A Paean to Ropecon

If you ever went to Ropecon in Dipoli you know that the place is hard to forget, with its architecture of stone, glass, light wood, dark metal, and its hostility to straight angles. It offered a milieu for roleplaying (and other things) that felt home-made, welcoming, and original, but still professional enough. It wasn’t perfect and like everything that’s dear, you both loved and hated parts of it. The sucky bits were parts of the charm, so much so that I can’t even bear to write anything stronger than “sucky bits”.

The first signs of exiting the everyday and entering the pocket reality of Ropecon appeared before the building itself: the small shopping center including the hamburger stand, the ATM, and the grocery store that had learned to provision a brigade of geeks and nerds for the weekend. After turning the corner, Dipoli proper came into view, with its ample trees and grass lining the queue of colorful con-goers on the gray parking lot. I typically passed the queue and used the work force entrance at the backyard, which wasn’t truly enclosed, but felt that way because the shade of the trees offered comfort. I entered Dipoli proper and I knew where everything was. I knew where to sign up for games, where the toilets were, where to put my things, where to sleep; I knew enough to guess where and how I’d use my last two hours at the con. In short, I knew what to expect and to expect something unexpected. It was a home-coming of sorts, a start to a weekend among my kind of people.

These familiar places played hell with time. It was as if a year had never passed between two Ropecons and time had lost its meaning. You simply returned to where you had left a while ago. It resembled a dream you only remember in other dreams and which in the waking hours can recall only in the abstract. Within this small area during one weekend were people sights and people I only encountered once a year.

But Ropecon had to abandon Dipoli, because Dipoli abandoned Ropecon. As soon as the new venue Messukeskus was announced, con-goers doubted how the large and commercial “Expo and Convention Center” (as they call themselves in English) could ever be a new home to Ropecon. Foreign guests of honor have compared Ropecon’s atmosphere and milieu favorably to the large and impersonal conventions in the U.S. I was afraid that without Dipoli and moreover, in Messukeskus, Ropecon would lose its soul and turn into a false image of itself — a sorry meeting of old friends who have long since lost touch and still try their damnedest to make it fun for old times’ sake.

It turns out that a convention doesn’t lose its soul if you change its body. It turns out that the spirit of Ropecon is not bound to a place. Much like a transmigrating soul or a person’s digitalised mind in a transhumanist world, Ropecon can apparently alter its physical form and still be a Ropecon at heart.

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Messukeskus is in Pasila, a part of Helsinki known for being a train station and a home for drab buildings made of concrete. I did see more green there than I had expected, but on first sight, Messukeskus exuded all the spiritual depth of the concrete which it was made of. However, Ropecon started to feel like Ropecon even before I entered the place. I saw people in cosplay, people in geeky t-shirts, people prepared for the weekend with heavy bags, people I’ve never spoken to but see in every Ropecon. I talked with some stranger in the queue and although we remained strangers — I’d already forgotten their face, hair color, and assumed gender before I’d entered the building — the conversation was about Ropecon. And probably about queuing, but it was queuing to Ropecon. People gathered and the crowd gained mass, and mass turned into energy, and energy turned into spirit.

I’m not sure how long it took me to be certain that I was in Ropecon. It was probably within fifteen minutes of paying my entrance fee. The enthusiasm of everyone there transformed the utilitarian milieu into a space for passion. I didn’t know where everything was and the place felt like a non-navigable maze, but even that felt right for Ropecon — after all, Dipoli’s architecture has been called non-Euclidean more than once. For a hobby that started out with adventures in underground mazes, the only thing missing was the underground, but in rooms and hallways without windows, it’s easy to forgive.

Not everything was perfect. Mostly I missed posters and bad jokes scrawled on paper sticky-taped on walls and other impromptu decorations so important to the DIY feel of Ropecon; Messukeskus had forbidden them. But as the hours went on, things started falling into place so that the Ropecon’s true heart could show itself. I knew where everything important was and I knew where to find people. I had met friends and I had already played a game or two. The cosplays were as bright and skillful as ever, people found the best places to hang out in, I knew where to find food and coffee; I knew the huge hall was for card players and miniature war gamers and thus had nothing for me; and the hallways were alive and someone familiarly weird was always in sight and usually on the move. The places were different, but the things we did in those places were the same: we played, we waited, we chatted, we talked about what we’d done, what we were still about to do. Some things weren’t as good as they used to be, but then, some things had clearly improved: air-conditioning was up to its task, bathrooms were cleaner and what the spacious Messukeskus lacked in coziness it gained in — well, space. But most of all, the pure joy of creating and sharing still permeated everything.

There’s a lot to enjoy in Ropecon, passion manifesting in manifold ways : the seemingly unlimited energy of the teenagers, the quality of the cosplays and their artificial beauty, the abandon with which people play whatever they like to play; the common jokes, heated conversations about trivialities and essentials both, and even Internet memes can be fun if they’re delivered from the heart. The Saturday evening is climactic and every hallway seems alive: there’s music and dance and people are at their very best in roleplaying games, full of creative momentum gained osmotically during the weekend.

But I also enjoy the slow mornings. Those are the moments when there’s hardly anyone there because everyone’s still asleep and those that are awake are so comatose from having just woken up that they’re practically not there, and nobody is talking very much. Saturday mornings are peppered with expectation, and on Sunday morning the tired body and the tired mind struggle to find good things to do, something acceptable to eat — they also prepare to say goodbye.

Cynics might find whatever ulterior motives they always find wherever they look, but Ropecon is not about money or status or power or any of those ugly things in real life we want to escape from (if only to enjoy them in dramatized form in the games we play); it’s about passion and the freedom to share that passion.  Everything you see, every program, every game is made or organized by someone else there who is as excited about it as you are. The organisers of the event do their job well because their job is invisible by the time we get there. Ropecon is not about the organisers’ vision; it is not about commercial interests; and it isn’t about Dipoli. It’s about the freedom to passionately do those things you want to do with people you want to do them with, and forget about everything else for 50 hours.

Ropecon rages on.

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