Last weekend was Manchester Anime and Gaming Con – my first time at this event, and my first time visiting a con alone. Attendees seemed to be having a good time, and there have been plenty of post-con posts on social media about how fun it was. So why did it leave me cold?
I came away with some great art and merch, and talked to some other fans, but it was that experience that also gave me the impetus to start this blog in the first place. Spending a day dodging large groups of teenagers who seemed oblivious to other people trying to maneuver around them, and watching idol singers trying to raise a cheer from a crowd half made up of confused parents, I had to wonder: when did ‘family-friendly’ come to mean ‘entirely for young people’?
With events like this, it’s hard to tell who the target audience is. I think it’s fantastic that young people can have these opportunities to geek out and make fandom friends – opportunities I wish I’d had at that age. But this was happening in the same space where stall holders wearing aehoge T-shirts were selling gravure figures and provocative dakimakura.
Where I used to feel like an outcast for having geeky interests as a teenager, now I feel like an outcast among the people with geeky interests. It’s not like I’m the only anime fan over 30 – who else would have organised the event or run the merch stalls in the first place? But while teens and young adults can find cosplay meetups and watch idol singers, as a fan of a certain age there’s a growing feeling that these places aren’t created for me anymore.
I don’t for one second mean that I want to be hanging out with those younger fans – definitely not! But how do I meet fans my own age when social events like cons don’t seem to know how to cater to us? What happened to panels and workshops? Writers’ get-togethers? What about all those parents wondering what on earth their kids are into?
I appreciate the opportunity to buy fan-art and merch there and then – it beats waiting for internet shipping, and sometimes it’s cool to talk to the artist. But I don’t want a con to be just a shopping trip.
One of the best con experiences I’ve had has been at Nineworlds Geek Fest, where the focus is on discussion and analysis. People still do cosplay and organise parties and social stuff, and there’s a (small) vendor’s hall, but it feels so much more like ‘geeking out’ than buying merch or trying to eat lunch in cosplay.
Surely there’s space for all these activities at cons? Safe spaces for younger fans to meet and have fun, and spaces for older fans where we don’t feel like we have to stay on the sidelines.
I want to write some more on this in the future – I have a whole essay planned on re-thinking cons – but I welcome your thoughts. Should older fans be included in cons, or should I just accept that they’re not for me at all and stay away?