I have to get this down so I remember. I started writing this completely exhausted from what will probably be the best weekend of 2011. I know it's early, but I think all the ~50 other remaining weekends in the year are going to have to work awfully hard to compete.
So I knew Arthur was up to something. He is a trained actor, but I am his trained girlfriend; I knew he was keeping some kind of awesome secret. Still, he was pretty tough to read when he repeatedly asked whether I'd be able to come to MAGfest this year. I originally said I wasn't sure I'd have the energy (I'm wary of committing an entire weekend to something as draining as a con), but as the date approached I warmed to the idea. Arthur was going to be staff again this year, and this would be my first year with a weekend pass. (I bought a day pass for MAGfest 8, but I think the experience is much different when you can come and leave at will the whole weekend.)
As the date approached, we convinced a bunch of our friends to buy passes, too, and both of Arthur's siblings decided to come down. I thought this was just a fun excuse for people to get together for a weekend of nerdery; but it turned out to all be a conspiracy, one that expanded rapidly to include dozens of people, one that needed weeks of planning and its own Mission Control to ensure successful implementation - one that, on Saturday, January 15th, 2011, would begin with two 8-bit tarot cards and end with a ring.
Congratulations! You are the Chosen One!
...or one of the chosen ones, anyway!
We are pleased to announce our SUPER SECRET new MAGfest event for MAGfest 9. To celebrate nine years of gaming and music-related madness, we are holding the FIRST EVER MAGFest-wide Super Silly Scavenger Hunt, also known as...
Yes, it's been a long and rocky road putting this together, and some of y'all on the forums may have doubted it was ever going to happen, but it's here. You're receiving this e-mail because our system has you down as a previous MAGfest attendee, the street address you registered with indicates you live in the area, and the will of the fates (which is to say our incredibly awesome and unbiased random number generator) has chosen you for this special honor.
Due to considerations of limited space, time and most importantly scavenger hunt swag, only a very limited number of MAGfest attendees have been chosen to participate in MAGQuest. Consider it a reward for all our loyal local music and gaming fans who've trekked out to our humble con for the past nine years and who, by spreading the word to their friends, made MAGfest the runaway success it's become. It's also a chance for you to help make the festival more exciting and to help our staff make some memories -- and some awesome photo ops!
In case you haven't heard yet, here's the scoop: We know that everyone comes to MAGfest for something different. Some people come for the panel discussions, some come for the concerts, some come for the unique jamspace, some come to zone out in the game room for four days straight (and who wouldn't approve of that?) and some just come to wander around the hotel and socialize with their fellow geeks.
We want to encourage you to explore it all, and to take the opportunity to generate some attention-grabbing scenes along the way. During the duration of the con we'll have our loyal volunteers scattered throughout the hotel garbed in various costumes, spouting riddles and challenges to all who come their way and generally being a nuisance. Only YOU and a select few other attendees will be provided with the clues necessary to find our MAGQuest Givers (sorry, no floating exclamation points) and to win awesome prizes! (Or semi-awesome, or kinda-awesome, or oh-well-at-least-you-got-a-photo -- depending on how fast we run out.)
Bring as many friends as you like -- though we can't guarantee you'll all get prizes if you have a posse of, like, twenty -- and remind whoever's manning the regdesk that you're a MAGQuest Chosen One to claim your first clue when you arrive! Make sure to bring your cameras and to dress up in as elaborate, silly or borderline inappropriate costumes as you like!
Now, boring logistical stuff:
Because of the aforementioned limitations, each MAGQuest Chosen One has been assigned a particular set of Quest Givers to find on a particular day. You've been selected for:
An 8-Bit Tarot Reading
to take place on:
Saturday, January 15
between the hours of:
10:00 am to 2:00 pm
Please please PLEASE e-mail us back at this e-mail *A*S*A*P* if you won't be able to attend MAGfest on that date or time or you have specific plans so we can try to move you or (d'aww) give away your Chosen One status to another guest.
Thanks, and as MAGQuest Master my loyal minions and I hope to see you there!
