Nerds, geeks and gamers descended on the Durham Convention Center this weekend for the inaugural Escapist Expo, hosted by Durham-based online magazine The Escapist.
The three-day Expo featured videogame tournaments, role-playing games, board game libraries, a cosplay contest and panels led by Escapist contributors on topics like “Fanboyism” and “Best. Magic Players. Ever.” Participants played rounds of Chest High Walls laser tag on the lawn of Durham Performing Arts Center while zombies roamed the streets in search of gamer flesh.
Alexander Macris, co-founder and publisher of the Durham-based Escapist described the website as covering types of media that are “an escape from the everyday.” The Expo brought those media to downtown Durham.
Booths sold geek gear including Pokémon badges, posters and cat ears that moved depending on the wearer’s mood. One vendor played the Legend of Zelda theme on an accordion.
A battle of Humans vs. Zombies raged in the streets surrounding the Convention Center throughout the weekend. Participants wearing “human” bandanas on their arms fought off those sporting “zombie” bandanas, using modified Nerf blasters and socks to temporarily freeze the assailants. Jason Sweitzer of Raleigh, a records manager for the state government, was sticking to side exits and covering the open ground beyond the convention quickly to avoid getting caught.
“The paranoia is surprisingly present—[I’m] looking over my shoulder, having someone watch out for us,” he said. “A group of 15 zombies charged after this poor guy. We didn’t see what happened to him. They ran out of sight.”
Many convention-goers dressed in elaborate costumes, partaking in cosplay, a popular convention pastime where attendees dress up as characters from videogames and comics. At one point, a group of Mass Effect cosplayers began dancing in unison to the song Gangnam Style, space combat gear clanking. Raleigh resident and first-time cosplayer Monica McDowell dressed as a Little Sister, a character from the Bioshock videogame franchise. She wore a dirty blue dress and carried a foot long syringe.
Alex Devine, who traveled to the convention from Cary, was wearing a huge homemade papier-mâché taco in place of his head.
“I’m relatively known [on the internet] for photoshopping a taco onto faces,” he explained.
Two Durham Police Officers floating through the event for security said that several people mistook them for being in costume.
Not all attendees were in costume, though. Most wore street clothes—the favored style of dress was pants with t-shirts bearing videogame logos and cheeky slogans such as “I support the right to arm bears.” Some donned Pokémon hats.
Michael Claros, a Marine stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., dressed up as Darth Vader. He ordered the costume when he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
“It’s really hot,” he said of the outfit.
That was a common theme for many in full body costumes. After about twenty minutes, two visitors dressed as Captain America and Iron Man reimagined in the blocky style of the videogame Minecraft stripped off their costumes, both visibly perspiring.
As for Claros, he said that his job makes it difficult for him to regularly attend conventions, but he is thinking about joining a charity group where members dress up as Star Wars characters and visit sick children.
Claros was not the only military serviceman at the convention. After a panel on songwriting given by Gavin Dunne—known at The Escapist as Miracle of Sound and creator of songs that he describes as “geek culture in music form”—a serviceman told him that a song he had written had become an unofficial anthem for his crew, before presenting Dunne with a shirt from the unit.
This was not the first time that a serviceman had told Dunne that his songs had had a positive affect on him, he said, but he was still touched. An Irishman who was not looking forward to a 15-hour flight home, Dunne describes his career at the Escapist as an “accident.”
“I was feeling a bit crappy and I wrote a little joke song and posted it on the Escapist forums,” he said.
The song was about a videogame and it took off, culminating in Dunne becoming Miracle of Sound. Dunne said he loved the convention and especially enjoyed meeting his fellow Escapist contributors for the first time.
Another Escapist, Bob “MovieBob” Chipman, also stumbled into Internet fame. Chipman posted some movie reviews onto YouTube, which were seen by the Escapist’s editors, who pulled him onboard.
“It’s weird,” Chipman said. “I don’t feel like a super famous person.”
Chipman said that he suddenly went from being a commenter on The Escapist forums to one of the featured contributors on the site a week later. Because of this, he sees himself as more of a peer to his fans, hundreds of whom escaped to Durham to see him this weekend.
Julian Spector contributed reporting.