If you consider yourself a part of video gaming and music culture at all and you don’t know what MAGFest is, you’re doing something wrong. Music-and-Gaming Festival (MAGFest) is a yearly festival that has occurred for the past 12 years in the Washington DC area – the National Harbor in Maryland, to be precise, at the Gaylord Convention Center – and it is basically five days of ceremonial worship of the nerd gods.
“Festival” is a bit of a misnomer, though. It’s really a convention, much like a lot of other fan conventions except that there is that added element of music that is not so much a focus at other cons. Here you get a brilliant juxtaposition of video games and music that tickles all kinds of nostalgic bones, and is pure awesome – especially for someone like me whose artistic tastes developed in a way that is inextricably tied to video games. Music practically started with video games for me.
So getting to go to MAGFest for a couple of days this year was a real treat. I’m relatively new to the scene, for the most part; I’ve spent the last 10 years or so getting bounced all over the world and haven’t had the time or flexibility to really start to become part of a culture. Now, after being “settled” for over ONE YEAR (gasp) I can feel myself starting to branch out, build relationships, make friends, and experience life in a somewhat normal way again. I miss traveling, but I think I missed being part of something like this, too.
The highlights? Well, the really great part about MAGFest was getting to hang out with the OverClocked ReMix community. If you’re familiar with my blog(s) at all, you’ll know that OCR is a fantastic community of video-game reinterpretation into which I am happy to pour my creative juices. Aside from a lot of beer and introspective nerd conversation, I learned how to play a couple of new tabletop games, indulged in Magic, the Gathering for a couple of hours, listened to some fantastic concerts (like OverClocked University, Flexstyle’s DJ set, and Those Who Fight), and got to participate in a couple of impromptu jam sessions myself.
You know shit just got real when some guy walks into the room carrying an accordion. You know shit got really real when he passes it to 3 other people who all also happen to play accordion.
All in all, I find that I learn something about myself every time I go to a convention. I mean, I’ve only been to a few in my life, but I still feel like I come out of each one of them changed, and usually for the better. That might seem like a pretty deep inference for what is essentially a giant party, but it’s true. Sure, there’s partying going on, and sure, there’s nothing particularly deep about an NBA Jam session in which every character is Bill Clinton (YES THERE IS), but I still got to step outside my bubble for a while. The panels were educational, too, and just talking to people who have a different life experience than me can be really enlightening. Being an introvert has an unintended side effect sometimes of thinking that there is only one worldview (yours).
So, what did I learn over the last few days? Well, first, I learned that I have an awesome wife who is willing to go let me geek out for a few days while she takes care of our kid. I also learned a little bit about fitting in, about chasing my dreams, and about balancing priorities in my life. I’ve been so busy over the last couple of years (like ten of them) that it’s been hard for me to really sit and think about what I value, what I think is going to help me live a fulfilled life with my family, what I want to do here on this planet.
And I think I might have had a bit of tunnel vision for a while. I worked so incredibly hard to get where I am right now in my totally non-nerd, non-writing, non-music career, but I’ve sort of come to the realization that all of this might have been a stepping stone and not a destination. I have stories to write and music to compose, nerds to hang out with. I’m not sure I’ve been prioritizing my life that way; I’m too stuck in the old fashioned model of family stability and having a “real” job. But maybe the path I’ve been on was just meant to set me up to set me free, if that’s not too gushy and silly to understand.
It’s not very often I get to hang out with huge amounts of people that fall into similar strata of nerd culture as me, and it’s always kind of refreshing and liberating when I do. To me, nerd culture (I need to find a better word for this) is a sort of ultimate freedom. What looks like social awkwardness is really just kind of universal social acceptance; you can go to a DJ dance party and act like you’re having a seizure for three hours, and nobody will ever think about how poorly you are actually dancing – only that you are having fun. You can put on an Altair costume from Assassin’s Creed and walk around looking dead serious, like you literally believe that you’re that character, and it’s cool (unless you try to stab someone in the eye). Nobody judges.
So, it had me doing a bit of a self assessment, and I think I really needed it. My wife said to me in a related conversation after MAGfest, “Maybe you and I need to stop pretending to be cool.”
I’m not 100% sure what that means yet, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t yet realized all the implications of that line of thought. I hope to, soon. 2014 is a brand new year, and I think some exciting things are coming my way in ways I never expected. I just hope it’s not a pie in the face. Cuz, I mean, nobody expects that.
Cheers to you, MAGFest! Until next year.