When I got the email on January 5th, I giggled aloud. Scavenger hunts are fun, right? The invite was extremely well-crafted - even alerted due to Arthur's behavior, it took me several days to suspect that I might not just be one of a "very few", but in fact the ONLY scavenger hunt participant. The Wednesday before the con, I confided to my friend Janet on IM that I was kind of suspicious. Janet was TOTALLY IN ON IT but kept her responses carefully neutral and even tried to change the subject several times.
me: so pumped for the scavenger hunt, though
sounds like they've been talking about it for a long time and finally got their shit together
Arthur said he'd seen desperate calls for volunteers but didn't think they'd actually do it
it'll be awesome doing stuff like that is epic
me: he's being kind of squirrelly
I suspect shenanigans
pfffhhhh if there wasn't shenanigans then it wouldn't be fun
me: I can't really explain it except that we've known each other long enough that I know when he's excited about something and trying really hard to hide it
d'aawww you guys are sooo cute together
how long they been working on putting the fest together and such?
me: this is the 9th year they've done it
her: i could understand being excited about something new that they've wanted to do for a long time and finally being able to do it
I don't think that's it though
You know, he once faked me out about his flight time by saying it was delayed and I needed to pick him up really late
So he could come home early and surprise me
So he kind of tested the waters about getting engaged sometime a few weeks ago and then has been really careful to bring up several times that he doesn't think he's quite ready for it
her: lol nice
me: So all I'm saying is that either he's acting all weird for no reason or I'm completely onto him
I hit the fest alone on Thursday evening after work. Most of my friends live too far away to make an evening outing worthwhile, and Arthur was rehearsing furiously for his scene in two days. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the con had sold out in preregistration and there would be no day passes this year, EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD tried to pick up their badges on Thursday. I missed all the panels I wanted to attend, standing in line behind a nice guy and his music-nerd teenage son from Boston. Standing is utter hell on my fibromyalgia, and the line moved just fast enough that I was constantly having to get up and sit down again, so I was actually pretty wiped by the time I got to the front.
I asked the nice girl who gave me my badge about the scavenger hunt, but she had no idea what I was talking about. She consulted with an older guy helping another registrant, and I heard him mutter, "A female attendee is going on a scavenger hunt."
A female attendee. One person. If I'd been 99% positive this was all a set-up before, positivity was now approximately 110%. I kept a straight face as they returned, gave them my name, and received "Clue #0 (Give at check-in)" eagerly.
I sat on a bench in the little lobby area next to the registration desk and opened my clue. The manila envelope contained a letter and two 8-bit Tarot cards: the HERMIT and the KNIGHT OF CUPS.
The letter told me I could come back to the registration desk on Saturday, every hour on the hour (10am, 11am, noon, 1pm) to get hints to go with my tarot-card clues. In the meantime I was on my own.
Now I'm going to admit right here that I am not very good at scavenger hunts, or trivia contests, or anything that requires you to make a lot of disparate connections to widely-scattered bits of knowledge in order to answer a question. (In school, I was also not very good at tests.) Additionally, I had no idea what the tone of the hunt was going to be like, and almost no instructions other than, apparently, Do Some Stuff on Saturday. So it seemed pretty obvious that I wasn't supposed to think about it too hard until then.
I got a call from the only two of my friends who actually live near the hotel - themselves a recently engaged couple, go team! They were in the endless registration line. I visited briefly and we agreed to meet up when they got their badges. I hit the dealer room alone, which is a terribly dangerous thing when I'm at a con and surrounded by nerd things. I came away with a Dr. Mario for NES, Viewtiful Joe 2 for PS2, and a tight v-neck shirt with d20s on the boob parts, because I am a classy lady.
Eventually I wandered into the arcade room and discovered what was to be a continuing obsession through the weekend: an original Arkanoid console.
I was born a little too late to enjoy this classic in its arcade heyday, but when I was 9 or 10 my computer camp counselor sold me a pirated floppy of Arkanoid 2 (MS-DOS) for a dollar. I put in a ridiculous amount of time on this game, with our rolly-ball mouse and shitty Gateway desktop that crashed every month or so. The arcade version was missing a couple of minor features that must have been added for the DOS game, but the levels were the same, the visuals and music were the same, and I had unlimited continues and nowhere to be. I was in dork heaven.
Eventually my friends caught up with me and we wandered around, taking in the place. There wasn't much in the way of panels at this point so we just gamed. I held out for about a song and a half on the DDR console before my legs said No More. The game room was huge and bustling (though it would bustle exponentially more the next day); we were free to wander through that cavernous space and sit down at anything that happened to be unoccupied.
