Sitting at a laptop you don’t really absorb a lot of gaming culture. There’s only so many PC vs Console debates, and poorly phrased click-bait articles I can sarcastically comment on… So I thought I’d get tickets to an actual gaming convention–an extension of my travelling induced, post-break up pro-activity.
In the months leading up to Insomnia 59 (the convention in question) I reacquainted myself with some lazy, homely habits. I became less organised and less enthusiastic; which is why when a friends holiday was booked for December, I didn’t bother looking at my schedule.
The result? A drive up to London to pick up Spence, a drive up to Nottingham to pick up Rob, then a short sleep before yet another drive to Birmingham, to the NEC. A day at the convention would then be followed by a long drive back to Eastbourne before a 5.30am wake up call to catch a flight to Basel, Switzerland! Insomnia indeed!
Despite the sore buttocks and the foggy heads, we made it to Birmingham just in time to catch the opening ceremony to Insomnia 59! Crowds of adults, teenagers and kids flocked toward the arena, most in ordinary clothes, but occasionally a die-hard nerd would pass dressed in Cosplay, slightly clashing with the mundane majority.
I can’t testify to the quality of the opening ceremony because we got utterly distracted exploring the main exhibition floor. It was a gamer’s dream. There were up-and-coming indie games, recent release demos and multiplayer LAN games, competition zones, and a huge retro gaming section. Large swathes of the warehouse-sized room were taken up by Minecraft where kids flocked to play–a mystery to me considering most will undoubtedly own the game themselves. There was also a lot of Overwatch and Rocket League being played, games I was keen to show my friends.
What distracted us most however was the VR experience: Syren, a horror game developed by Hammerhead. The queue looked short and within 20 minutes we were speaking to one of the developers and laughing at Rob whilst he grappled with the Oculus Rift controllers. After playing the demo for myself I understood the hype surrounding VR. The demo was only about 5 minutes long, but in that short space of time I felt completely immersed in the game, like I was actually there exploring the abandoned complex.
I think I may have been the only one to physically crouch down whilst sneaking around, although a good few people fell over or walked into things (which was hilarious to watch). When the Syren attacked it got right up in my face. I mean, right there inches from you, it’s f**king terrifying! I actually ripped off the headset before it could catch me, the intensity of the atmosphere was overwhelming/ I’m a massive wimp.
Back to Insomnia though, and the stage performances. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but seeing a bunch of YouTubers being interviewed on stage wasn’t quite as engaging as I thought. At one point there was a competition between two pairs of gamers, one being Jay from the Inbetweeners, the new face of GAME. I couldn’t work out if it was genuinely terrible, or if maybe it was targeted at kids and my newly matured, boring brain couldn’t comprehend the humour.
Either way, we didn’t spend much time watching the shows, we were largely trying to navigate queues. Having to queue up to play a game I already own seemed a little ludicrous, but we found a couple of places offering more unique experiences after a bit of searching.
Whilst Rob and Spence partook in a furious 6v6 LAN game of Gears 4, I played the pre-release version of Dead Rising 4–a game I had a surprising amount of fun with! We also found a booth with Call of Duty LAN matches where I was determined to show my caliber. That didn’t happen as such, although an 18-12 free-for-all K/D wasn’t a bad showing!
The high point of the day was undoubtedly the Rock Band stage. There was a small crowd sitting watching performances as groups of 3 or 4 went up to play a song. We lined up and found a very keen band member who was willing to do vocals, which freed me up to whack some drums for a bit. I won’t say we were amazing, but we sure showed up the kids on stage before us!
Caption: Oh yeah, and we played Magic: The Gathering!
The most unforgettable part of Insomnia was definitely the Cosplay Masquerade. We foolishly took central seats, getting right into the thick of it all and quickly regretted not keeping to the peripheries. OK so the costumes were incredible and some of the acting was good, however the lions share of the performances made me grimace. Maybe it’s the fact I’ve been spoiled with amazing theatre productions, but it was impossible for me to watch, whilst sitting with Rob and Spence, and not quietly break down into tears. Literal sobs wracked my body, and I felt like the worst person in the world, since they were evidently taking the experience very seriously.
Other than Spencer being slain by an 8 year old at Rocket League and Rob dominating on pretty much any game he put his hand to, that’s all we really had time for. I enjoyed myself enough, however many of the experiences on offer were either too crowded or seemed a little obsolete considering they could have been achieved without queuing at home. I did feel rather old going there, so instead of being a shout back to a hay day, my experience of Insomnia was a stark reminder of my age!