Places (not) to travel: Bir Tawil

Bir Tawil

Imagine a land unclaimed by any country in the world. I know what you’re thinking: here’s the place to start my new empire.

Unfortunately, there’s some bad news. Several people/groups have already claimed this land, and one man has gone so far as to create a flag, travel to the land and stick that flag in the ground in the name of his new state. The worse news, however, is that Bir Tawil, the land in question, has nothing that anyone could possibly want.

bir tawil satellite

Pictured above, courtesy of Google Earth: the land in question. Bir Tawil (Arabic for “deep well”) is the trapezoid dotted out in the center of the photograph. It looks desolate from space, and indeed, it is; Bir Tawil is a patch of rocky desert about 2,000 square kilometers in area (about the area of a mid-sized US county) on the border between Egypt and Sudan. And it is unclaimed by both countries. In fact, each country claims that the other is Bir Tawil’s rightful administrator. What’s going on here?

To understand just why Bir Tawil is so unwanted, we have to look at early 20th century colonial African history. At the turn of the last century, Egypt and Sudan both were unofficially ruled by Britain. After a briefly successful Sudanese revolt against British rule in 1896, the British colonial administration recaptured Sudan alongside Egyptian forces and established a “condominium”, or joint rule, between Britain and Egypt over the reconquered country. This new arrangement required the drawing of a border between Egypt and Sudan, and the 1899 line cut straight through the 22nd parallel. A later map, however, shifted this line to better reflect the realities of the border between the two colonies, and Sudan gained the 20,000 square kilometer Hala’ib Triangle, a prime piece of Red Sea real estate, while the comparatively shitty and useless Bir Tawil south of the 1899 border went to Egypt.

The Hala'ib Triangle and Bir Tawil.  The 1899 border is the straight line, and the 1902 border is the one that creates the disputed territories.

The Hala’ib Triangle and Bir Tawil. The 1899 border is the straight line, and the 1902 border is the one that creates the disputed territories.

After independence, both Egypt and Sudan claimed Hala’ib, with Egypt upholding the 1899 border and Sudan pushing the 1902 border in opposition. As a strange quirk of this argument, neither country had any basis to claim Bir Tawil – so neither claimed it. Bir Tawil, as a result, is officially terra nullius. Nobody wants it. Which means you can go there and hang out and do whatever you want!

Well, that’s just the problem – there probably isn’t anything to do in Bir Tawil. There are good reasons Egypt and Sudan both prefer Hala’ib, which has actual settlements and a coastline, to Bir Tawil, which has no settlements, no natural resources, and no access to water. It’s a rocky desert with probably some patches of shrubs and stuff like that. Herders have used the land in the past, but nobody lives there and, again, there are good reasons for that.

Minus the dunes, this is probably a pretty good approximation of what Bir Tawil is like.  Have fun!

Minus the dunes, this is probably a pretty good approximation of what Bir Tawil is like. Have fun!

Naturally, the fact of Bir Tawil’s inaccessibility and hostility has not stopped idiots in other countries from claiming the land for themselves. Most recently, an American traveled to Bir Tawil and planted a flag there, declaring it the Kingdom of North Sudan and his seven year-old daughter the princess of it. It’s admirable that a parent would go so far to make his kid happy, but declaring your kids royalty of new made-up countries borders on spoiling them, doesn’t it?

In any case, neither Egypt nor Sudan have commented on Mr. Heaton’s claim on Bir Tawil, and it’s unlikely that they will ever countenance a third-party claim on the land, considering that a final agreement between the countries will require one of them to end up holding Bir Tawil anyway. And it’s just as well, because there is no reason to go to this patch of rock and sand. If you want to declare your own country, declare it in your own backyard or in your apartment. Nobody will stop you unless you do something dumb like declaring war on your neighbors and lobbing projectiles into their yards. Bir Tawil is interesting as a question of international law, but that’s all it has going for it.

Caffeine mints have become my #2 energy source

For the curious, #1 is coffee. There is no #3. The natural joy of being alive and waking up in the morning gives me 0 units of energy. In fact, I think it might give me negative energy.

As a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I don’t like making personal blog posts. This is not a personal blog for the reason that I don’t find my life that interesting and don’t think that anyone else cares to hear about it. I also think this is true of 99%+ of people, and thus that personal blogs are generally pretty worthless outside of a small circle of family and friends around the author. Hence I try to make my writing have broad appeal with the game and travel posts and the lack of “here’s what I did today” type stuff.

However, this post has broad appeal too despite being a somewhat personal one, because who doesn’t like caffeine? As the most widely used drug in the world, caffeine is a staple of societies throughout the world and has proven benefits in productivity and creativity when used moderately. And if you like caffeine, you will probably also like caffeine mints.

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A few weeks ago, I ordered two types of caffeinated mints online. My plan was to buy energy cheaply and in a convenient form (meaning one I can take to the library and not worry about spilling all over the place.) The first I bought were several tins of Penguin mints. Each of these have 7 mg of caffeine. For reference, a typical cup of brewed coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine. These Penguin mints have apparently been around for a long time (20/30 years?) and are sweetened with aspartame, which maybe isn’t so great. That’s not going to stop me from eating them. They taste pretty much like regular mints, come in nice tins like Altoids and give you a kick if you eat enough of them (10+).

I also bought a can of mints on the cheap from a certain website that sells a lot of weird nerd stuff. These have 20 mg of caffeine each, are chalky and taste like ass. Strange, because the label says they have sugar in them. In any case, they’re good enough as an inexpensive boost. I’m a 2L on a law journal now, so I really need them.

This is the face of evil.

This is the face of evil.

If you are a law student like me, or are in any other kind of program or job that requires long nights, I highly recommend caffeine mints. But be careful. Some guy in England died after eating a lot of them last year and now his daughter is afraid of coffee.

Retrospective: Grandia II

The Dreamcast had a sadly short life, doomed as it was to be SEGA’s last shot effort at staying in the console-making game. Unlike its disastrous predecessor Saturn, however, the Dreamcast is still more or less beloved among a lot of gamers now in their 20s. Maybe it’s because everyone knew it was SEGA’s last shot, or because some of its games were actually pretty good.

Grandia II was one of these. Released in 2000, Grandia II was in many ways a typical JRPG – lots of battles, boss fights, traveling, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, and all in the context of an epic quest to save the world. Your hero is Ryudo, a young mercenary who runs around the countryside looking for work with his pet (?) talking falcon (???) Skye (no, the game never explains this. Especially confusing because Skye is the only talking/intelligent animal in the game; the rest don’t say a word. Also, in the English dub Skye sounds like George Takei.) Ryudo is kind of a dick, and although Skye tries to keep him in line it doesn’t always work.

One of Ryudo's many quips

One of Ryudo’s many quips

The gist of Grandia II is that you, as Ryudo, have to take a job from the church that controls your country to seal an ancient evil together with a nun who is the key to sealing that evil, because of a reason I can’t remember. You travel to see the pope while meeting people who have serious problems you have to fix, after which a few of them will join your party as permanent members. ……..

Right, so in terms of setting, plot and basic character layout, it’s a generic JRPG. Painfully generic, and as stale as a week-old baguette. The hero is a jaded sarcastic guy, the main female lead is a nice girl who wants to help everybody. There’s also a kid, a warrior furry lion sort-of guy and a robot girl. And if you’ve played even a few JRPGs of this kind, you’ll see the plot twists coming several hours before they hit. Hell, you might be able to figure out everything that’s going on, all the way to the very end of the game, after finishing just about a third of it. Really, that’s not right at all.

FINE Elena we'll fucking save the townspeople already

FINE Elena we’ll fucking save the townspeople already

Despite that, Grandia II is a good game if only for its gameplay, and namely for its battle system. It’s a mix of turn-based and real-time battle. Each of your members has his or her turn along with each of the enemies. However, the order of everyone’s turns is determined by their speed stats and whether your party was able to catch the enemy off guard or was ambushed by the enemy. Each turn, represented by the character’s face, moves along the initiative bar to the blue COM threshold, where you can input a command for that character. Once they hit the ACT line, that character will carry out their inputted action. Both you and your enemies’ actions can be cancelled, however, if they’re attacked before carrying said action out. Getting canceled flings the affected actor’s icon way to the left (i.e. the beginning) of the initiative bar again.

Your characters also get a whole crapload of moves and spells to learn, some of which do various amounts of area damage. A few moves are great for canceling imminent enemy attacks.

Grandia II's battle system is its best asset.

Grandia II’s battle system is its best asset.

This system might sound complicated, but it’s really easy to pick up and a lot of fun once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Battles in Grandia II are a lot more than simple point-and-click or run-around-the-field-swinging-your-sword deals as they are in many other JRPGs, and that adds a lot of value to the game.

Another nice addition to Grandia II is this bit that comes up maybe six or eight times throughout the game where you get to sit in on a dinner conservation with your party. It’s not especially substantive or anything, but it adds some flavor to the game, and the characters’ interactions can be amusing sometimes. In fact, most of Grandia II‘s dialogue is pretty well-written, even in the context of its stale plot.

Is he being sarcastic?  Who can tell.

Is he being sarcastic? Who can tell.

Grandia II is a nice JRPG that’s well worth playing if you live in 2000 and own a Dreamcast. And though it hasn’t aged all that well, really, even today it’s fun. I played it a couple of times as a kid, and returning to the game, I can still enjoy it.

Sadly, it’s kind of hard to track down today in its original form – copies of the Dreamcast version are on sale for $150 on Amazon (it’s the same with Skies of Arcadia, actually – what is it with Dreamcast RPGs being expensive as hell now?) The PS2 version might be cheaper, though I’ve never played it – it could also be a horribly broken port for all I know. And the PC (!) version is probably damn near impossible to play on a Windows 7/8 machine. Still, if you can track this game down for a decent price, it’s well worth a play. I don’t know if it’s necessarily $150 worth of it, but it’s certainly worth something.

Places (not) to travel: Clipperton Island

Since I’ve run out of actual travel post ideas, I though I would start writing some theoretical travel posts. Traveling to a place in your mind is entirely possible, especially now that we have Google Earth and other such tools. It’s also a lot cheaper and not as time-consuming as actual travel. Perfect for the busy worker or student, such as myself and probably you as well. So since we 99 percenters get screwed by The Man and have to take mind-vacations to save money so that we can pay rent and eat, let’s relax at a nice, inviting destination!

Clipperton Island (Ile de la Passion)

Carteactuelle

Located far off the Pacific coast of Mexico, Clipperton Island is truly the destination for someone looking to “get away from it all.” Clipperton was found in various parts of the last millennium by Spanish and French explorers and has been in French colonial overseas possession for about two centuries, minus a period of dispute with Mexico over its claim, and was a center of mining and fishing operations at times.

So what might you expect to find on this island? Beautiful beaches? Rum? Friendly natives? Pissed off natives? Naked brown boobies?

A brown booby.  No, I wasn't being crass or obscene.

A brown booby. No, I wasn’t being crass or obscene.

Sadly, none of the above, except for the last one (Clipperton is indeed home to the brown booby.) Clipperton Island consists of a thin strip of land encircling a lagoon full of brackish water. There are no human inhabitants. There seems to be no workable soil to speak of, and the only point of interest aside from some clumps of palm trees is a 100 foot-tall rock.

Clippertonisland

Why, then, would anyone bother with this place? Aside from the probably very complicated legal issues regarding Mexico and France’s territorial waters and resultant fishing and mining rights in the Pacific surrounding, it doesn’t have anything to offer, does it?

Well, it used to have plenty of something – guano. Guano is “the excrement of seabirds, cave-dwelling bats, pinnipeds, or (in English usage) birds in general” (source: wikipedia.) Lots of islands in the Pacific happened to contain a lot of guano, probably as a result of birds living on said islands for thousands of years. As it happened, bird shit was highly sought after as a fertilizer by many countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the United States Congress even passed an act declaring that any US citizen could claim any island containing guano that was uninhabited and not held by any other country for the US. The US did claim a lot of Pacific islands on this basis and still holds some of them to this day, but Clipperton, being a French holding from the 18th century, was not among them. So those lucky French farmers were able to get their hands on the lucrative crap that must have resulted in nice crop yields. Good for them.

clipperton-camp1

Clipperton was visited on a fairly regular basis by miners looking for guano, and also by fishing and whaling vessels. Because of its both literal and figurative shittiness, the island was never permanently inhabited, but for once, when a Mexican settlement was established there and supplied by ship until 1915, when shipments were halted. The inhabitants were required to live off fish and rainwater collected in boats. The small settlement then broke out into scurvy and mostly died, and the remaining man on the island went mad and lorded over the several remaining women and children and committed several serious crimes before being killed in self-defense or retribution by one of the women. The remaining residents were recused, and perhaps understandably, no one has ever tried to live on Clipperton Island since.

Clipperton Island isn’t an entirely bad place, though, if you’re a marine or avian biologist with an interest in the eastern Pacific. A lot of birds still make their homes on the island. A large amount of coral grows around the island, along with a diverse group of Pacific sea-life. A species of bright orange crabs also lives on Clipperton, but put your shellfish fork away: their meat is poisonous.

Getting to Clipperton Island is difficult, as it has no harbor or even a dock or anything and nobody goes there save a few scientific expeditions and maybe the occasional French patrol ship. But you probably shouldn’t visit anyway. In fact, you should just be happy that you live in a place with constant fresh water supplies and no poisonous pinchy crabs. That’s pretty much the only positive thing I have in my life going right now, and I’m grateful for it.

Sunset on Clipperton Island, looking towards the lagoon.  Despite the peaceful and beautiful qualities of this photo, Clipperton is a harsh and essentially unlivable environment for humans.  (Source: va7dx, Creative Commons)

Sunset on Clipperton Island, looking towards the lagoon. Despite the peaceful and beautiful qualities of this photo, Clipperton is a harsh and essentially unlivable environment for humans. (Source: va7dx, Creative Commons)

Retrospective: Umineko no Naku Koro ni

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Umineko no Naku Koro ni (eng: When the Seagulls Cry) is the story of a family – a rich, fractured, miserable family full of intrigues and mistrust. It’s the story of an old man driven mad with a desire that he could never fulfill. It’s the story of a witch, a woman who may or may not really exist.

Really, though, Umineko no Naku Koro ni is a “sound novel” produced by independent Japanese designer 07th Expansion and released in eight parts from 2007 to 2010 (is this old enough for a “retrospective?” Sure, why not.) This team is also responsible for the earlier series Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, with which Umineko shares some links. Umineko is essentially a book – you simply click through screens and read description and dialogue. If you’re familiar with the visual novel concept, it’s a bit like that, only it’s even less of a “game” than the typical visual novel, because Umineko presents the reader with no Choose Your Own Adventure-style options at all. You just read the thing. Just like a book!

The Ushiromiya family tree.  If you play-read Umineko, you'll learn this chart by heart before long.

The Ushiromiya family tree. If you play-read Umineko, you’ll learn this chart by heart before long.

Umineko takes place on Rokkenjima, a private island owned by Kinzo Ushiromiya, the fabulously rich head of the Ushiromiya family. Kinzo is an old man and is near death, yet he seems to have no interest in writing a will – to parcel out his assets to his children, those “vultures”, as he calls them. Even so, the traditional annual family meeting is still on. Kinzo’s four children, their spouses, and their children are all headed to Rokkenjima to talk family business, and that’s where our story opens.

There are a ton of characters in Umineko, but the central ones – at least in the first episode – are the four cousins, the children of Kinzo’s children: Jessica, George, Maria, and the strangely named sort-of protagonist Battler (the red-haired guy on the cover.) The cousins get along very well, which is more than could be said for their parents, who spend most of the conference fighting over their ailing father’s inheritance. The cousins are much more interested in the stranger aspects of their grandfather Kinzo’s massive estate, not least of which is the massive portrait of a young blonde woman in an elaborate gown. This is not a portrait of their late grandmother, but rather of Beatrice, the “Golden Witch”, a mysterious woman whom Kinzo claims lent him the enormous amount of wealth he needed to establish his business empire.

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Of course, a loan demands repayment, and Kinzo is prepared to pay back Beatrice’s loan in a way that will terrify his family. As a huge storm bears down on Rokkenjima, trapping the Ushiromiya family on the island for the weekend, rumors of Beatrice’s arrival start to circulate and the tension within the family grows. How will it end?

Umineko starts out as a murder mystery along the lines of an Agatha Christie novel (in fact, Ryukishi, the writer, drops some big references to Christie and other mystery novelists in the narrative.) It quickly turns into something else, however. In a really, really basic sense, Umineko is about the melding between the real world inhabited by the Ushiromiya family and Kinzo’s servants, on one side, and a fantasy world inhabited by strange magical beings on the other. In the center is the mystery of exactly what happened on Rokkenjima that weekend; a mystery that Battler, one of Kinzo’s grandchildren, is forced to uncover after the fact by entering a bizarre timeloop meta-world and playing a “game” attempting to reconstruct the event with a woman who claims to be an ancient and powerful witch. It makes more sense when you’re reading it, I promise.

There's lots of this kind of back-and-forth between characters regarding the action of the story.

There’s lots of this kind of back-and-forth between characters regarding the action of the story.

To be completely honest, Umineko isn’t without its faults. The writing seems to be unedited, and dialogue can go on and on without any seeming regard for pacing. Speaking of that, in fact, the first episode of the story (there are eight at around 10 hours each) is incredibly slow and occasionally dull before it reaches the climax near the very end; it’s pretty much setting things up and introducing the characters. And you might not have noticed from the above screenshot, but the art is pretty bad – Ryukishi, the writer, also draws the characters, and he can’t fucking draw.

However, the positives of Umineko outweigh its negatives. The story really picks up after the first episode, and its “supernatural murder mystery” angle is pretty unique. Just like a normal mystery novel, the mystery of the deaths on Rokkenjima is made to be solveable by the player, and technically it is, although it’s pretty much impossible to figure out in the English-translated version because it relies in part on some kind of kanji puzzle. Characters will even throw out statements in “red text” that are guaranteed to be true in order to help the player – and Battler – sort out the situation. The characters also turn out to be pretty compelling. And the music is really damn good; it’s well-written, diverse and sets the mood of the story perfectly.

Umineko was originally made for the PC with Ryukishi’s janky art and no voice-acting. This version is still available to buy on disc in various online stores and has a full and very well-done English patch. PS3 ports of the game also exist. These are way more polished than the originals, with actual good art and voice-acting. A different fan group has made a patch of the PS3 better art/voiced edition that you can apply to your PC copy of Umineko. This also has the same English patch adapted to it.

A screen from the PS3 version.

A screen from the PS3 version.

There’s also an anime series. Don’t watch it, because it’s crap. A case where the adaptation fell flat on its face because it simply isn’t possible to adapt Umineko to any other format. This isn’t some “purist” twaddle either, there are technical reasons why it can’t really be adapted to any other format without some serious changes. The sound novel original contains lines of text that are key to understanding the central mysteries of the game, and the show left some of them out completely and screwed other parts up. There was apparently not much care put into the adaptation. In fact, the show seems to have bombed, because the second half of the series (the part where the questions posed by the first are answered) was never adapted for the screen.

Anyway, that’s Umineko for you. Not quite a game; not quite a traditional novel. Think of it as a computer based novel without an editor but with a soundtrack. It is a really good soundtrack, though. And Umineko is a good story, despite its issues. It is a serious time commitment at this point, though (80+ hours!) so don’t plan on finishing it in one night. Hell, the only reason I ever finished it was because I started when Episode 3 was translated. Otherwise I probably would be dead by now.

Retrospective: SimCity 2000 (or why the world’s energy problems will be solved by 2050)

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When you are a child, the world is full of endless possibilities (it’s also full of asshole bullies and unfair rules, but never mind that.) And no game better embodied that world of possibilities than did SimCity 2000. Released in 1993, SimCity 2000 was the isometric 3D sequel to the original top-down SimCity and was the company’s biggest hit until The Sims came along in 1999. The idea was basic – you were the major of a blank patch of land (and water, if you so wished) and your job was to build a city, complete with power, water, services and entertainment for your new residents, who would flock to your city as soon as you zoned land for residential, commercial or industrial use.

SimCity 2000 seemed to predict a sunny future where we’d all eventually benefit from advances in technology, where political and police corruption were nonexistent and where a low student/teacher ratio meant a school automatically turned out A students who went on to fulfilling courses of study and careers.

