Geeks En Masse: Nearby Cons for the Geeky at UC Irvine

Ah, the geek: the socially awkward, anime-obsessed, MMORPG-playing, pale basement-dweller. Right?

That’s the cliché picture that most people imagine, and I have to admit that some of it is true. I do tend to reflect sunlight in photos, I’ve seen more than a few animes in my time and I’m pretty darn awkward. But college is a time of exploration and “finding yourself,” and if that self happens to be the uber geek you’ve always suspected yourself to be, have no shame. Geeks are an intelligent, imaginative, crazy and fun bunch, whether they’re busy designing intricate costumes or performing leet haxxorz.

Irvine is not a friend to the unusual, and it can be a tough place to express your geek side. Wear sweatpants and Uggs to class and you’re accepted, but throw on your favorite purple cosplay wig and prepare to be stared at like a freak all day. Fortunately, in Irvine you can also mingle with others who’ve spent months perfecting their hobbit costumes or who’ve watched Battlestar Galactica just as many times as you have. Besides the available campus organizations, conventions are great resources for finding those who share your geeky interests, and some of the biggest conventions in the country happen right here in Southern California.

For the non-geeks, here’s an explanation: conventions are hugely fun gatherings of the weirdest people in the country, usually focusing on a certain theme, such as anime, or addressing a spectrum of geeky interests. They’re also financial black holes but are worth every penny. Where else can you romp around with other stormtroopers for a day or see Summer Glau in the beautiful, beautiful flesh?

We’ll start with Irvine-based Blizzard Entertainment, the juggernaut that sucked you into Azeroth forever with its World of Warcraft MMORPG (massive multiplayer online roleplaying game) and other titles. You know you’re addicted and you know you don’t care, so why not check out BlizzCon 2009? Set for its fourth year, BlizzCon will take place at the Anaheim Convention Center on Aug. 21 and 22. Meet up with your guildmates, complain about the tank who couldn’t hold aggro in your Hellfire Ramparts PUG and make fun of your friends for not playing on a PVP server.

Anaheim used to draw thousands of bishonen-ogling catgirls and Naruto fanboys every year, but recently Anime Expo (AX) moved a bit further up the road and has taken up residence at the Los Angeles Convention Center. From July 2 to 5, thousands of anime fans will flock to AX to see the amazing costumes in the masquerade, read manga in the library, catch a J-rock show and snap up Totoro plushies. Even if you can’t spare the cash for a badge, it’s worth a trip to sit outside and marvel at the work that some fans put into making themselves the spitting image of the mask-stealing Skull Kid. If you’re lucky, or not so lucky, you might even see ManFaye.

Speaking of which, if you end up in the hands of good fortune, you just might find yourself at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3. Running from June 2 to 4, this industry-only event treats wide-eyed trade geeks to a glimpse into the newest advances in computer and video gaming. Although I’ve spent my life losing miserably to my brother in shoot-em-up platform games, he trained me well, and it’s pretty fun to pwn a bunch of astonished dudes in Halo multiplayer. I’d venture to say that most geeks salivate just thinking about E3, myself included, and if you can make your way into this inner sanctum of gaming, just remember to wave kindly to the poor souls fogging up the windows as they gaze longingly inside.

I’ve saved the mother of conventions for last. Since 1970, Comic-Con International has grown from a humble gathering of comic book fans to an incredibly massive event that descends upon downtown San Diego each year. Spiderman devotees, fantasy art collectors, Heroes fans and metal bikini-clad Princess Leias will swarm the breathtaking collection of geek products this summer from July 23 to 26, and it is something that no self-respecting geek should miss. From the costuming to the huge displays (including a giant pirate ship in the middle of the hall), from the free-flowing freebies to the artists’ alley, Comic-Con is an immersive experience in geekdom. Irvine may greet your Cloud Strife outfit with a cold shoulder, but in the halls of the San Diego Convention Center you’ll find yourself photographed like an adored celebrity. A warning, however: Dress like Malcolm Reynolds and you’ll need a stick to beat the ladies away. On second thought, a mere stick may not be enough to keep me away.

There are innumerable conventions happening everywhere around the country, but if you happen to be a UC Irvine student, you’re well within reach of some of the best events known to geeks. Conventions are about having fun and swooning over your favorite obsessions, and if you haven’t been to one, consider trying one out; and the next time your roommate gives you crap about your weekend spent partying in a steampunk outfit, remind him of the weekend he just spent getting wasted in a toga. That’s when you Frostbolt him into unconsciousness! Or you could wave your arms around and make the Frostbolt noise yourself. That kind of thing tends to creep the non-geeks out and make them go away.