“I’d probably get murdered by the players if I don’t host it every year,” ICON organiser Grant Charlton chuckles. “I have a little shop around the corner, and a lot of the players visit it, so there is a following. But in all honesty, at the moment there isn’t anybody to take over from me.”
You might not have heard of the annual ICON festival, but it has been ongoing for the last 23 years. It’s definitely not your typical gamesfest, but every year geeks, cosplayers and board game enthusiasts flock to the venue to nerd out over the latest trends and games – and to compete against fellow players.
Part celebration of geek culture, part geek gathering, the festival will have something for everyone who has ever been even remotely interested in any geeky. There will be cosplayers, roleplaying, war games, Magic the Gathering, lots of food and plenty of friendly faces.
“It is somewhat deep geek and a bit alternative culture but we are attracting more mainstream visitors, and the event has taken on a bit of a family-friendly environment. The board games are slightly geeky, but that depends on your taste,” Charlton explained.
For this year theme, ICON will be paying tribute to superheroes and caped crusaders in an epic quest to acknowledge that side of geek culture. And partly to prove that it isn’t just boys sitting in a smokey room playing with card and making up funny voices.
And what can you expect to find at a festival that celebrates everything geek? According to Charlton, that really depends on what you want to do. “We have Magic competitions, role players, miniature military gaming, costume competition (as opposed to cosplay), manga videos and so much more,” he quickly rambled off in joyful glee.
But it’s not only about geeky things and culture, as there will be a comedy show on Saturday night, hosted by Vittorio Leonardi.
“He’s really great. It is a bit high-brow comedy as the audience gets his jokes. Just as anybody else, geeks and players have a sense of humour, but most of his jokes are towards the culture and lifestyle.”
What might be against society’s thoughts, ICON also has a relationship with the nearby Lorie Park Sanctuary.
For the last five years of so, the event has sponsored five animals at the sanctuary, which includes two jaguars and a three-legged Serval, and even helped with the installation of a new camera system to keep a watchful eye on the little cubs. In keeping with their work that involves animals, the Guide dog Association of South Africa will walk some trainee dogs through the crowds over the weekend, as they need more training in crowded situations.
It might not seem like it, but if you look close enough the geek culture in South Africa is actually fairly large.
“It’s actually growing by leaps and bounds. ‘Geek’ a few years back came with a warning label, but it has become more mainstream thanks to movies and televisions shows like The Big Bang Theory. But there has always been a very large base of Star Wars and Star Trek followers in South Africa.”
While he doesn’t make it apparent, one can hear the sense of pride in Charlton’s voice, knowing that for the last 23 years he has contributed towards the mainstream acceptance of geek culture.
“More people are buying geek stuff that don’t know about geek culture. They buy stuff that makes their inner geek happy. And it’s not linked to any kind of person.”
Charlton concluded almost retrospectively, by simply saying “We are trying to build it up.”
ICON 2014 will take place from the 18th until the 20th of July (this weekend), at Jabula Recreation Center in Sandringham, Johannesburg. Some of the exhibitors over the weekend will include Square Foot Figurines, Outer Limits, Sad Robot and Blades and Stitches.
To download the information brochure, click here.