Later we hit the concert room. I can't even remember who was playing - witness my n00bness when it comes to gamer rock - but it was awesome. I bid my friends adieu and left after a few songs to pick Arthur up from his rehearsal.
Arthur and I crawled out of bed a little later than planned the next morning, but we got to the con a smidge after 11 with at least some half-formed plans. We took in the "What is Game Music Now?" panel, then wandered over to hear Hiroki Kikuta live. Mr. Kikuta spoke through a translator and told us this song was based on whalesong (and in fact had a lot of whalesong samples) and also it was called "Whales" (surprise!). He was a good bit older than the other music acts I saw (and possibly all of the ones that performed this year) and I think this kind of characterized his interaction with the audience. We all sat in rows of chairs and listened politely - no head-banging or screaming or anything - to this charming gentleman totally rocking out on his synths. (Though later, when he announced that he hearts MAGfest and this song was a MAGfest exclusive, we did cheer and scream a lot.)
[HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS I JUST LOOKED HIM UP ON WIKIPEDIA AND HE FORMED A RECORD LABEL NAMED AFTER A CORDWAINER SMITH NOVEL I HAVE A NEW CELEBRITY NERDCRUSH]
Then we screwed around in the arcade/game rooms for a while. There is so much to do there that I could play all weekend and not try everything. I slaughtered Arthur at Mortal Kombat but then got slaughtered at Killer Instinct. We collaborated on some kind of animated Japanese arcade console that appeared to depict an alternate steampunkish WWI with improbable aircraft piloted by hot chicks? It was...interesting. I checked out the Challenge booths, but the only challenge I saw that looked even vaguely familiar was from an installment of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise that I'd never played before, and like I said at the time, why even waste time on a no-lives-final-boss challenge when you've never played the game?
I could bore you with the rest of our day (Why Do Video Game Movies Suck?, Video Game Improv, pizza and hilariously resubbed Advent Children and then the Super Mario Bros. movie WHY DID NOBODY STOP ME) but basically several more of our friends, some from out of town, joined our party and we had adventures of high nerdery. Arthur had to duck out in the evening to go rehearse some more, and later we and a couple of friends picked up Arthur's brother after his Megabus ride from Pittsburgh. We did our level best to get to bed early because, as we thought separately to ourselves with little secret smiles, tomorrow would be a big day.
Let it be said that I was there at the stroke of 10 AM to pick up Clue #1. I'd read a little about tarot and tried to figure out what the Knight of Cups and the Hermit might mean together, but I knew I was probably overthinking it.
In retrospect it's retardedly obvious, I guess. I fixated on the "WATCH, listen and learn" part and thought it might have something to do with the video room, but Arthur and I went up there and they weren't even showing anything. Arthur, apparently starting to get antsy, pointed out there was a Megaman fanfilm director's commentary showing over in Panels 1 that might also be the apparent reference. We started wandering over there, where I was approached by a guy I thought was dressed like Gandalf but turned out to be a very special bridge-keeper (hermit). He refused to let me pass without answering some questions. I told him my name and favorite color, and then he asked me something about the average land speed of an African elephant. This was a little off-script and I didn't really know what to say. We stuttered back and forth for a few seconds before he must have thought "fuck it" and
His Stuff turned out to be a plastic bejeweled chalice with a gift certificate for beer and two more tarot cards in it. The Hermit lay very convincingly dead the whole time we were pilfering his belongings, and after a minute or so passersby were starting to look at us a little weird, so I declared that the chalice must hold his life-force and we gave it back to him and loudly proclaimed that we were walking off the screen so it would refresh. When we turned to look back he was
So. First costumed character of the day: A for effort. He later turned out to be one of Arthur's acting class friends, who ALSO had his final scene that night, so I don't exactly blame him for not being particularly focused on our banter. (They work their students incredibly hard, and in fact his assigned final scene turned out to be from Equus and was awesome.)
"Oh," I thought as we looked at the new tarot cards, "the Knight of Cups. Monty Python! Duh!" So it was going to be THAT kind of scavenger hunt. Oh damn, and I forgot to get the Hermit's picture.
We had the cards, but I couldn't come back and get my next clue until 11. The cards were STRENGTH, as represented by a person fighting a lion, and the FIVE OF SWORDS.
I didn't have any particular ideas, so the people who hadn't gone over the dealer room with a fine-toothed comb yet did so. More and more friends were trickling in. We probably had 15 people in our party when I went back to the registration desk.
