The connotation of the word “nerd” has evolved dramatically in the past couple of years. While it used to be a derogatory term to refer to the obsessive, overly intellectual, or socially impaired, today, the label is often used as a term of endearment for those who possess extraordinarily broad knowledge in a particular field. Thus, gone are the days of nerds being stereotyped as spectacle-wearing, pimple-popping, and unhealthy outcasts. In fact, being called a nerd today is more likely to evoke a sense of pride rather than a feeling of shame.
With the upgrading of the nerd’s reputation has emerged “the era of the convention,” with gatherings for even the littlest known areas of knowledge being organized by various groups. And the fact that people have been attending these conventions in droves only serves to prove that the time of the nerd has definitely arrived.
Here are ten of the nerdiest conventions in the galaxy:
10. Anime Expo (AX) / Los Angeles
Japanese animated productions have continued to grow in popularity outside of Japan, and with the growth in fame of the highly colorful and fantastic-themed films has emerged the well-attended Anime Expo of the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA). Usually lasting for four days, the largest North American anime convention includes events like guest panels, tabletop gaming, arcades, concerts, competitions, and of course, a masquerade cosplay contest with the most amazing costumes fathomable. And of course, no anime gathering would be complete without anime, so film and video rooms present anime screenings that run all day and night for the duration of the convention. And anime fans seem to be loving the event as attendance has grown dramatically from 1,750 attendees in 1992 to 61,000 in 2013.
9. DefCon / Las Vegas
Hackers are no longer the shady underground moles who used to be pursued only by law enforcers. Today, they’re sought after security experts who are necessary in ensuring that a network-related system is safe from external attacks. In fact, since 1993, hackers have been meeting openly during the annual DefCon held in Las Vegas, Nevada. There, hackers have been joined by computer security professionals, journalists, lawyers, federal government employees, and security researchers, all of whom are interested in learning about the latest in network security breach and protection. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular events of the convention is Capture the Flag (CTF), a hacking competition where cracker teams attempt to attack and defend computers and networks using various software and network structures.
8. Dragon Con / Various
Really? A convention for people obsessed with dragons? Nah, it’s just the name. The Dragon Con is really a gathering for those whose interests lie in fantasy, science fiction, gaming, comics, literature, music, art, and film — really almost everything that is typically classified as nerdy.
The annual convention was first held in 1987, when John Bunnell, David Cody, Robert Dennis, Mike Helba, Pat Henry, and Ed Kramer formed the original Dragon Con Board of Directors. Even in its first edition, it was obvious that the group wasn’t particularly focused on a narrow range of topics as featured guests included RPG creators, a keyboard player, and bands, among others. However, the lack of concentration hasn’t hurt the organization as the Dragon Con’s attendance has steadily grown to the point that the 2012 edition, which attracted over 52,000, is forcing organizers to contemplate setting an attendance cap for the convention.
7. Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX) Prime / Seattle
Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, authors of the “Penny Arcade” webcomic, conceptualized the Penny Arcade eXpo because they wanted to create an event where console gamers, tabletop gamers, and computer gamers were given equal attention in one convention. Thus, in 2004, the first Penny Arcade eXpo was held in Bellevue, Washington and was attended by 3,300 people. By 2009, the event was so popular that the number of attendees had grown to over 60,000. The success of the convention inspired the organization of PAX East in 2010, and right on its very first edition, it attracted more than 52,000 attendees.
Today, there are four PAX conventions: the original PAX Prime in Seattle, PAX East in Boston, PAX Aus in Melbourne, and PAX Dev in Seattle. All of them celebrate gamer culture and include talks from industry insiders, game-culture inspired concerts, exhibits from game developers and publishers, gaming tournaments, and video game free-play areas.
6. The Official Star Trek Convention / Las Vegas
Star Trek is one of those television shows that managed to survive for many years through the sheer determination of its devoted fan base. Actually, when the series first aired in 1966, it initially enjoyed high ratings, but viewership eventually bottomed out and caused NBC to cancel the show. However, successful Star Trek fan conventions, such as one in 1972 that attracted three thousand Trekkies instead of the estimated few hundred, forced NBC to reconsider. Thus, the show’s concept was revived as an Emmy Award-winning animated series from 1973 to 1974, the TV series was restarted in 1987, and several profitable Star Trek movies have been made and are currently in the works.
Today, despite the TV series being discontinued since 2005, Star Trek is still hugely popular. In fact, the Official Star Trek Convention, which has been held in Las Vegas for several years since 2002, has served as a venue for thousands of Trekkies to come together and enjoy all things Star Trek. The 2014 edition, the thirteenth, has been announced to include various talks, a Star Trek craft workshop, a costume parade, and a 45-piece orchestra performing Star Trek music. Of course, the possibility of a new Star Trek film will also be discussed.
5. UFO Alien Festival / Roswell, New Mexico
While Trekkies find themselves obsessed with fictional aliens, attendees of the UFO Alien Festival in Roswell, New Mexico find their interests in supposed real aliens. The venue for the gathering is significant in that it’s the city where an alleged alien spacecraft actually crash-landed. In fact, in July of 1947, the Roswell Army Air Field even issued a press release that claimed to have recovered the flying disk. However, the statement was later revised to say that the recovered object instead turned out to be a weather balloon. Predictably, many skeptics refused to accept the revised statement, and for several years now, alien enthusiasts have gathered at Roswell for a festival that features, aside from various alien-related talks, an alien costume contest, an alien pet contest, and an alien chase race, among others.
4. BoardGameGeek Convention (BGGC) / Texas
The BoardGameGeek Convention was conceptualized when a website, BoardGameGeek.com, realized that there was a clamor from its members for a gathering of board game fanatics. The first convention held at the Westin City Center in Dallas, Texas in 2005 attracted 250 attendees. Slowly, however, attendance grew, and the event had to move to a bigger venue. Since 2012, the BGGC has been held at the Hyatt Regency DFW hotel, which lies on the grounds of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Activities at the convention have included a Texas Hold’Em tournament, a game show, and a flea market for various used and unused board games.
3. GoPlay Northwest / Seattle
While the BoardGameGeek convention is mostly for game board enthusiasts, GoPlay Northwest caters specifically to tabletop role-playing game (RPG) hobbyists. The event has a particularly indie feel, with small-scale game developers and would-be developers being given top billing at the convention. In fact, since the convention’s founding in 2007, many of the talks have focused particularly on helping aspiring RPG developers to come up and market their own tabletop games.
Game designer Chris Bennett seems to favor the intimate feel of GoPlay as he shared, “The event is small enough that I know most of the people there. I can always find wonderful indie role-playing game designers to kibbutz and play with.”
2. GeekGirlCon / Seattle
While the first image of a geek that would come to most people’s minds is that of a male, there are actually female geeks, too! That’s the market that the Geek Girl Convention, a two-day event held in Seattle, aims to tap into. The gathering, which features discussions on issues within the female communities of “geek industries” like gaming, publishing, fashion, academic studies, and pop culture, describes itself as “a safe place for anyone who identifies as a female.” Attendance at the event has steadily increased from 600 in 2011, to 2,300 in 2012, and to 4,300 in 2013. However, unlike the convention’s name and description suggests, males can actually attend the gathering. In fact, 20 to 25% of the attendees have been male.
1. San Diego Comic-Con International / San Diego
Comic conventions are among the most popular, so it’s difficult to pick just one among them. However, if there were only one comic convention to pick, it would have to be the San Diego Comic-Con, which has been held annually in San Diego as early as 1970. Originally, the gathering primarily showcased comic books, science fiction and fantasy-related films, and television programs, but today, the convention entertains various elements of pop culture covering practically all genres. These include animation, horror, manga, anime, collectible card games, toys, webcomics, video games, and fantasy novels. In fact, the event has gotten so large that Forbes has called it the “largest convention of its kind in the world” with attendance at the event reaching over 126,000 each year beginning 2010.