Of course, there were still disasters.

For example

For example

Disasters that you could start yourself from the disaster menu, and also from the magical debug menu that allowed you to generate mega-disasters like volcanoes and nuclear meltdowns as well as enough free cheat code money to rebuild right away.

If you wanted to take your game seriously, however, you were in for some planning. SimCity 2000 isn’t the most complicated game in the world, but it’s up there on the list, and to make your citizens happy you’ll have to track and alleviate high crime and heavy traffic, build enough fire departments and hospitals to keep people safe and walking around, provide schools, universities and libraries to educate your citizens and keep them from not getting stupid. Critical decisions such as whether to allow the construction of a military base mean balancing between the value of the military’s help in fighting disasters against higher crime and pollution where the base was built. City ordinances can also affect your city, with their own benefits and drawbacks.

Fortunately, you have a panel of advisers ready and willing to help you with your decisions. Unfortunately, they aren’t much help. Most of them just want full funding in their particular areas and will complain if you drop it.

Pretty sure this one isn't real

Pretty sure this one isn’t real

One of the most interesting aspects of SimCity 2000 was its predictions of future technology. You had the option of starting your game in 1900, 1950, 2000 and 2050, but 1900 was the default (and the “real way” to play, as far as I’m concerned) perhaps in part because you got to see and take advantage of new technologies as they developed historically. Upon the building of the first airplanes, you get to build an airport. Your first nuclear plant is available in the 50s. But, of course, SimCity 2000 was only developed in 1993, so there are some technologies that are mere predictions – the most exciting of which is the fusion power plant, made available in 2050. SimCity‘s fusion plant can power about half of the entire map, is completely safe and, despite being the most expensive plant in the game, is also the most cost-effective. We should all hope Will Wright’s prediction is correct.

If you've played SimCity 2000, you'll know just how much waste this screenshot depicts

If you’ve played SimCity 2000, you’ll know just how much waste this screenshot depicts

SimCity 2000 also saw the advent of the arcology, a bizarre self-contained city of the future. The idea for the arcology didn’t come from SimCity, in fact – early design ideas were proposed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects, and real-life arcology-esque projects are planned for construction in the United Arab Emirates and Japan. Arcologies in SimCity 2000 are expensive and massively boost crime and potentially pollution, depending on the type you build, but they also give a major boost to your population – and to your tax base.

Despite these predicted advances in technology, though, your city’s local newspaper will always be completely stupid and nonsensical. It uses article templates with randomly generated words in certain spots, kind of like Mad Libs. Even so, SimCity‘s newspaper is still less of a joke than the Washington Times.

Yes, every story in the paper looks like this.

Yes, every story in the paper looks like this.

So, yeah. SimCity 2000 is a real classic. All my love for this game might stem from the fact that I played the hell out of it as a kid, but even without the nostalgia goggles on, it’s a legitimately great game. Not that I really need to convince everyone of that, since it sold about ten billion copies anyway and everyone seems to love it or at least pay it respect.

Sadly, though, the SimCity story doesn’t have a happy ending. SimCity 2000 was followed by SimCity 3000 in 1999 (sort of a graphical update of 2000 with not much else going for it, though it’s still good) and SimCity 4 in 2003, which was also good and legitimately felt pretty different from its 1993 ancestor. The series’ latest entry, however, was a disgrace. 2013’s SimCity looked amazing, but it was released full of bugs. Many fans were shocked at the fact that they were required to be connected to the internet to play the game in singleplayer mode. To add insult to injury, the SimCity servers fucked themselves upon launch and for a while nobody was able to play the game they’d just bought for 50 or 60 dollars. To add even more insult to injury, Maxis and EA apologized for all this by announcing the coming release of The Sims 4, which they promised wouldn’t be all glitchy and force to you be online constantly. A shitty SimCity game for a good Sims game. What a trade, huh? Some people might like it, but really, this drives me crazy. Not like I have much time left to play open-ended sandbox games anyway.

Perhaps not coincidentally, EA won The Consumerist‘s Worst Company in America award that same year. EA basically responded by saying “We have enough money to buy and sell you ten times over, so fuck yourself.” Which I suppose is fair.

Otakon 2014, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Line

or, Did You Really Know I Was This Much of a Fucking Nerd? Now You Do.

