The doors opened at 9:00 a.m., and the early hours of the show saw the convention floor sparsely populated by attendees, no doubt a circumstance of the typical Sunday-convention start combined with the looming Super Bowl that afternoon. As the morning turned into early afternoon, though, more and more people arrived to partake in the convention’s many vendors, special guests, gaming areas, and museums. Unlike the summer show that was crowded with attendees, making negotiating the small space of Frank and Son difficult to shop and talk, the show at the Ontario Convention Center provided large aisles between the tables and rows, so the floor never got over crowded. As a result, it was easy to browse all the vendors unhindered and engage with the special guests.
Immediately inside the convention hall, attendees were greeted with a huge open area devoted to console and arcade gaming. Directly in front were tables with televisions (both new and old CRT ones) set up with different consoles (from the Sega Dreamcast to the Atari Jaguar, the Neo Geo to the Commodore 64) for folks to actually play. This provided a nice opportunity for attendees to engage with vintage gaming consoles and have fun playing with the old hardware. Adjacent to this area were a few rows of pinball machines and arcade cabinets, with games such as Donkey Kong, the Star Wars Trilogy, and a few multi-game Neo Geo machines. All this afforded convention-goers the opportunity to relive the mall arcades and pizza joints of yesteryear, where they no doubt would’ve played some of their favorite arcade games.
Beside the arcade was a section devoted to the various gaming tournaments the convention was holding, and nearby another area was taken up by a huge stage. The night before, the convention held an after party with many bands in the VG-music scene who had the opportunity to perform, such as The Koopas, Viking Guitar, Vic Viper, and Super MadNES.
Directly across from the console playing area was a museum set up to accommodate the world’s largest Zelda collection. Representing the history of the beloved series, on display was a large collection of Zelda paraphernalia, including figurines, jewelry, art, different versions of the Zelda games, and comics.
Adjacent to the Zelda museum, complete with security on hand to make sure nothing nefarious happened, was a booth set up to showcase the rarest, most unique gaming console in existence: the Nintendo PlayStation prototype. During the 2009 bankruptcy proceedings of Advanta, Terry Diebold won the console and had it restored into working order by modder Ben Heck in 2016. The Nintendo PlayStation was a fabled device from the early '90s that could be considered a precursor of sorts to the Sony PlayStation proper. Nintendo would go on to partner with Philips, which would eventually lead to Nintendo characters appearing in various games for the CD-i system. Diebold was on hand to field questions about the system, providing a unique opportunity to see one of video gaming’s rarest artifacts in existence.
Lining the wall past the Nintendo PlayStation booth, various YouTube gaming celebrities had setup shop. Pat Contri (a.k.a. Pat the NES Punk) was in attendance to promote his recently released book, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library, while Bill and Jay of The Game Chasers had collections of their show to buy. The most gregarious and friendly of the YouTube personalities was no doubt Norm Caruso of The Gaming Historian, who is currently preparing to release his own show on Blu-ray, as well. Each celebrity brought their own specialty to the fold, focusing on collecting, selling, pop culture, or gaming history and lore.
The rest of the convention hall was devoted to the dozens of vendors. The vast majority were stores selling games and hardware, with the cartridge-era of games of the NES, Sega Genesis, SNES, and Nintendo 64 being the most represented. Most games were the fairly common games, with prices not fluctuating too differently between the vendors, perhaps a few dollars here and there; however behind glass cabinets held the high-dollar rare games, or games still in their original packaging. Copies of Chronotrigger could be found for a little over a $100, while old PlayStation One JRPGs could be found in the $75-$100 price range. Of course, boxed Neo Geo cartridges could be found at only one or two vendors, with those fetching hundreds of dollars.
But many vendors supplied other items for purchase, as well. Loose instruction booklets for older games cost only a few dollars, allowing completionists to fully complete their collections. Reproduction systems and controllers were also available, providing a cheap and accessible avenue for newcomers to the retro gaming scene to take up the hobby without taking the plunge into vintage hardware. Though not as dominant as the games proper, some vendors had on hand old gaming ephemera, such as posters and strategy guides.
And, of course, a convention wouldn’t be a convention without a few vendors selling Funko Pops.
While there is perhaps an over-saturation of comic book conventions in recent years, all trying to replicate the success of Comic-Con, it’s nice to see these more niche conventions come forth and provide outlets for other types of fandoms out there. The SoCal Retro Gaming Expo certainly accomplishes this for retro gaming. Their Sunday show may have had heavy competition from the Super Bowl, but, regardless, it was a well-organized show. Benefiting from a wide array of vintage wares for sale, the opportunity to play the older games on their classic systems, and celebrities within the retro gaming world on hand, all made for a well-rounded and fun show!
Photographs of the SoCal Retro Gaming Expo for Winter 2017 by Michele Brittany can be found at the Fanbase Press Facebook photo gallery.
Nicholas Diak is a popculture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, Ad Victoriam! Essays on Neo-peplum Cinema and Television. He can be found at nickdiak.com.