All words: Frankie DePaola
All photos: Stephanie Breijo, Antwone Walters
Oh my god, MAGFest. New Year celebrations follow the pattern of Christmas, then New Year’s Eve, then MAGFest. For a lot of nerds (specifically gamers), if your liver survives after all three, then you are ready for 2013. MAGFest is a con unlike any other. And having just wrapped its 11th weekend, by now its place in the world is solidified. The Music and Gaming Festival (as it has been known since its second year) is a time and place where one can experience everything for four straight days without interruption.
The convention doesn’t close so at any hour you can roam the building and find thousands of the nicest con-goers playing hundreds of the best classic arcade games, new and old console games, card games, board games, and music. Music is the yang to the yin of video games here. MAGFest boasts two concert stages where you can enjoy the coolest nerd music. In addition, the Jamspace (if you’ve been to PAX East, Otakon, etc. you may be familiar with MAGFest for its Jamspace, which it regularly brings to other cons) is there for anyone, amateur or professional, to pick up a set at any time.
Perhaps the most awesome feature of the convention: at MAGFest, everyone is approachable. You can find the musicians, voice actors, internet celebrities, and other special guests walking around, enjoying the convention or hanging out at their booths at any given time and they’re almost always smiling and willing to chat. You can hang out and play new, still unreleased indie games and chat with the developers (one of the parts I make sure not to miss).
MAGFest is my favorite weekend of the year. For four days, I’m surrounded by over 9,000 (no DBZ jokes, please) other people who just want to play games and see bands. I’ve experienced some of my favorite musicians at this convention and played video games like Smash Bros and Donkey Kong with many friends (whether I know your name or not, at MAGFest, we are friends).
I’ve been attending for three years now. If you asked me what my favorite part of MAGFest was, each year I’d tell you the same thing. The music. I get to see acts like Protomen, The Megas, Random (MegaRan), Armcannon, DJ Cutman, and tons of others. This year was no different, though I do have to kick myself for missing so many of the bands I would have loved to see.
On the flip side, I did get to experience some of MAGFest’s more hidden gems including a hotel party where Virginia Beach nerdcore trio The Nerdlucks killed it but since the room was still standing, MegaRan himself joined the party for a brilliant free-style along with them, followed by a couple of his own raps. That’s definitely a personal highlight and hard to top. And that’s one of the best things about MAGFest: You can miss some things you were hoping or expecting to see, but still come out of it with plenty of amazing experiences and stories.
MAGFest also does great things for charity. This year, they raised $28,000 for Child’s Play. Of course they have a charity auction. I think most real cons do these days. But a decent chunk of that amount came from a new event this year. When I heard about this event, I thought, “That’s fucking genius. I have to be a part of that.” And I was. Two words: Table Flipping [for Charity].\
The more you donate, the bigger the table and the more stuff they load on it. My first experience there was disappointing. As a spectator, all I saw was people flipping a dinky little plastic toy table with little bowls of corn flakes, etc. on top. I left, cursing the name of Table Flipping for leaving me wanting bigger and better things. I came back a couple of days later to find that real 5- and 6-foot tables were available, just more expensive to flip. “Big Adam,” the staffer in charge, noticed my group standing by, watching idly for a while before he approached us and made an offer we couldn’t refuse. For $60, he’d let the three of us flip an awesome table. I think we each produced a Hamilton faster than ever in our lives.
“Do you hate Christmas or Valentine’s Day?” he asked us. My response came quick: “Both!” And the next thing I know, I’m staring down a 5-foot table loaded with cups, dishes, and decorations. A stuffed puppy holding a heart with an LED flashing propeller looked me in the eyes as my satisfaction came. The three of us tossed the whole thing over in unison. We stuck around and watched a few laptops get flipped and destroyed as the total reached $6,000 on the last full day of the convention. It felt good (from a charitable as well as a cathartic, aggression-releasing stand-point).
At the auction on Sunday, I watched two fans pool their money to $2,500 to have Jon St. John (the voice of Duke Nukem from Duke Nukem and Big the Cat from Sonic Adventure) be their best friend. I watched a box of the late, great Hostess Twinkies (featuring a ton of the con’s celebrities’ autographs and one Sharpied clown penis) go for way too much to a friend of mine, who apparently had $256 to throw away. The Protomen raised $1,200 by donating a huge package, including Raul Panther’s infamous aviator sunglasses and Commander’s fingerless glove.
If you read any part of this article, let it be this. Go to MAGFest. You won’t regret it. Don’t let the video games put you off. There is literally something for everyone and you will have fun. This year I brought my girlfriend, who is by no means a hardcore gamer, and she had a blast. If you’ve been to other conventions, you’ll love how casual MAG is. If not, you’ll love being surrounded by people who just want to have a good time. And if you like to drink, you’ll be right at home.
Some more snaps by Antwone: