We need to talk about cons.
This post began as a series of tweets, in reaction to Furry Weekend Atlanta’s announcement that they were going to try something different to replace the fursuit parade. This is, of course, a divisive issue. Some people have called parades “death marches” (which I think is a bit of an exaggeration) while others are apoplectic with rage that their favorite event of the con is changing.
In the interest of full disclosure, I think it is important to note that I helped found of Furry Weekend Atlanta way back in 2003, and although I have had no meaningful involvement in the convention since 2014 (due primarily to health issues and a lack of time), I am still friends with many of directors and staff.
Having been involved with FWA for many years, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this move was not taken lightly and without significant thought. We were having some discussions as far back as (going from my memory) roughly 2009 or so about alternative ideas for the fursuit parade. Maybe even earlier, but my memory is hazy. It was on our radar for a long time to try some alternatives to the parade before I concluded my involvement with the convention.
That said, I think a lot of people are overreacting to this, and everyone should chill out and give them a chance to see if their alternative idea works. Maybe it will work and be awesome, starting a new trend. Maybe it will fail and they’ll either go back to the parade, or try another new idea next year. Either way, they’re trying something new and we as a fandom will have more information about what does and doesn’t work.
But there is a deeper underlying issue here.
Cons have gotten formulaic.
Look at all these cons. On that list, I counted ninety-two different furry conventions.
And the very large majority of them are, generally, identical. Sure, they’re in different towns. Different countries. Different dates. But in all ways that matter, they are the same. They have the same events. They have the same dealers selling the same products. They have the same panels. Many of them will even have the same events on the same days. Pretty much every con has the fursuit parade on Saturday afternoon, for instance.
Every single thing about them is the same.
Here’s an exercise for you: take the top ten furry conventions by attendance … and swap the cities around. Could you tell the difference between them? Most likely not. I know I sure couldn’t. Take their schedules and hide the name at the top. Could you tell the difference? Most likely not.
The one exception to this rule seems to be the “camping cons.” I salute them for coming up with new ideas and trying different things. But everyone else is just proceeding along the same script we’ve all been following for years.
At the point where we have 80 or 90 nearly identical events that differ only by size and location, do we really need any more? And is it really a big deal if one decides to try to break out of this little square box that we call a furry convention to try something different?
I salute FWA for making a tough decision here to try something new. Even if it doesn’t work, it is a change of pace in an environment where everyone seems to be content to follow the tried and true model of what a furry convention should be. And all of us as a community need to begin to think bigger about our events.
Before creating another furry convention that is identical to the other eighty or so we already have, ask yourself what, besides geography, will make your event unique? What, besides dates, should make people go to your event over the other eighty?
We need to think differently.
We need to reimagine what a furry convention can be.
And here’s an idea to get you started:
@kiranlightpaw I have some ideas about that. I think we need furry cons to start specializing on different hobbies/skills/etc— CoderLion (@coderlion) March 7, 2016
We have enough general furry cons now. Why not try something new?
What about a convention that just focuses on a very specific area of the furry fandom?
Imagine a convention solely about fursuiters. You could have workshops that walk people through every phase of building a suit. You could have excursions locally solely for fursuiters. Everything about your con could be specifically tailored to suiters.
A convention solely dedicated to furry writers. A place where writers can meet each other, collaborate, meet agents, etc.
To my knowledge, this fandom doesn’t have a true relaxacon in the science-fiction tradition.
I’ve talked in the past about starting a GreymuzzleCon. An age-restricted event solely for older members of the fandom to meet.
There are tons of ideas that could be explored here. A furry cruise (I seem to recall someone actually did this once?). A one-night furry music festival. Any of these would be an improvement over creating yet another identical event.
I get why people don’t want to tackle these ideas, though. They’re a risk. Why should someone run the risk of running a specialized event when following the standard convention model is, generally, a safe bet for a success? But as this fandom continues its astronomical growth, specialized events like this become possible and even needed to break the monotony.
Will a specialized event like a Furry Writers Gathering become the next Anthrocon? No. And that’s okay. Size is not everything. Having a successful event that contributes to the fandom as a whole is much more important than this obsession with building something that could be huge.
So let’s start thinking about conventions, furries. Really thinking about them, and about what we can do together to make better, more unique events.
Any existing conventions that try new ideas should be lauded for their efforts to broaden our horizons. We as fans should keep an open mind about new events or changes, even changes to things we think of as “defining characteristics” of furry conventions because they may end up becoming something really neat.
And if you are thinking about starting a furry con, consider trying something completely different instead of just following the same script just because “that’s the way it’s done.”
The outcome of both will be a better fandom for all of us.