The Characters of SoonerCon

From June 26 to 28 at the Reed Center in Midwest City, thousands of fans, gamers and attendees dressed in costumes ranging from fantasy to science fiction will descend on the suburb for SoonerCon 2015.

Drawn together by the lure of the unusual and the fantastical, SoonerCon is Oklahoma’s science fiction and fantasy convention. Klingons from Star Trek could stroll side by side with characters from Game of Thrones and Steampunk aficionados.

Conventions like SoonerCon attract thousands of fans and participants, but who are these people who attend? Who are these individuals who spend big money to dress like their favorite character or spend hours on board and card games. If you plan to attend SoonerCon, welcome to the people of cosplay, gaming and fandom.

THE FANS

Comic artist Jerry BennettMany of the visitors to SoonerCon won’t be dressed in costume or spend hours playing games. Many attend for the sheer pleasure of being around what they love.

Count Gregor has first-hand knowledge of the power of fandom. As a local television personality who reigned with a late-night show from the 1950s to the 1980s, he’s still recognized and revered by fans old and young. “I have a lady who has been a fan for decades,” he said. “She grew up with me, and she’s still a fan.”

Thanks to the mainstream popularity of shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones and AMC’s The Walking Dead, the general public is leaning toward the fantasy and sci-fi worlds. Theaters in Oklahoma City hosted the season premiere of Game of Thrones earlier this year and bars are hosting watch nights for the shows. Dr. Who alone has a small empire of enthusiastic fans purchasing everything from T-shirts to keychains.

“Fans are a big part of what makes this successful,” said Count Gregor. “People want to be around what excites them. There have always been horror and science fiction fans, but today, we have people living their stories and wanting to interact with that. They enjoy it so much, and when they have the opportunity, they want to be part of it.”

Shawn Wilson of Oklahoma City is one of those fans who likes to attend SoonerCon. “As a teen, some of the games gave me a moral compass of sorts. The role-playing games allow one to be something or someone different for a few hours,” he said. “I would like to go to a cosplay event sometime as a citizen in the game universe.”

COSPLAYERS

A family at SoonerCon cosplays togetherKory Gilliam Lewis is a fan of cosplay, or the act of dressing in character to become a character. Though she leans towards Steampunk trends (Victorian times mixed with modern machinery), she says all cosplayers—including those who dress as video game, comic book, superhero or popular culture characters—are looking for the same experience.

“There’s something about putting on an outfit you’d never wear in regular life, acting like someone else and forgetting real life for a while,” she said. “You have fun, relax, forget about all the problems of real life and look really good doing it.”

“We show up to be around other people who enjoy the same thing. There are usually classes, costume competitions or just social time,” she said. “Just being around like-minded people who appreciate what you’ve put into it is a big deal.”

Cortney Stone is also a cosplay enthusiast as a member of JediOKC, a Star Wars fan club, and Central Oklahoma Whovians, a Doctor Who fan club. She regularly associates with other fan clubs like the Star Wars 501st and the Oklahoma Ghostbusters. “These groups do cosplay, or as we call it, ‘cause-play,’ because we use cosplay for charity events like MS Muscle Walk, Down Syndrome Buddy Walk, etc.,” said Stone.

GAMERS

“Gaming is a portal that leads to a place where the dragging nuisance of reality does not exist,” said gamer Brian Sanders. “Finances are always a must to balance in every day life, but at the end of day, I’ll take a board game amongst friends over paying for cable.”

Bill Thompson, who runs the gamer room at SoonerCon, says the game segment at SoonerCon keeps growing. Gamers tend to be a loyal lot, many times playing for years with the same groups of people, trying different modules or board and dice games. It’s the social aspect that attract so many.

“I started playing D&D with friends three decades ago,” said Jeff Knudslien. “I still play to this day. We started with 1st edition, but now the guys I play with use 3rd edition. So I’ve been playing for 34 years.”

Gamers are one of the biggest segments of SoonerCon, said Philip Grimes, one of the organizers of SoonerCon’s gaming room. Tabletop gaming as a whole has exploded over the past decade, he said. “Over the past five years, gaming at SoonerCon has grown dramatically to include a ballroom with 24 tables all weekend, additional conference rooms in the evenings for two different LARPs and a spaceship bridge simulator, outdoor games in the morning like Muggle Quidditch and Nerf Wars, retro video game consoles and much more,” said Grimes.

Stepping into a fantasy world and a convention that celebrates such imaginative realities can appeal to those who aren’t hard-core enthusiasts. “It is fun and it’s different, and you might just find something you like,” said Thompson. “If you’ve never been, you should try it at least once.”

Oklahoma SoonerCon will be held June 26 to 28 at the Reed Center in Midwest City. For more information, visit www.soonercon.com.

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