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History of the Intercon Name - InteractiveArts
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Garko the Man-Frog
Date: 2009-08-10 11:48
Subject: History of the Intercon Name
Security: Public
Teem made a comment I thought I'd break out into a longer post

I personally think marketing of the 'Intercon' name hasn't been done well from the initial 'numbers vs. letters' split. (But I really wasn't involved in things then and I don't know all the whys of what was decided.) The sudden change to regionalizing the names of conventions--okay, it was sudden from our point of view in New England--wasn't orchestrated well. I tried, with a couple others, to get the name changed up here to 'Intercon New England' but we got outvoted. (I won't say outargued because I still consider the reasons specious.) Since I was doing much of the communications for the last five-six years, I tried to be careful in naming each of the conventions, but perception tends to win the battle. (And probably 14.2% of the people reading this post will care.)

Well there is a lot of history there, and I think it is worth recapping in full.

One thing to understand is that the suddeness from the New England point of view was based largely on perception, and I think it may be worth recapping both the actual history of Intercon and the myths I've collected over the years.

SILiCon left Boston to go to New Haven with IV, then moved to Trevose V, and Annapolis VI. The plan after VI was that the Convention would move to NJ or NY to be "equally inconvenient to everybody." The reality was that the long travel was a financial strain on everyone and only the "top circle" of attendees would go 250+ miles to attend a convention.

When the original leaders of the SIL withdrew support from the ILF which they'd co-founded at the Annapolis Convention, the ILF leadership held the Convention in Northern Jersey the next year as an olive branch and to make it clear that we were reaching out to Boston LARPers. In practice very few came, and the Convention was a disastrous and painful financial failure. It was run into the teeth of the 1992 Recession, and fared amazingly poorly

ILF went through an additional set of local political upheavals, in retrospect largely driven by the 1992 Recession. Job loss by some of the officers sparked Depression. With everyone stressed, depressed, and out of work, confrontation and infighting was inevitable.

Acknowledging political and financial realities, it was clear that if the Convention was to run at all, it needed to run locally. It was moved to Baltimore Maryland for VIII.

This began two years of misfortune, which it is a vague miracle that Intercon survived. VIII had a bad blizzard, but was already suffering because four hour games were rising in popularity and the Intercon format was "full length v. full length" which was bound to be Problematic.

In the meantime Stephanie ran 7.5 and proved the "all minigame" concept on a small scale. That's a bit of history worth noting. The modern Intercon - all Four Hour games and a Dance was introduced by my wife in 1992.

The ILF Board and Officers refused to issue a charter to run 8.5 until it was too late to run it. I ran the doomed Intercon IX - a convention of full length games at a time when all the good TSFL groups were producing in their own venues, and everyone clearly wanted a convention of four hour games. I asked the Board, which then controlled Intercon about making the Convention one of four hour games and was told that the "Board wasn't ready to do that yet." There is nothing like running a failed concept that everyone already knows is obsolete. The convention did about as you'd expect, dismally.

Stephanie proved the minigame concept at 9.5, which was the first con that you would find almost indistinguishable except in size from J, and took over X, moving the convention to Ocean City.

In the meantime I was working heavily to rebuild ties to younger less radicalized Boston gamers. This began what I think many people still enshrine as a "golden era" for Intercon with the Conventions running steadily and stably, one in Maryland and one in New Jersey.

In practical terms the road trip was hard and we always had to struggle to get attendance at the Jersey Convention, but we began to rebuild a Boston player-base. Internally, the Intercon system came close to extinction with IX, and between 1994 and 1996 I worked with Stephanie closely to rebuild it. She chaired the conventions and I served as a lead officer for the ILF. It's worth noting that this time period 1995-1998 was also the "Golden Age" of the hotel based Theatre Style Full Length game. Other people were also important. Mike Young and Dirk Parham did an excellent job of building Intercon XI.

