Yesterday, my boyfriend and I went to the Oak City Comic Con in Raleigh, NC. I had never been to a Con before, and wasn't sure what to expect. Overall, I was impressed! The convention center was packed with artists, vendors, and cosplayers who were enthusiastic to show off their products and hobbies.
Although a lot of the booths were the expected "vintage comics for sale" setups, I got a big kick out of looking for items I might not find anywhere else. My personal ridiculous-yet-exciting purchase of the day was a handmade leather bag from A Steampunked Life, a shop in Surrey, VA.
The new bag was my only big purchase of the day, but there were tons of interesting vendors. One young woman made custom stuffed bunnies wearing superhero costumes. A pottery studio called "Klaystation" sold geeky, hand-painted mugs—and might be a future location for a date with my boyfriend so we can make our own!
Aside from the souvenirs, I found some interesting comic books to try. I just finished reading the first volume of Animosity from AfterShock Comics. I also picked up a volume called Black Eyed Kids, which I bought on impulse because the author was there with his kids and the kids were so enthusiastic about their dad's work. It was too cute to resist.
At the Action Lab Comics table, I decided to sample a series called Hero Cats (it's about cats!) and another called PrinceLess, which bills itself as "the story Disney should've been telling for the past twenty years." I loved the PrinceLess cover and would love to see more books like this out there, especially because I am a teacher and I'm always looking for good material to encourage my students to read.
Along similar lines, I went by a booth for a potentially interesting Kickstarter project called Sorghum & Spear, a new fantasy comic starring adolescent women and set in a fantasy world that draws heavily on African traditions. The project has even developed a partnership with craftswomen in Uganda. I'm definitely interested in seeing projects that focus more heavily on young women of color, so I will be keeping my eye on this one.
I also felt inspired when I went by a booth run by an English teacher who is clearly self-publishing a bunch of his fictional work and shopping it at Cons. It made me happy to see another teacher following a dream while educating kids.
My first Comic Con was awesome in part because it's fun to be in the same room with hundreds of other people who love the same things you do. But I think what impressed me the most was the array of small businesses and up-and-coming writers and artists who were sharing so much creative energy. The cosplayers had amazing costumes just for the fun of it, illustrators were showing off work they were passionate about, writers were looking for readers as curious and enthusiastic as they were.
My next goal, of course, will be to get myself to a board game conference. I love gaming, but I haven't ever made it to a big board gaming event. Oak City Comic Con had a few vendors who sold board games, and it was fun to see my biggest hobby integrated into an overall celebration geekiness. But I think I would really love a gathering where board gaming is the main event.
My life has been so hectic recently that it's been tough to find gaming time. (Hopefully that will change soon, because all work and no play never leads anywhere good.) At least I have the benefit of running a board game club at school, so I am never without at least some kind of board game fun every week.
I am, however, lacking variety in my gaming life.
When you game in groups, you have to do the polite thing and play games that everyone else will be interested in. Since I play with teenage students, many of whom are new gamers, this means that I play the same games over and over again. My students adore Ivanhoe, Splendor, Castle Panic, and Jaipur, and they will ask to play those games repeatedly. But I am getting burnt out. There is comfort in the familiar, and it's convenient to play games that are easy to set up and play on autopilot because I know the rules so well. Eventually, though, it's not fun to make the same types of strategic decisions over and over again.
I usually keep smiling and playing anyway, because today's Castle Panic could lead to all sorts of interesting places in an enthusiastic kid's gaming life. And the games my students are coming to love are awesome games—I am so proud that when they think of "board games" they are now thinking well beyond Monopoly and Connect Four. (Although they still love the classics, too.) A whole new world is opening up for them.
But.. I am so sick of playing Splendor. It's like my gaming life is a bag of potato chips that I can't stop eating, even though I'm not craving potato chips and I'm not even very hungry.
My gaming crisis is actually very fixable. It just requires that I set aside time to game on my own, even when I could be vegging on the couch or playing Breath of the Wild on my Nintendo Switch. (Addiction, thy name is Zelda.) One of the great joys of being a solo gamer is that you get to play what you want to play, when you want to play it—as long as you are prioritizing board games over other downtime activities. I think it's time for me to recommit to my hobby.
We went and got our Nintendo Switch first thing Friday morning—Gamestop held a midnight launch party. Other than the not-so-subtle scalper trying to buy up any remaining games and accessories, everyone was excited and friendly. The Nintendo love was strong. After the dullness of the Wii U years, it felt like the excitement was back. But was it justified?
Now that I've had my Switch for a few days, I can honestly say that I love it. Most of my gaming time has been spent getting lost in Hyrule in Breath of the Wild, but my boyfriend and I have sampled Super Bomberman R and we are planning to play Snipperclips soon. I have played the new Zelda game in both docked and handheld mode, with the Pro Controller and with the JoyCon controllers. The game runs wonderfully, and thankfully I haven't had any of the syncing issues that others are reporting. At least, not yet. The Switch is slick and intuitive, and it looks great both in handheld mode and on the TV. The controllers are easy to snap on and off of both the Switch itself and the various accessories (although you should watch out for the wrist straps). The battery life also seems pretty good. I had to go to the car dealership over the weekend and played for a good two hours while waiting for my car. I still had 50% battery left on the console when I got home.
I'll say more about Breath of the Wild once I've had some more time with it, but unlike any other game I have played in the past few years, it has a remarkable ability to inspire conversations. Because the game is so open and leaves so much room for innovation, everyone has learned something different on their Hyrule journeys. It's fun to swap word-of-mouth tips and tricks with other people who are exploring just like you are.
I have one serious complaint at this moment: The Switch has very weak wi-fi connection. When I'm downloading an update, the signal in my living room is so pathetic that I have to carry the tablet into my office and update it right by the router. No other device in my house—including the 3DS, Vita, PS3, and PS4—has this problem. Weak wi-fi gives me concerns about future online play once titles like Splatoon 2 start coming out.
I also have a minor complaint, although I think this one will naturally resolve itself. It's very clear that the Switch was released just a little bit early—it feels unfinished. This is particularly apparent in the eShop, which offers Switch games but no games from previous Nintendo generations. When will the shop be fully functional? The Switch's lack of an internet browser is also highly problematic given that it's a device that should be usable on the go. I don't see how I could connect to, say, Starbucks internet with my Switch given that I can't go into a browser window to accept the terms and conditions. Hopefully this is the sort of thing that can be easily fixed with an update.
Overall, I have great faith in the Switch, despite its issues. Nintendo has had its share of problems and continues to make weird marketing decisions. But Breath of the Wild is a remarkable game that has me looking forward to the next big Nintendo release, and the Switch itself is a pretty magical piece of hardware. Nintendo is so far delivering on the promise that keeps me a Nintendo fan through thick and thin: It has brought fun and joy to my gaming life, and thus to life in general.