Monday, March 26, 2012

Trip report: the Midwest Gaming Classic

Due to fog in Milwaukee, the plane that was taking me to Milwaukee couldn’t take off and head to Newark, much less begin its return flight home. So I lost five hours there. I blame whoever it was at MGC who brought the Silent Hill games: those titles just emanate fog.
My plan was to arrive around 1, sign book for a bit, do my speech at 3, and then get to see the show, which closed around 6. I got there around 6:30, thinking the show was closed. I also thought “the show” was a couple of rooms in a nice hotel crammed with arcade and pinball classics. That, at least, was correct. “the show” also poured out into the hallways, lobby, business station, restaurant, bar, and all other meeting spaces. If you’ve ever seen a two-year-old apply toothpaste, THAT’S what it looked like. I say this with two immense Sissy Henkshaw thumbs up.
Even thought the show was winding down, there were a lot of vendors and game fans sticking around, so “closing” basically just meant the crowds in the hallways grew a bit easier to navigate. One of the MGC honchos told me the afterparty was going to begin: free beer, soda, and snacks, everything on freeplay. “It usually goes until about 4 am,” he said. I think I blanched at that, because he told me that I, personally, did not have to stay up until 4 am playing pinball.
Instead of giving someone else my spot and bumping everyone else up earlier, the MGC took what turned out to be a smart gamble and booked me at 8 pm. Everyone who left had the option of sticking around for another few hours of soaking in the wide world of video games.
I had recently given my talk to a college crowd, and I was aware that they weren’t born in 1971, when my talk began. (Well, the subject on my talk began: I’d like to think it doesn’t FEEL 40 years long to sit through.) They got excited for the modern games, but not necessarily the Asteroids or Puppy Pong. This crowd was different: I made a joke about Syzygy, which is the ungainly name that Atari first used. The crowd immediately nodded its head: they all knew Syzygy WAS Atari, before I had ever said so. On the other hand, they weren’t that excited when I mentioned Skyrim.
Signing afterwards went great, delayed though it was. And I got to play a lot of old pinball games I thought I’d never see, much less play. Plus, finding a Contra cabinet on freeplay is a thing of beauty. All of the units there were for sale: as the con went on, more and more had sale signs replaced with SODL signs. Some got folded over and dollied right on out for the trip home.
Pinball fact I didn’t know: it zags where the rest of the collecting world zigs when it comes to scarcity and popularity. Lemme use some Milwaukee examples: there are only five Bob Uecker rookie cards, but 10,000 Hank Aaron cards, the Uecker card would be more valuable, despite Aaron being the more popular and successful ballplayer.
But baseball cards take up very little room: You could probably store a thousand card in the same space as one Harry Potter novel. Pinball machines are bulky, and they need the whole stripe of a room if you’re going to set it up. So the pinball collector is limited to what he (or she, but let’s be honest here: probably he) can stock. And so he wants pinball’s greatest hits, his most favorite tables. Thus, assuming that the more produced and played pinball machines are the better ones, those also become the most wanted collectibles. An Addams Familiy pinball machine runs $5000. A much rarer machine, from before you were born, might be $400.
I get to visit the dealer room in the morning, and have along debate about myself about a Virtual Boy that’s in its own carrying case. Don’t have the case. But would it survive the plane ride? Do I want to check it, for an extra $25? I ultimately decide against it, but I do find out that my Tengen Tetris is still worth $50.My back was to a Tetris documentary while I was signing in the morning, but I snuck enough peaks over my shoulder to feel like I mostly sorta kinda watched it. Ask me if I HAVE watched the movie, and I'll just shut down like an Asimov robot asked to kill a human.
            Rushing through the airport, I realized I never got the bratwurst I swore I would get while I was in Milwaukee. No time, and now at the airport no places other than generic fast food. But right next to my gate was a deli with a grill. I got my brat, in a pretzel roll with handcut chips. Achievement unlocked!