Unfortunately 1997 was also the "year that killed LARP" with a string of expensive TSFL howlers that left audiences crying...and not for more. Comparatively Intercon prospered because it offered a more stable experience. But the failure of TSFL by 1999 was also spelling a cloud for the future of TSFL LARP in general in the Mid-Atlantic. The mid-90s also saw vampire LARP eclipse all other forms of LARP in the US as we recognized when we tried to organize an ill fated White Wolf game at sequential Intercons.

As early as 11.5 in Mt. Laurel, it was a declared plan that Intercon would return to Boston and the chief barrier was the lack of someone locally to take responsibility for organizing. New Jersey was the far edge of the range at which Stephanie and I could run a con "by remote control."

To his credit, Jeff Diewald was the person to accept the challenge, agreeing 1997 to organize XIII in Natick in 1998.

The turn of the century saw some really dramatic changes...

All the original discussions over Intercon in Boston centered around the concept that the flag of the "Annual Convention" would rotate. So, for example XIV would be in Baltimore, XV in Boston, and so forth...

Unfortunately there was some partisanship. There was a mythology that was at odds with the facts which I've often heard repeated. In this mythology, SiliCon was run in Boston until the original SIL members withdrew from the ILF and then was "taken" to the south. With XIII it was brought "back to Boston"at the insistence of Boston activists.

In reality of course no such thing occured. The Convention was moved to New Haven by the original organizers when they made Bob Vincelette Chair, and moved to Trevose by Greg Frock, who was at the time an intimate of at least some of the original SIL crew. When it moved south to Annapolis, there was some politicizing by myself and others for a "fair shot," but at the time the established plan was to rotate it back and forth from New England to Baltimore until it could settle in NJ. And after the split it returned to NJ, not Washington. Likewise, I and other "southern" Board members had canvassed heavily for Bostonians to join the ILF leadership, and the issue was not holding onto the convention with a deathgrip but finding someone willing to chair it, which did not exist until Jeff Diewald came along.

But...this legend led to some "regionalism" and it was put forward that Boston would run XIV. This wasn't as planned or talked about, but at the time, it seemed worth not fighting over. Thus through 2000, the Annual Convention was in Boston. In 2001, I decided that "enough was enough" and that it was time the Annual Convention began rotating again as we'd always planned.
There was reason behind my madness. The Boston Convention was prospering and the Baltimore Convention was failing. The reason was simple enough. TSFL had failed by 1999 and in 1997-2001, a series of powerful campaigns were sweeping the DC area. XPI began to draw a strong player base, the Mike Young's Dark Summonings and my Mersienne Medieval Fantasy. The failure of TSFL was proving to have a catastrophic fallout for Intercon and we desperately needed a new player base. The number of campaign games meant that a campaign that was only starting in May of 2000 had created an entrenched and loyal following within 12 months, something no TSFL game had been able to equal.

With Intercon Millennium we had proven that the Convention could draw a heavy party-base. That it could galvanize the Campaign Crowd by being a place for them to hang out that was not campaign focused.
Intercon IAGO was the last effort in the south to organize a con with a traditional rotating chair. Intercon had prospered with Stephanie or I as Chairs, and a few other people had given talented service while one of us acted as a primary staff officer. But as Intercon became more specialized the idea of tapping a random layman to serve as Chair was doomed, and the implosion of the attempt to run a second Millennium Convention was emblematic of this.

So...successful campaigns, a successful model to harness campaign players, and a track record of intimidating failures that looked like it could doom Intercon in the South. I wanted to pull out all the stops to produce a really first rate convention, and I felt that returning the Annual Convention flag would be a boon to this. At the same time some of the partisanship in Boston seemed to have been quieted, and people were behaving quite sensibly.

I don't want to sound accusatory talking about "partisanship in Boston," and not in Maryland. It is the case though that it fell out that way. Boston had a large student population of people who had free time and few real life constraints. It was usually the younger and more radical of these people that lent support to partisan ideas, based on half-understood stories about the past. That population largely didn't exist in Maryland because the large student population didn't exist. The truth is I could not *find* anyone in Maryland to care about the "Annual Convention" title.

At the same time, another major strain was going on. The ILF had died. The Board of Directors had decided in the late 90s to back Sandy Antunes' plan to produce Metagame as a print magazine. Sandy was a reasonable and not unrealistic guy. At the Board Meeting where the idea was presented he said "99% of all gaming magazines fail." The Board heard "we can have a print magazine."

Even in 1997-98 it was clear that print was dying and the Web becoming ascendant. But that was a "silly thing to say," if you asked already-graying 90s TSFL players. Sandy thought maybe having the backbone of an NPO to subsidize a core print run would give a "margin of viability" that other magazines had lacked. In all cases before the early 2000's recession firmly hit the US in 2001-2002, it was hitting Europe and killing small business chains. A major distributor collapse and gaming industry downturn torpedoed Metagame, and the ILF became insolvent, and was turned over into LARPA.

The ILF was already becoming irrelevant. It had never had the slightest buy in from boffer gamers, and had scant support from vampire. In practical terms it was the organization for Theatre Style LARP and might have done better to sell itself that way. Instead it tried to be everything to everybody and ended up being nuffin' to nobody.

So...the world was changing and if Intercon was to be saved changes needed to occur.

It was never my intention to "take the official number back" from Boston. The actual plan was more what Teem describes. Each regional convention would have a name "Intercon New England, Intercon Mid-Atlantic," and the designation of "Annual Convention" with a Roman Numeral would be an honor that floated between them.

In practice this was not the way it worked out.

Another myth that I got to hear often a few years ago, but is less common now is how the NEIL Convention "declared independence" from LARPA, and what not. In fact nothing could be further from the case. The establishment of NEIL came after a set of ugly internecine conflicts among the New England convention staff in which I as ILF CSO had been repeatedly canvassed by parties on both sides to intervene.

Not having been born yesterday, I well understood the actual situation. If I intervened on one side, the other side would cry foul that "people 400 miles away with no vested interest were making decisions for a Boston Convention" and I'd be roundly stoned by them. In the end the ILF had ultimate fiduciary responsibility for Intercon, but no effective channel to exercise management control. It was clear that nobody wanted a bunch of Marylanders telling them how to run the local con, right up until they got into a hopeless brawl with each other in which case each wanted me to play referee...but only if I favored them.

At the same time I had my own problems. Intercon in Baltimore had ceased to be financially viable around the time of Millennium. It had never been prosperous and no Intercon had ever done more than make a small profit. Increasingly I was the sole financial support for the Con. I already ran a chain of events every year most of which lost small amounts of money. The difference is that when those events ran, I could take back any nominal receipts to cover losses. With Intercon I was using the same infrastructure to stage the convention I was to stage the 1936 Campaign, but I wasn't able to take any money back...it belonged to the ILF, an organzation that I already provided most of the funding for. I could pay in, but not take back.

The remedy to both problems was clear. The regional cons ought to be autonomous, licensing the shared Intercon name with a set of agreements as to the fundamental things that "made" an Intercon - an Open Bid Process, Non-Discrimination, and Shared Promotion.

Oddly this initially met with resistance. I think the keystone is that while everybody in Massachusetts generally did not want an organization with a Maryland center running their con, they did not have a strong agreement on who would run it, and the early political infighting was still going fairly strong. So I was in the odd position of having to "push" New England to form a leadership group that would run the Convention. A further complication was that I chose to push the requirement that the the organization have some sort of elected structure and constitution. It needn't be Democratic, but it must at least exist and show "community participation and support."

In the end leadership did emerge and NEIL was formed.

I don't think it's mine to go into the political history of NEIL and I doubt that everyone would agree on it in any case. I took the whole number for the next local convention, with the intention that it would be passed back and forth between NEIL and the shell organization formed to fulfill the same organization for IMA.

