Among Friends: The Midwest Gaming Classic 2019

Gaming can be a lonely hobby. Even players who spend a lot of time in online deathmatches aren’t necessarily forming close bonds with the people they’re fragging, but if you’re primarily a single-player gamer, your chances for interaction with like-minded people are even fewer. Perhaps to combat this, each year there are tons of gaming and other hobbyist conventions all around the country, but I had never really thought about attending one. However, once I decided to become a game collector, I realized conventions were one of the best ways to find hard-to-get games and increase my knowledge about the gaming community. Not to mention make friends and connections that I could enjoy in the future.

The Midwest Gaming Classic ran last weekend, April 12-14, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For me, it was just a two-hour jaunt up I-94 from Chicago, but people came from all around the country to shop the vendors, sit in on panels, and play an enormous selection of games from every era in gaming history.

The convention was divided into two main exhibition halls, with additional rooms on the lower level for specialized events and panels. Depending on your preference, you probably would have found yourself in one of the two main rooms for most of the experience. For me, that preference is the vendor hall. Rows upon rows of classic games lined the enormous room, interspersed with vendors selling game-based art pieces like posters or perler-bead figures. The creativity on display was staggering, and only my limited funds kept me from walking out of there with one of everything.

The other hall was home to a ton of old consoles and computers, all set up to play an enormous variety of old games. These were games you would not be likely to run across in the outside world, games like Rogue and Hotel Mario — they ranged from classic to catastrophic, but each was important in its own way. Aside from console and computer games, about half the floor was occupied by a ton of arcade games and pinball machines. These ran the gamut from modern-day hits to ancient classics, and they were all free to play. One highlight was a pinball machine from the 1940s, which had minimal electronic components and required players to do almost everything by hand. Crazy to think how far we’ve come.

For enthusiasts like me, one of the major highlights (once I was able to drag myself away from the vendors and the game room) was the variety of panels covering a huge array of topics. For example, I sat in on a short panel that took a deep dive into an old and oddly influential game called Heiankyo Alien. Later, I heard from Howard Phillips, former Game Master at Nintendo of America (and the model for the character of Howard in Nintendo Power’s Howard and Nester comics). Another panel walked through the history and legacy of the Nintendo Gameboy as we approach its 30th anniversary. There were a lot more besides that, but I’m only human, and I couldn’t hit every single panel I might have liked to.

One unexpected benefit of attending a convention like the Midwest Gaming Classic is the opportunity to spend time with so many people who share your interests. As a collector, I don’t actually have too many friends that are as deep into gaming culture as I am. Taking a weekend to be around a huge group of folks who are (at least) as passionate as I am about the hobby was refreshing and encouraging. I can’t believe I waited so long to attend something like this. And it’s clear that the Midwest Gaming Classic is going to become a pretty regular part of my year.