Retro Con

Gamers young and old flock to the third annual RetroGameCon

RetroGameCon, a convention celebrating legendary video games, charmed thousands at their largest venue yet, the New York State Fairgrounds.

Video gaming convention, RetroGameCon, ran for its third year at the New York State Fair Grounds Saturday, bringing in a swarm of video gamers, anime enthusiasts, comic fans, local businesses and community groups passionate about everything geeky.

“I’ve been playing video games as long as I could think,” said Dan Morrissey. “This is my second year attending. I love that this convention is local and I wanted to show my support.” Morrissey was one of the many young people that showed up to support the effort of celebrating video games from the past.

"Our goal was to let people from the area come together and share something they really enjoy without having to travel far."
- Peter Lafrate

“It’s great to see all of these people showing their support for video games and the culture around them,” Morrissey said. “I feel games are art and it’s nice to see so many local people show up to support the medium.”

Allison Larahy, one of the members of the Cosplayers of Syracuse, a local community group, attended the convention for the first time. Cosplayers are individuals whose hobbies revolve around dressing up as their favorite anime, comic book, or video game character and attend conventions such as RetroGameCon to show off their costumes. Dressed in a Super Mario themed outfit, Larahy spoke about why the group came to this particular venue this year.

“In my mind I thought it was a great visualization of a local convention because it was a really good representation of what people can do,” Larahy said. “And this year it’s even better because they really built upon that by showing you how we can grow as a community if we start incorporating the different types of geeks, from gaming nerds to anime fans.”

Yelp, a social media focused company, attended the convention as an opportunity to reach out to the gaming community. The Yelp employees who attended RetroGameCon allowed customers to participate in a Mario Kart tournament if they chose to support the company by liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter.

Jared Britman, Yelp’s community ambassador, said the company wanted to get involved at RetroGameCon to branch out into new territory and bring in a variety of customers to increase Yelp’s business demographic.  

“We feel that Syracuse has not only some of the longest running local businesses, but the most successful,” Britman said. “So many different communities come out to RetroGameCon, so we wanted to take advantage of this new opportunity and reach out to a new demographic.” Britman mentioned it also helped that he and the other employees at Yelp are big fans of classic retro games from their childhood, which got Britman to spark up conversations with other game fans.

Like Britman, local full-time artist Erin Carroll set up her booth at RetroGameCon to also reach out to other gamers, comic fans, and anime enthusiasts in the community. Her booth stands right at the entrance and showcases her handmade 3D pixel art clay sculptures.

“This is my second year at this show, where you can get a good bang for your buck,” Carroll said. “The small venue spaces for RetroGameCon make for easier access to places where I can place my booth and not worry about extra payments. If I were in New York City it would be more difficult to sell my artwork, because the high price and location of the venue adds up over time.”

The move to a larger venue proved to have its major benefits too, said Kinyon Brinson, coordinator of RetroGameCon.

“The first year in 2013 it was in Driver’s Village in Cicero, and the second year we wanted to make it bigger, so we went to the Oncenter in Downtown Syracuse,” Brinson said. “This year, we wanted to go bigger, so the director got us this place at Fair Grounds to try and get as many people as we can.”

“With these crowds I couldn’t tell you now,” said Peter Lafrate, a volunteer at the convention. “I think we’ve surpassed our expectations.” Lafrate said he was thrilled to see the support from the community.

“We just wanted to do something local that celebrated retro video games and geek culture,” said Lafrate. “Our goal was to let people from the area come together and share something they really enjoy without having to travel far.”

Lafrate’s duties for the day included prepping the fairground’s largest convention space with numerous television screens he hunted for along with consoles since earlier this year. After scouring various thrift shops around Syracuse and the neighboring towns, Lafrate would have a car filled with televisions. He said he could fit up to seven at a time in his vehicle. After storing them in a garage in Oswego, he had to rent a U-Haul truck to move all the televisions to the convention.

“I went to the Salvation Army a lot,” Lafrate said. “Some of the newer televisions were borrowed for the day, but the older sets were purchased for around ten dollars.”

Next to him are three long rows of tables with video game consoles hooked up to around 25 different television sets. The consoles range from the classic Atari 2600 to the latest PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox. Teenagers, young adults and parents played classic games with their kids such as Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog.

“I’ve always been playing video games ever since I was little, well, really little,” said Waverly Huegel, a fifteen-year-old high school student from Baldwinsville. “I think retro games are really cool and underrated. I think people lose interest in them because they might not be the best quality by today’s standards.”

Huegel was dressed as her favorite video game character Link, the sword-swinging, dungeon crawling hero from the Legend of Zelda series. She introduced her friend and classmate Sawyer Nash to the convention this past summer by bringing it up in conversation.

“I’ve been really looking forward to this,” Nash said. “I think retro games come from a special place in time when everything was harder. You had to be a really skilled gamer and had to complete weird quests to complete the game.”

While some may find that today’s young people aren’t interested in older movies and music, that is not be the case when it comes to video games. Hundreds of kids and teens sat fully immersed playing 20-year-old games that inform the modern games they play and enjoy today.

Brinson, the coordinator of RetroGameCon said he hopes to expand by bringing in more interactive gaming competitions and live performances at RetroGameCon next year.

“Today, we’ve put this whole convention together in the mindset that we want everyone else to have a great time and reminisce,” Brinson said. “A lot of enjoyment I’ll get out of it is going to be from seeing everyone else enjoy it.”

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