax. Don’t let yourself get all stressed out. Conventions are supposed to be fun. Keep that in mind just in case things don’t go according to plan. Also, don’t let your fun ruin someone else’s fun. Be kind, be respectful, and, as the great Wil Wheaton says, “Don’t be a dick.”