Tech hosts anime, gaming convention
Artwork courtesy MomoCon
Men and women walk the halls of the Student Center clad in catsuits (literally) and blood-spattered robes, wielding tin foil swords. Tech Rec is packed with students playing Halo, bowling and dancing. The hottest anime videos are broadcast to viewers over the wide-screen TV in the Student Center Commons.
This is Georgia Tech.
Or, more specifically, this is MomoCon, Tech's first ever anime and gaming convention. Hosted last weekend by Anime-O-Tekku, Tech's anime club, the event attracted over 750 guests and showed the world just how geeky Tech could be.
Anybody who attended had the opportunity to experience a variety of attractions. Special rooms were set aside for artists and dealers in anime and gaming-related merchandise to sell their products.
The convention staff hosted panels in other rooms on topics ranging from gender roles in anime and gaming to an anime trivia challenge. The entire third floor of the Student Center was set up with tables and gaming consoles for serious video and role-playing gamers.
But perhaps the most popular feature was in the Student Center Theater, where students armed with laptops projected a continuous stream of anime music videos onto the screen. The music ranged from popular hits like U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" to offbeat songs like Loudon Wainwright III's "I Wish I Was a Lesbian" to hilarious surprises like the Mentos ad jingle.
I admit I was a little skeptical when I first walked into the Student Center Saturday morning. It was a fledgling convention, and I had only a moderate interest in both anime and gaming. I half-expected to sit around watching Ranma ½ reruns and Magic card battles for a couple of hours, then leave and that would be the end of it.
Instead, I found myself wrapped up in the whole event, and I had a heck of a time tearing myself away to go study for my algorithms exam later that week. The panels, while touch and go, were exciting, and I found myself continually sucked back into the music video room whenever I tried to leave.
And I loved admiring the time and effort that the attendees had put into their costumes and full-body makeup. (Let me tell you, you've never really seen a Jawa until you've watched one walk past Pandini's.)
The effort and dedication on the part of the convention staff was apparent in the sheer size and scope of the event. I loved the variety of attractions and the enthusiasm that radiated from all the attendees. Everybody was having a good time, and it showed.
I even had a chance to sit down with Jessica Merriman, president of Anime-O-Tekku and director of MomoCon.
Merriman is a self-proclaimed anime and gaming nerd, breaking every gender stereotype by freely admitting that she's happiest when she's holding a game controller in her hands.
"Gaming is near and dear to my heart," said Merriman, a third-year Management major.
MomoCon was first conceived in late June of last year, when Anime-O-Tekku broke with Techwood Con-a smaller gaming convention hosted on campus every January-and formed its own convention. Starting with a budget of zero, the club's staff toiled over the next 10 months, reserving rooms and contacting as many artists, dealers and sponsors as they could find.
"I've been begging and pleading for events and companies since June.I e-mailed so many webcomics, it made my eyes spin," Merriman said.
"They got the exposure though our website, [and] we got exposure because we had lots of guests!"
The convention was always intended to be free. The staff broke even through buy-in tournaments, dealers' and artists' fees and outside sponsorship.
Making the convention work also required an exorbitant amount of advertising. Merriman and her staff spent months hanging posters and flyers at arcades and comic shops around Atlanta, as well as posting in online forums. Newtype, a popular anime magazine, mentioned MomoCon in its February issue, and many heard about it simply by word of mouth.
"The Newtype and the word-of-mouth advertising probably contributed [to] the fact that we had a very young audience at the convention," Merriman said.
In fact, there was a low turnout of Tech students. The vast majority of the attendees included high school students, older anime fans, students of other local colleges and young children accompanied by their parents.
Overall, Merriman estimates that the staff logged in thousands of hours of work.
"I put in 40-hour weeks over Christmas," she said.
"[The staff] put in a buttload of hours in the last five days.People that get things done. I like that. Even if it's at the last minute and they scare the crap out of me and they pull it out of their butt."
Nevertheless, they all agree that the event was a fantastic success, especially for a first-year convention.
"I have a big smile on my face for a reason. [We] were a buttload better than a lot of other cons.The gaming is so much better and less stinky. Lots less stinky. Although the dealer's room was kind of stinky," Merriman said.
Plans are already in the works for MomoCon 2006. The tentative date is being bumped up from this year to coincide with the first weekend of spring break and to avoid the Easter holiday. In addition, the staff hopes to reserve the ballroom for the dealers, offer an anime and gaming music concert and make food readily available. (Much to my chagrin, all of the restaurants in the Student Center were closed.)
"I would love for.the Food Court to be open when there's 700 people here," Merriman said.
"I'm sure they'd make a lot of money. Tech Rec was open, and [they were] worried they wouldn't make any money, but.on DDR alone [they] probably made more than [they] make in a week."
The tentative theme for next year is Tsukimi, or moon viewing, to coincide with the vernal equinox on March 20, 2006.
"There's a lot of mythology about a rabbit on the moon making rice dumplings and something like that, and hopefully we'll be able to have an outside moon viewing," Merriman said.
"I'm going to wear my kimono because I have a real kimono."
Merriman also hopes to encourage more involvement from the student body.
"More Tech people should come!" she said. "I want it to be a Georgia Tech event. I don't want it to be an anime club event."