ShackCon 2.0: A gathering of like-minded 'idiots'

A person coming in off the Las Vegas strip into room 1419 at the Platinum Hotel would probably see just a party, with people chatting in one corner about important topics of the day, another corner watching the television intently, while yet another group sat at a table playing a party game. Upon closer inspection, however, they would find that this was not your average social gathering. This was ShackCon 2.0. The real topics of the day were Diablo III's end-game and how the next generation of consoles would compete with each other. The group at the television? They were playing Spelunky on XBLA, Soul Calibur V or Street Fight x Tekken. And the party game isn't something you'd normally play with the wife and friends at a wine & cheese party. These were strategy board games with such titles as Dungeon Lords, Alien Frontiers and Cosmic Encounter. Twenty-nine people from around the United States (and at least one from Canada) crammed into a two-bedroom suite to celebrate games and the Shacknews community that has been growing for more than a decade.

Chungathebunga, jimmy_legs and laurgasms chill out in the party room at the Platinum hotel.

The get-together was spearheaded by Lauren "laurgasms" Kates, a Shacker for about 10 years. The core group of Shackers used to congregate at QuakeCon or through regional Shackmeets to talk about games and socialize, but Kates said that by 2010, she felt it was time the group had an event of its own. And the plans for the first ShackCon began to form. Last year's event in Vegas brought 55 people for games and socializing at different venues in the city. It was more of a structured event, Kates said, with much of the time planned out with specific events during the four-day informal convention. Not long after that event ended, Kates (and a few other dedicated Shackers such as Travis "H@rvester" Booth and Brandon "BlackCat9" Rotkel) began planning this year's shindig. "I'm a masochist," Kates said of her desire to plan an event such as this. "It's the only chance I have to hang out with these idiots." ShackCon posts in Chatty began roughly four months before the event. People who attended last year's gathering were anxious to return, but in the final tally, the turnout was about half that of last year. Kates was not deterred. "Nerds can only get vacations away from their families once every two years," she said. It made this year a bit more informal, but no less fun.

Omnova, ctrl-phreak and Blackcat9 talk about games, and all the food.

Among the activities planned over the five-day Con--besides the games and socializing--were buffet lunches at a couple of the more upscale hotel venues, an outing to the Tuscany Hotel to learn to play craps, a trip to the Pinball Hall of Fame and a night out at the Cirque du Soleil production Ka at the MGM Grand. Stephen "Haxim" Elaschuk came down from Edmonton, Alberta, to hang out with the friends he has made on Shacknews Chatty since he joined the group in 2008. "You get to know each other through the posts made and it's a great chance to hang out with like-minded people in person." And while everyone may be friends, the competition can be intense. I had the pleasure of sitting in with Ulreh "deathlove" Vogt, Phil "hawkeye" Kates (laurgasms' husband), and Haxim in a strategy game of Alien Frontiers. I had never played before, but the explanation of the game as "Yahtzee in Space" made it easy to grasp. As I pulled ahead in the late game, the three friends had no qualms about ganging up on the new guy to keep me in line. I won, but not without withstanding some good-natured ribbing about noob luck. At the TV, Thom "ThomW" Wetzel and Matt "askedrelic" Behrens, friends from opposite ends of the country, paired up on XBLA to tackle the recently released Spelunky, while Kates and Patrick "jimmy_legs" O'Shea worked some kitchen magic to create hors d'oeuvres for the hungry crew gathering for the Friday evening party.

Hatchet165 (standing), deathlove, Gaplant and NinjaGamerGirl play a card game with a guest.

Tony "at0micgarden" Capecci, a Shacker since 1999, explained his infatuation with ShackCon simply: "derp, derp, derp," a meme the Chatty crew has used to describe something stupid. And to keep with the inside jokes of the evening, an occasional call of "Free Haxim" would rise above the din, with raucous laughter following immediately after. Haxim was banned for a month by the mods for some overzealous trolling, an event even he laughs at, reflecting the good-natured, yet occasionally contentious, camaraderie of the Chatty group. So in the end, what is it that drew them all here? "Having spent so much time with these people, I love them," said Andrew "Omnova" Schenck, who has been a regular since 2003. "You don't build relationships like this every day. It's a great way to continue the friendships. None of that would be possible without Shack." It's a sentiment that carried through from long-term Shackers such as CJ "hirez" Miller, who has been a regular since the days when Shacknews was Steve Gibson's Quakeholio in 1997, to the newer members such as Robert "Gaplant" Scott, who has been a lurker since 2010. "Shackers have been more of my best friends than some of my best friends in real life," said Dustin "Clasifyd" Leen, who came from Palm Bay, Florida. "On our deepest level, we are all exactly alike."

H@rvester and trOmblyj are dressed to the hilt for dinner at Gordan Ramsey steak house.

    Check out what Shacknews members have to say each week in our regular Chatty column every Saturday.