I'd explained the theory of the Roman Numeral designating the honor of being the year's Annual Convention several times. Certainly there are other organizations where this occurs...several regions have conventions, but annually one is the "Annual Convention" and has a number and is larger.

The NEIL Board decided instead, for whatever reasons to establish its own numbering scheme separately, using letters. I honestly think that the reason was simply that the concept of the rotating Annual Convention was not broadcast well, and there was still some feeling that the rotating Annual Convention number that had "belonged to Boston" since it was settled there to promote XIII was "taken away" with XIV.

In the long run, it is likely that IMA was doomed when TSFL precipitously collapsed in 1999. The new strategies I developed kept it vital for an additional 8 years, and I think that is nothing to sneeze at. In practical terms, I think it has been made obsolete by its competitors, and that what energy remains to it should be rolled back into other LARP conventions and events.

In historical retrospect the great changes in Intercon were driven by the economy. The stress and tension of the 1992 Recession drove the SIL/ILF split, and the 2000 Recession drove the failure of Metagame, the dissolution of the ILF and the formation of NEIL. The end of IMA is so firmly tied to the current recession as to be indivisible. The one thing we are improving on is practicality efficiency in these changes.

I'll make a final annoucement later this week but it seems unlikely that IMA will run this year, and I personally do not think it is likely that a group will present an organized plan to revive it next year. Last year I discussed the concept that both Intercons should promote the "25th Anniversary," and I hope that whether or not the number XXV is used, the New England Con will consider promoting the 25th Anniversary if IMA does not exist.

While the New England Convention seems "huge" compared to IMA, it is tiny and a mere flicker. Gaming Conventions of less than 500 are considered little better than "student conventions" and barely show up on National Radar. The growth to 300 clearly suprised everyone, and I get a sense of question in where to go from here. I think that this is a time of promise and concern for LARP. if it is properly nourished and organized, the NEIL convention will continue to grow - though that may mean making scary choices to move to a larger venue and embrace carrying the flag of LARP nationally. Unfortuantely I think in many ways IMA is mostly constituting a distraction to the central issue of the growth of Intercon as the intellectual center of U.S. LARP, and at this time I think that is where we need to look for the future growth of LARP as the decade of the 2000s draws to a close.
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User: writersblock_va
Date: 2009-08-10 17:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Whoa~ Long Post is Long. Can we get at least half of this stuck behind a cut?
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User: hungrytiger
Date: 2009-08-10 18:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My comments on Gordon's History of the Intercon Name went on too long, so I'm breaking this into two smaller posts...

I usually don't bother with analyzing the political motivations of Intercon committees past or present (something that I feel that our community does too much of), but since I was the founding president of NEIL and the guy who suggested the "Intercon A" name, I feel that I should chime in with a couple of comments. I'm a bit fuzzy on the timing, but I know that I was a LARPA board member somewhere around then as well.

Forming NEIL

After Intercon XV, I agreed to be the con-chair for the next Boston con. I did this in part because I'd been involved with a bunch of the previous ones and I felt that I should give other folks a break and in part because I seemed to be a calm party who got along with both the Maryland folks and with the Boston folks who most seemed to want to "break away."

Gordon is right that the general feeling was that the con up here should be run locally and he definitely encouraged that and helped provide us with lots of info to get NEIL established. As for "breaking away," there were a bunch of people helping run the Boston con who hadn't been around in the old SIL/ILF days and I don't think that that motivation was so much that they wanted to break away from the Maryland folks due to personality conflicts (although there was some of that) as it was to create a Boston con that had its own identity without being saddled with things that were traditionally part of Intercon.

There certainly were some individuals who wanted nothing to do with anyone from the mid-Atlantic region and who took umbridge at folks who lived far away telling us how to run the local con, but as the con chair and guy who helped put together the NEIL framework, I tried to keep that attitude to a minimum because that was a very vocal minority. However, it was a vocal minority in a very small volunteer group that was trying to establish itself, so while others may have felt that there too much attitude being thrown about, they let it pass rather than make a fight out of it for the good of getting the Boston con to stand on its own.

Honestly, I was fairly neutral about breaking off from LARPA (being a fan of the mid-Atlantic cons and friendly with the folks that run them), but having a local group run the local con made sense and seemed to motivate people and there certainly wasn't anything wrong with the northern con having a different atmosphere and style (and there still isn't). To me, forming our own corporation was never about splitting away from LARPA. It was done to be smart legally and to make the Boston convention more "real" and permanent for those of us up here.
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Garko the Man-Frog
User: interactivearts
Date: 2009-08-10 19:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think those are good and useful statements.

And honestly I think that you and many other people did some very good work. I thought it was useful to set to rights some comments made by the "vocal minority" but perhaps I underemphasize in debunking myths about how things weren't the general good work and good will of the people who have developed NEIL.

I hope that the end tone of my note captured my general upbeat feel about the Northern Convention. It is clearly poised for greater things and I think now is a time for all of us to stand behind it as the flagship East Coastal LARP convention, and contribute as best we can.

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Justin du Coeur
User: jducoeur
Date: 2009-08-11 13:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sounds generally right, but I'll add one note from my perspective. As Chair of XV, I spent a fair chunk of that year arguing with interactivearts; that argument led to a rough consensus between the two of us that some sort of more-decentralized structure would be an improvement.

That argument was partly due to the fairly poisonous politics of the day up here (as Gordon says), and partly about identity, but from my POV it was also very much about the day-to-day practical workings of the con, and that was why I was strongly in favor of the new structure. Simply put, I found the old chain of command overly complex, and the relative powers of the Con Chair vs. the ILF Board distressingly vague. Trying to manage the Con up here, while reporting to folks hundreds of miles away, was a bit of a pain in the ass, even with everyone trying to do their jobs sincerely and well.

So I'd say that all three factors were substantially in play. There was a bit of factionalism, but less Boston v. Maryland than I think Gordon perceived from his end. There was a considerable desire for a stronger local identity, and a strong one for a structure that was easier to manage. Getting there was a bunch of hard work, but I do think that the end result was the right one.

(I honestly don't even remember where I came down on the letters vs. numbers argument -- in practice, it's never bothered me particularly.)
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User: hungrytiger
Date: 2009-08-10 18:20 (UTC)
Subject: Letters vs. Numbers
My comments on Gordon's History of the Intercon Name, part 2...

Letters vs. Numbers

From my perspective, dropping the numbering scheme that had been used to designate a con which moved between different locations was intended as a way of saying that the Boston con was going to be a permanent fixture, not a con that might be held up here some years but not others.

The prevailing sense up here (wrong or right) was that Boston had been the host city for Intercon XIII, XIV, and XV, but that what con had the "right" to use that numbering was a matter of dispute (between a small subset of people who cared very strongly about it). Yes, there were some folks who felt like fighting for the numbered cons, but I tried to dissuade that and push us away from the numbers that were seeming to be a sticking point for some people.

I understood Gordon's point about using the numbers to designate "the Annual Convention" but it had gotten to the point for me where it was hard to remember one numbered convention from the next (i.e. whether a particular numbered Intercon had been held in MD, NJ, MA, or whatever). The Maryland cons had been where most of the numbered cons had been (and where there was more of a concern for Intercon history) so I suggested that we use a different numbering scheme for the northern cons (the letters) and that Maryland would be the torch-bearer for Intercon history [OK, I don't think I actually said anything about "IMA being the torch-bearer for Intercon history" at the Boston meetings - which did have a bunch of people who didn't get along with the southern contingent - but that really was part of where I was coming from].

Honestly, I also felt that having multiple Intercons each year, one of which carried on the Roman numeral scheme but which moved around, so that some years the Boston con might be Intercon XVI and other years it would be XVII.5 or something, might confuse the new audience and identity we were trying to cultivate at the time. The fact that some people felt that one region or another owned or should own the rights to the whole numbered cons (and that those ones were in some way more official or important than other Intercons) just made me feel more strongly that we should make a break with that numbering system and drop something that wasn't that important but which was getting some individuals needlessly riled up.

Further, while I had no objection to the idea of having the "Annual Convention" at different sites, I didn't feel that the name of the con had to be part of that. Looking forward to the possibility of other groups beyond just Maryland and Boston becoming home to a permanent Intercon, I felt that the best way to manage four different annual, regional Intercons would be for each one to have it's own numbering scheme and if we needed some way to identify which one was hosting that year's annual LARPA meeting or something, it could be done somewhere other than the title of the con.

Looking back, I've thought a couple of times now that the "lettering" may not have been the way to go. The letters gimmick was intended at the time to be a fun, quirky, and different way of demarcating the Boston con so it could establish it's own history and identity, the way I felt that the Maryland con had. If I had the opportunity to do it over, I'd push for going with "Intercon New England" and then putting the year as a suffix rather than any numbers or letters. But that's hindsight for you.
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User: hungrytiger
Date: 2009-08-10 19:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, and part of why I rarely participate in these discussions is that once you get me started, I invariably blow far too much of the work day crafting a lengthy response. :)
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aaronjv: poker
User: aaronjv
Date: 2009-08-11 20:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Wow, thanks for this history. Alas, that's what I have seen in nearly all geek gaming/fandom groups at one point or another. I won't go into the psychology of smart people but for a link to the Five Geek Social Fallacies.

What does TSFL stand for? What is it?

While the New England Convention seems "huge" compared to IMA, it is tiny and a mere flicker. Gaming Conventions of less than 500 are considered little better than "student conventions" and barely show up on National Radar. The growth to 300 clearly suprised everyone, and I get a sense of question in where to go from here. I think that this is a time of promise and concern for LARP. if it is properly nourished and organized, the NEIL convention will continue to grow - though that may mean making scary choices to move to a larger venue and embrace carrying the flag of LARP nationally.

I heartily concur with this. How can I help?

Re: IMA vs. Boston Intercon
Please keep us informed of the official cancellation, Gordon, if that is what you decide to do. I certainly understand your reasons for doing so, and think it's very noble and praiseworthy to talk about this and to throw support into a larger Con. (Though I don't want to jump to the conclusion that canceling is what you are doing, nor that that is what I am encouraging--I just want more people larping, talking about it, etc..)

Finally, I hope to discuss this and much more with y'all over drinks in your neck of the woods sometime soon.
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User: ravenrose
Date: 2009-08-11 21:24 (UTC)
Subject: Terms defined
TSFL: Theater Style Full Length

Generally refers to the "weekend length LARP" which is self-contained and not presented in an ongoing (Campaign-style) format. For Example: Four Aces, Golden Aeon, Titanic, The End of Sacred Months, The King's Muscateers, Pendragon... to name a very small few...
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aaronjv: poker
User: aaronjv
Date: 2009-08-11 21:31 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Terms defined
Cool, thank you.

Are those LARPs you mentioned available online?

I've wanted to do a weekend-long LARP (run or play) for awhile now, and haven't.
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Andrew Zorowitz
User: zrealm
Date: 2009-08-12 05:40 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Terms defined
They're not, though it is possible to license some of them to run (my organization, Foam Brain Games, does a lot of licensing other people's weekend long games and running them). I can probably give you more information off-lj if you'd like.
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aaronjv: poker
User: aaronjv
Date: 2009-08-12 06:01 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Terms defined
If the license costs money, I won't be able to, otherwise, I can be reached here (through LJ mail). Thanks!
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Andrew Zorowitz
User: zrealm
Date: 2009-08-12 06:10 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Terms defined
To clarify, we don't have games to license - just experience licensing other people's games :)

We have paid the author for the license to run each weekend long game we've run, though.
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