I recently attended Otakon. If you’re well-adjusted and normal enough to not know what Otakon is, it’s an anime convention that takes place in Baltimore every year in early August. I believe Otakon is the largest such con in America; this year’s attendance cap stood at 30,000. 30,000 people, many of them in ridiculous costumes, milling around the Baltimore Convention Center like cattle to attend workshops and showings of anime series and fighting game tournaments.

There will be blood

There will be blood

I went to the con with a group of friends who all more or less share my severely nerdy interests. Mine tend heavily towards video games – I don’t really know a whole lot about most anime stuff, but I’m a massive fan of some game series and was looking for a few specific items at Otakon’s game dealer booths. My primary purpose in attending Otakon was to spend time with my other nerd friends, though, and that was definitely accomplished. We hit some of the bars at Baltimore’s harbor pretty hard last weekend and mostly hung out, and as a consequence, I didn’t spend much time at the actual con. I did spend some time there, though – much of it in line.

This, only mentally add twenty thousand more people wrapped around the building three times, and you've got it.

This, only mentally add twenty thousand more people wrapped around the building three times, and you’ve got it.

The true ordeal began late Thursday, after we arrived at the Baltimore Convention Center to get our passes from the pre-registration line. The convention center is massive, taking up the entirety of a large block near Baltimore’s harbor district on the corner of East Pratt and Charles Streets. By 7:00 PM, the line already looped several times, snake-like, outside of the front of the center, proceeding then around the whole of the building and wrapping back, where it finally entered through a side door into the center itself. Inside, we could see that the line continued, although to what extent we had no idea.

This is the part where I complain about the sheer incompetence of the con’s staff. Fan convention staffs aren’t generally known for their planning skills, but Otakon was bad even by those standards. We waited in line for nearly four hours, inching towards the doors, only to be told by around 10:30 that in ten minutes the doors would be closed for the night. Behind us, thousands more nerds and misfits were waiting. None of us would get in that night. As it happened, the staff had had severe internet connection problems early that evening and throughout the night that created delays in the processing of entrants – yet they still allowed the line to grow until the very last minute, knowing for hours, as they must have known, that everyone past a certain point wouldn’t be processed that night. We were finally sent home by a couple of staff members who didn’t seem all that apologetic about the screwup; in fact, they seemed to blame us for being stupid enough to think we’d get in that night. So we returned the next morning, spent another three hours in line and finally got our badges.

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So was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. Everyone loved Linecon 2014. We stood in the heat and humidity and played our 3DSes, talked to strangers, exchanged Streetpass info and complained about the line. One man (above) quickly made a costume that perfectly summed up the experience (complete with ice-cold DLC – a reference to the now-famous Ice Cold Water Man who sells bottled water to line-standers at Otakon and other Baltimore events.) We got to hear his song about selling ice-cold water and buy water from him. And, of course, there was the con itself once we all got in on Friday, which featured even more lines: lines to the dealers’ room, where I bought my video game nonsense; lines to the artists’ room, where I didn’t buy anything but saw a lot of art being sold; lines to the game room, where I had my ass handed to me in fighting games because I’m not good at them; lines to workshops and showings and other things that none of us attended because they all looked pretty dull. The main attraction of a con is seeing people in costume, and there were a few good ones, but all in all, it was a disappointment – not really very much obscure stuff, which is what I like to look out for. I might have missed them.

Also, you know, all the scantily-clad girls there. That’s another good reason to attend the con, or any con, for that matter.

To be completely honest, I can’t recommend that you attend a fan convention unless you’re spending the time with friends that share your interests or you plan on meeting people there. Otherwise, it would be a massive pain and entirely pointless in any case – most of the stuff in the dealers’ and artists’ rooms can also be found online. The whole point is to spend a weekend in a place where it’s socially acceptable for adults to play dressup and pretend to be their favorite fictional characters, where you can talk to people face-to-face who share your interests. It’s a true escape from the real world, and we all need that sometimes. So despite all the logistical screwups, I did enjoy Otakon, and I might go back – but only if my friends are also planning on it. And only while I’m still young enough not to feel like a creep going there and not having the excuse of having a kid who’s attending.