A cheerful tenor voice squeaks over the Convention Center PA system, drowning out the chatter of eager gamers. “Good morning RetroWorld Expo Five attendees. The time is now 9:55am, and general admission will begin in five minutes. Again, welcome to RetroWorld Expo Five everyone. General admission will begin in five minutes.” Co-founders of the RetroWorld Convention Lance Cortez and Kris Krohn rise from the table they’re setting up, both grinning. Vendors move quickly around the convention floor, getting their merchandise out on tables and posters hung on walls.
It’s a Sunday morning at the Hartford Convention Center, and sunlight streams in through the massive windows. Gamers bounce on their feet at the row of ticket windows. Soon they will walk the floor of the RetroWorld Gaming Convention, searching for their next game obsession: Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, or perhaps Atari’s stand-up arcade of Crystal Castles?
Inside on the show floor color is everywhere, from the red and blue curtains that serve as a backdrop for the rows of booths and tables, down to the various Pokémon pins and neon plushies that overflow wall-hung crates. Retro blends with new age as digital prints display our favorite Hero of Time growing from 8-bit in his 1986 debut game The Legend of Zelda, to breathtaking HD in his 2017 release, Breath of the Wild.
“Well, we were both big, avid video game fans,” says Cortez. “We both had separate interests.” Cortez and Krohn are enthusiastic about sharing their story with their peers. “Kris is a store owner; I do lots of YouTube videos, and Kris was thinking of doing a con.” Cortez’s hands are set in his pockets, thumbs hooked in belt loops, as he recalls the first notion of the expo. His dark-rimmed glasses shine against the lights, giving him that mysterious anime character look. He glances at his partner every so often, a smile growing on his face. “We just kinda met up and Kris was like, ‘Hey, we should do this,’ and I was like, ‘Alright let’s do it,’ and we just kind of moved on from there.”
The convention is bustling when ticket booths open at 10am. Cosplayers and gaming fanatics flood the floor in search of their new merch. Though some migrate upstairs to listen to gaming panels. YouTubers explain how one could make themselves a career out of being a YouTuber in Panel Room A, while in Panel Room C gamers partake in “Modding 101,” learning what they need to mod their own console.
The RetroWorld Expo, like near all other user (and fan) conventions, is open and accommodating to their costumed attendees. Back downstairs on the main floor, several Pikachus in yellow-eared kigurumi and painted faces explore, no Pokémon trainer in sight. Marios and Luigis fight for jumping supremacy. A tall Bob Ross Deadpool can be seen striding through, taking in all the sights and searching through the Nintendo 64 games for a gem. Patrons walk up and down the multiple vendor aisles, turning corners to discover more games, more systems, and more opportunities to play.
There is one booth that stands out among the vastness of color, cartoons, and video game characters. Jason D’Aloia runs the Dead End Threads booth in one of the center aisles of the con. Detailed pins dot the black table with color and black graphic tees line the walls. Unassuming people weave in and out, shocked to see their favorite horror icons in such a colorful place and enamored by their contrasting darkness. D’Aloia’s hand finds his brunette beard as he speaks. “Other people have anime and video games on their table set up and then you see a big booth of black t-shirts with colorful images of your favorite horror characters. That kinda sticks out.” He discusses the cross-fandom nature of video game conventions, noting that every patron and vendor are all in one place to do one thing. “I collect here. I get some things I want. People don’t realize they want this stuff. I tried a video game con back in 2016 and realized that a lot of people that also collect games are usually into horror.”
Within the throng of unique product-holders at the convention lies Rhode Island-based company, Craftmeleon. Crocheted octopi, chicks, and mushrooms rest on a shelf, gazing out at prospective buyers. Keyonna Diamonti sits in the corner of the booth on a plastic chair, weaving her yarn for more cutesy creations. Diamonti and
her partner, Dana Passen, talk about forming connections at the expos they attend. “Even though it’s a little bit of a drive, we just wanted to be able to be with the community and make a connection with people.” Passen’s messy brunette bun shakes atop her head as she chats about the pair’s gamer con comrades. “We’ve made tons of friends with artists, we see them all the time; it’s just great. We meet new friends from different places.” Diamonti lifts her gaze from the newest crocheted creation, her blonde-tipped dark ponytail bobbing as she moves. “[The convention community] is so welcoming. You’re best friends with everyone the second you walk in, even if you’ve never been to a convention before; it’s just really nice. It’s also really cool how excited people get to see their favorite characters or their favorite artists.” Diamonti pauses while Passen explains a sale the pair are running today. A smile pulls at the corners of Diamonti’s lips as she continues. “People are here that are like, ‘Oh you were here last year, you added more prints!’ Just, like, supporting. It’s really nice.”
The convention is more than aisle upon aisle of colorful vendors. The sales space opens up to rows of stand-up, playable arcade games and endless monitors set up with consoles: PlayStation, Wii, Xbox, etc. A young man pushes his rimless glasses up the
bridge of his nose, then pulling his black jacket sleeves up to his elbows to go a few rounds trying to dodge Donkey Kong’s barrels with Mario (though RetroWorld devotees know he was originally, and aptly named Jumpman). He struggles with the nuances of joystick game play before handing his lives off to the green-clad, corseted woman beside him. Both unfortunately fail to save the distressed damsel, Pauline (In 1981 when this game came out, Princess Peach was not yet a regular Mario franchise character. Sorry). A Snapback-wearing twenty-something hops onto the PlayStation 4 and tries his hand at the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare solo campaign. The massive room fills with fantastic sounds and chatter; the POP of virtual gunfire sounds followed by, “Dude, watch my six! These zombies are comin’ quick!” in another version of Call of Duty‘s own undead battlegrounds. It’s a gamer’s paradise.
Headline Photo Credit: retroworldexpo.com
Kristiana Torres is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine