In popular media, the word “geek” is sometimes associated with an intellectual and awkward person, outside of “the norm” interests. A celebration of nerd culture, fringe interests and all things related to it could be seen at RoberCon, a two-day comic book, sci-fi, tabletop and board game convention at the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Downtown Binghamton held last weekend. This year’s RoberCon event featured discussions and workshops with several best-selling authors, including Anne Bishop, author of “The Black Jewels” series.
Events at RoberCon included a costume contest, panel discussions and signings with award-winning authors, writing workshops, a cosplay pub crawl, a gaming room and vendors selling geek collectibles and various handmade items. There were also plenty of opportunities for fan groups of all sorts to meet and interact with people who share similar interests. With this wide range of events, RoberCon truly seems to offer something for everyone.
Crystal Sarakas, a member of the local community and organizer of the event, highlighted RoberCon as a family-friendly event for people of all ages.
“RoberCon being based at the Roberson Museum this year placed a big emphasis on families and young people,” Sarakas said. “When you’re younger and don’t fit in, it can be really difficult to find places to meet people with the same interests as you. RoberCon provides a safe place to come in cosplay and meet people with the same interests.”
The age range at RoberCon was truly diverse, from families in “Avatar” costumes to high school students and adults with a keen interest in fandom culture.
Sarakas stated that the winner of this year’s youth costume contest, 14-year-old Zach Smith, spent four months working on his Iron Man costume and was still making finishing touches the night before the contest.
“I’m impressed every single year by how much time and effort people put into their costumes, out of love for the event,” Sarakas said.
This year’s RoberCon also featured a gaming room in the Roberson Mansion carriage house. In previous years, the gaming room was situated in Binghamton High School. This year, the gaming room’s closer proximity to RoberCon made it easier for event attendees to participate in tabletop gaming and explore the gaming room. RoberCon attendants could choose from a number of tabletop games or attend one of the scheduled gaming sessions that took place last Saturday and Sunday.
Michael Bohn, a longtime resident of Downtown Binghamton and content provider for the event, was responsible for introducing people to new board games and encouraging them to play.
“The gaming room was busy all weekend,” Bohn said. “There were lots of people passing through, trying things for the first time.”
People were able to try out board games that were recently released and not widely known, in addition to classics such as “Dungeons & Dragons.” The gaming room fostered an open and social environment with people from all walks of life, meeting and interacting while playing board games.
Perhaps one of RoberCon’s most successful events this year was the panel discussions. RoberCon featured guests such as award-winning author Tamora Pierce, among others. Authors hosted panel discussions where they answered questions, gave advice and interacted with audience members. This provided an experience for fans of the books and series as well as novice writers seeking advice from experienced professionals.
One of the panel discussions that Sarakas stated as being particularly successful and popular was the “Black Panther” panel.
“We had [people of color] fans talk about why ‘Black Panther’ is important to the community,” said Sarakas. “’Black Panther’ is not just a superhero movie, but it is representative of a culture and community that is working to solve issues of representation. It was truly a powerful panel.”
In coming years, RoberCon hopes to be able to record panels so those who are interested but unable to attend will still be able to listen in on the meaningful discussions. RoberCon’s rise in popularity can be seen from the increase in panel discussions from 18 to 61 between the first RoberCon in 2013 and RoberCon 2018.
According to Sarakas, RoberCon has been attracting more and more accomplished authors.
“Word travels quickly in the writing community, so when good word gets out about RoberCon, more writers want to attend,” said Sarakas.
RoberCon also hosted its first cosplay pub crawl this year. This provided an outlet for sci-fi, fantasy and board game fans to interact in a more adult environment.
Sarakas took pride in the creative and expressive outlet RoberCon provided for the community and recommends Binghamton students to attend in coming years.
“RoberCon highlights creativity and art that people typically may not have access to in a small city,” Sarakas said. “Students are often under so much pressure to achieve … RoberCon can provide students with the opportunity to relax and be a nerd for a day, get to know the local community on a personal level, and the Roberson Museum, this amazing little thing right here in Binghamton.”