[Warning: One of the images included below may not be suitable for all readers, and is included to illustrate the point made in this article.]
Dragon Con, Atlanta’s largest gathering of nerd culture and geek fandom, hit a new record this year, bringing more than 80,000 people downtown over the Labor Day weekend.
As the convention continues to grow every year, it promotes the same phrase that makes me wince when I hear it: Dragon Con is “family-friendly.” A few media outlets published stories and articles about the family fun at the convention, and I couldn’t help but cringe.
Profanity, for instance, is discouraged because the convention is “family-friendly.” Television screens ask audience members to watch their mouths while attending panels, but convention officials monitor the language of guest speakers as well. I have sat in the crowd when panelists have voiced their frustration over this rule. The fact that a grown adult isn’t allowed to curse seems ludicrous.
But that is a minor annoyance, and there are other consequences of promoting Dragon Con as a family-friendly event. While the general public may know the convention for its parade through the streets, many con-goers know it for the parties. As the sun sets on each day of Dragon Con, the partying begins in full force, and it is not limited to any particular area. Attendees drink on the balconies, in the hotel lobbies, in the hallways and in the parking garage.
Clearly, this is not a safe space for children, but this doesn’t stop every parent. One night I bumped into a woman at one of the hotel bars who had a baby in a stroller. While it could be argued that this was an isolated case of bad parenting, I also think something should be done on an administrative level to prevent accidents from occurring. While convention officials did not respond to my request for an interview, the website explains that Dragon Con does offer certain events geared specifically toward children, called the Kaleidoscope Track. It features panels and activities that target 9- to 13-year-old fans, according to the website. I think this is much more effective and should be expanded — sanction off a particular area that is kid-friendly, but admit that the rest of the convention is meant for adults.
There should be some kind of age requirement in areas that tend to host impromptu parties and allow drinking, at least after a certain time in the evening. After 10 p.m., the average con-goer should not have to worry about bumping into a child at a hotel bar or tripping over a stroller in the lounge.
Now, I will concede that I am not a parent, nor do I understand the intricacies of deciding when to bring a child to an event. So, I reached out to someone who does.
John O’Farrill lives in Acworth and is a teacher at Oakwood Digital Academy in Cobb County. He first attended Dragon Con in 2010 and went again this year. While O’Farrill hasn’t taken his 14-year-old daughter to Dragon Con yet, she did accompany him to Orlando’s Star Wars Celebration in April.
“That was her first con,” O’Farrill said. “I’m still a little squirrelly actually about Dragon Con.”
He attributed those feelings to what he called the “risque” costumes found at Atlanta’s convention. But O’Farrill also blamed the variety of Dragon Con’s content. The Star Wars franchise, he explained, has always been advertised and promoted as family-friendly. When he took his daughter to the Orlando celebration, he knew what to expect from that convention.
Dragon Con, though, might have PG-rated Star Wars characters, or it might feature cosplay of Leeloo from Fifth Element or Mystique from X-Men, either of which can have varying degrees of appropriateness. This unpredictability means that a parent can’t realistically prepare themselves or their children for what they might see.
“The idea of it being ‘family-friendly’ as an overall statement, I don’t think that’s feasible,” O’Farrill said.
He agreed with the idea of keeping family-friendly activities in certain sections, and he even suggested adding a symbol to the convention badge to indicate an attendee’s age. Then, for instance, a rule could be enforced allowing only individuals who are 18 and older to mingle in the hotel lobbies or near the bars.
I understand the desire to bring the whole family to Dragon Con, but most of the online forums and articles I found in my research urged parents to reconsider bringing their children to the convention for these exact reasons.
Calling the convention “family-friendly” only frustrates guest speakers and the adults in attendance. It also has the potential to mislead parents who may not understand the extent to which some con-goers take their cosplay and their partying. Lastly, it puts children in the mix with intoxicated adults, which is hazardous for everyone involved. The stories and articles published about the family fun at Dragon Con ignore the most obvious fact: Dragon Con is not meant for families, no matter how much they insist it is. This convention is meant for those who want to celebrate their love of everything sci-fi, fantasy, fiction and more, without worrying about offending a mother or tripping over any toddlers after dark.