rAge 2013: a first timer’s experience

This past weekend was my first year heading up to Johannesburg for rAge (an eleven year old acronym for Really Awesome Gaming Expo), South Africa’s biggest gaming and technology convention. It’s an event that evidently keeps NAG, the country’s oldest print gaming magazine afloat, but that’s more as an aside.


I was at rAge more to soak up the atmosphere, cosplay and meet many Twitter friends and followers for the first time than to do any serious interviews, LANing, competitive board/card gaming or splurging. The severe, uninviting congestion around the retailer stands on Saturday really helped prevent the latter… although that was obviously bad news for the exhibitors, like Digital Sushi, who were crammed into a small aisle and had to watch potential customers turn away.


Video gaming-wise, I did at least immediately preorder my copy of Batman: Arkham Origins after rAge – even if it took me a while to realize that it wasn’t Arkham City being played at my expo. Origins looks like more of the same, but considering how much I loved its predecessor that isn’t really a bad thing.


I sadly didn’t get to check out the South Park: Stick of Truth demo. And I certainly wasn’t going to join the two-hour queue to get behind closed doors and play Watch Dogs. I did however spend a bit of time at the MakeGamesSA stand and was blown away by the level of polish that South African indie developers have brought to their efforts. The work is completely of an international standard. I probably should have expected it but I guess I was swayed by memories of the cheap and nasty platformers and turn-based strategy games that my Computer Science friends used to make for college assignments.


For the record, I was certainly glad to have a media pass, as the upstairs press room became a place of refuge from the crowd as well as a much needed spot to sit down for a bit and escape the heat generated by so many bodies. To be fair, around the edges of the Northgate Dome it was less packed, but navigating through the centre of the venue became a nightmare during the midday period (particularly if you’re burdened with cumbersome cosplay accessories).


If you can’t make the Friday opening of the three-day expo, it looks like mid-afternoon may be a best time to attend on the Saturday or Sunday. Being there when the doors open on the weekend doesn’t actually seem to be that great a strategy. Oh, and make sure to have prebooked your ticket online so you don’t have to stand in the queue. A further handy tip is to park at the nearby shopping mall and walk to the Dome as opposed to wasting your time in the gridlock to get to the venue’s parking. Also, expect to have little to no web connectivity on your phone once inside the Dome, so don’t rely on 3G for coordinating meet-ups.


Anyway, I was chiefly at rAge for my first ever cosplay-at-a-con experience, displaying my completed, fully accessorized Tomb Raider outfit. And it was loads of fun. There were scattered reports of expo attendees groping some of the female cosplayers in passing, or while posing, but I can honestly say I had no experience of that. Then again, I had enough people tell me that they found the 2013 Lara Croft terrifying, and the more lecherous in the crowd were probably deterred by my climbing axe and quiver of arrows that had the habit of spiking anyone who embraced me.


People were all very polite, asking if they could take pictures of, and with, me. Along with high fiving a row of kids during the cosplayers’ parade to the main stage, a particular highlight for me was a young boy who told me he thought I was the real thing. I guess smearing myself with dirt added to the gritty credibility of the ensemble.


There were over 90 entrants in the Legion Ink cosplay competition, which consisted of three main categories for the Over 16s – Anime, Western Pop Culture & Comics and Gaming. I’m afraid most of the anime outfits were lost on me as a non-otaku. However, notables on the Saturday for me included the South Park kids, Deadshot, Doctor Zoidberg, a Ghostbuster, Spawn, Black Canary, Booker and Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite, Green Arrow, Isaac Clarke from Dead Space, Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed games, the Grudge, Daenerys Targaryen, and a fair share of Jokers, Harley Quinns and Deadpools. In fact, there were probably too many Deadpools as their disruptive misbehaviour on stage, though character appropriate, got tired after five minutes.


Although an award for Black Canary was the exception, the cosplay competition judges seemed to be very much influenced by complex and time-consuming construction efforts. The DotA (at least I think it was DotA?), Dead Space and Ghostbuster cosplays all received accolades. My Lara Croft was very popular with the expo attendees at least (see this), and I did get to have a solo moment on the stage, wielding my various weapons.


Sound does need to be improved though around the rAge main stage as it was very difficult for the cosplayers, all clustered on the side, to hear what was happening and who was being called.


It was a long, exhausting day but it was definitely worth the effort to attend the Lazygamer social afterwards at the nearby Hogshead pub. No gangly teens there; we were rubbing shoulders with a bunch of life-minded twenty- and thirtysomething gamers. For the record, I must have easily encountered over 20 social media buddies throughout Saturday, and there were definitely several I missed. A particular special moment was clustering on the rAge floor with no less than four other female geeks and gamers, all very much the real deal!


I’ll definitely be back to attend rAge in future, and next time I’ll be around for the full three-day experience.

Notable links for more event pics: (Feel free to suggest more)

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