Connecting Gaming Communities and Corporations to their History: The Gen Con Program Database

Matt Shoemaker (mshoemaker@temple.edu), Temple University Libraries, United States of America

2017 saw the 50th anniversary of the Gen Con gaming convention, the oldest and largest continuously running gaming convention in the United States. Started in 1967 as a wargaming convention, Gen Con faced exponential growth following the 1974 creation of Dungeons & Dragons by one of its founders, Gary Gygax. Since then, Gen Con has seen a wealth of change. Evolving from a wargaming convention to a roleplaying game convention, growing to encompass video games and board games and finally reaching its current state of a gaming convention with close ties to popular culture. Aside from the content Gen Con has covered, the convention has also seen fluctuations in the populations that attend the event. All of these factors make Gen Con a prime target for scholarly study in areas of popular culture, games, gender in games studies, and the impact of Dungeons & Dragons. Scholars in media studies, history, material culture and gender studies, to name a few, would all be interested in data related to Gen Con.

Though Gen Con offers a wealth of possibility for scholarship, the information about the
convention has largely remained inaccessible to scholars. As a corporate entity, Gen Con LLC, the company that currently runs Gen Con, keeps the majority of their records confidential. One resource that is publically available, however, are the programs from each year of the convention. The quality of the data within the programs varies from year to year, but they generally contain information pertaining to events that were run, who ran them, and descriptions of those events along with other information. Another barrier regarding these programs is that the vast majority of them exist only in physical form, with no digital counterparts. Many of these paper programs are also quite rare, particularly from the conventions that took place in the

1960s and 1970s. An additional resource that is dwindling is those who attended and organized the convention during its early years. Gen Con’s most famous founder, Gary Gygax, passed away in 2008. Many of the others involved with the convention from its inception are approaching an advanced age and part of an insular group within gaming culture that few outside of it have approached. These barriers to access have, thus far, limited the scholarship that could be conducted on the Gen Con game convention.

With the above in mind and the 50th anniversary of the convention quickly approaching, we took the opportunity to undertake a project to make resources related to Gen Con more accessible to scholars. The primary work for the first phase of this project took place during 2016 and the first 3 quarters of 2017. We set out to first collect digital and physical copies of all 50 years of Gen Con which we were successful in doing. Second, we converted all event data from these programs into a database of more than 150,000 records which scholars and members of the gaming and Gen Con communities could access online via a Black Light discovery layer. Third, we conducted oral history interviews of several people involved in the history of Gen Con’s past and present and transcribed them. Fourth, we conducted some preliminary research using textual analysis and data analysis methods to showcase some of the research that could be conducted using this data and other resources. Finally, we created an Omeka instance and Neatline timeline to both house these resources and make them available for others to use. All of this information can be found at http://best50yearsingaming.com/

We are continuing to conduct research with this dataset and are creating workshops that utilize the dataset in order to educate students in how to use large datasets. We also would like to increase awareness of this open dataset in order to connect more scholars to the resource so they can utilize it in their own research. This project has been able to connect the gaming community, the Gen Con community, and the Gen Con LLC community over a dataset they all have interest in, and we would like to see them connected with more scholars as well. The work we conducted for this project and knowledge of the availability of this dataset is something that attendees of DH2018 would be interested in, particularly those looking for a 20th and 21 st century data set suitable for textual and other forms of data analysis, and we hope you will allow us to present it to them.


Appendix A

Bibliography
  1. Best 50 Years in Gaming Project Website. http://best50yearsingaming.com/