"This has GOT to have something to do with Pokemon," I said. But what? There weren't any panels that presented possibilities, so we went down to the game room. "We just put in some new stuff over there," said one of the MAGfest staff manning the front booth, pointing. We went.
A girl dressed as a Pokemon trainer paced in front of what once would have been a large television in the days of CRT. "Do you play Pokemon?" she said excitedly as we approached.
"Um...yes?" I said. "Hi. Uh." I felt like I should know her or something and it was kind of bothering me.
"What Pokemon do you have?" she said, and I showed her the tarot card with the lion on it. She threw a plastic Pokeball at me and a Meowth plushie fell out and failed to attack me or my...Lion...th.
"I guess Meowth is taking a nap. We'll have to do it this way," she said, and handed me a Wii controller. In spite of utterly dominating Arthur at Wii Super Smash Bros. on New Year's Eve, I completely sucked this time and was the first to die off. It turned out my controller was broken, so the Pokemon Trainer and I went head-to-head with the two remaining good ones, she as the Pokemon Trainer (hurr) and me as Pikachu, because why not? She was pretty obviously letting me win, but we went after each other with all the weapons available in the game and even had a Pokemon lightsaber I mean laser sword battle. The Pokemon Trainer graciously told me she was better with Meowth but that I had won some prizes.
The prizes I got were the three weapons from the game: a baseball bat, a white paper fan, and a lightsaber AHEM I MEAN laser sword. The lightsaber was one of the totally sweet expensive ones that I've always wanted but could never justify to myself! My friends and I spent a lot of time playing with it before I could get my next clue at noon.
It later turned out that the Pokemon Trainer was Arthur's sister's friend from college. I'd even met her (and given her a houseplant) a couple of years ago, which I guess was a risk on Arthur's part, but I'm just not that good with faces. I would never have really recognized her. Our new tarot cards (bonus prizes!) were the Magician and the 7 of Wands/Rods/whatever (how phallic!)
A little before noon, Arthur said that - just as he'd warned me - he had to go back to the theater for some more rehearsals and we'd have to carry on without him. We kissed goodbye and he dashed off. I was still surrounded by friends who seemed IMPROBABLY INTERESTED in my scavenger hunt, so back we went to the registration desk. (I was a good hunter and did not do something evil like suddenly declare that I was bored and wanted to go catch a panel.)
Well, even a poor deprived soul who's never played Magic: The Gathering (like me) could tell this was all about Magic: The Gathering. Off we trooped to the tabletop game rooms. I stuck my head into the dimmer room where nothing seemed to be happening, and didn't see anything out of place. I went over to the other room, but one of my friends stuck her head into the dim room again and said "Uh, there's a shady guy in a cloak in here..."
There was indeed a shady guy in a cloak. I had somehow missed him because it was dim and he just looked like one of several random people sitting around a table. (He was certainly not the only Guy With Cloak I saw all weekend.) The other random people seemed to clear out awfully fast when I came in, though.
"Hello," he said as I approached. "I have foreseen your arrival."
"Ah," I said.
"I will read your fortune. Let me see..." He picked up the two tarot cards in front of him and laid them face-up for me to see. "Judgement! That doesn't sound good. And the two of coins, hmm, perhaps a crisis having to do with money?"
"Huh. Well, thanks," I said, attempting to gather the cards up and leave. (I am not always a good hunter.)
"Hang on a minute, we're here to play Magic, we're damn well playing Magic," said my friend Meg, and thus I was railroaded into the first Magic game of my life. I've had friends and boyfriends who play since college, but I'd never caught the bug myself. I knew a few of the very basics - the concept of tapping, the creatures vs. land cards, etc., so I wasn't going in completely blind, but I knew zippo in terms of strategy.
With significant coaching from my friends Greg and Meg, both experienced former players, and the help of an extremely stacked deck that Greg apparently spent half the night putting together, I drew a ton of "fast" cards while my opponent drew land after land after mountain goat after land. I think Greg's aim was simply to keep the game from taking forever, given that I had no idea what I was doing. Our extremely unbalanced team made short work of my opponent.
"Augh! I didn't foresee this!" he said, hamming it up. "Very well, you have won fair and square. I must turn over my staff." He did so, and beat a hasty retreat.
The "staff" was a six-foot cardboard tube covered in duct tape, Sharpie and sparkles; it looked more suitable for mailing huge maps around the world than being used as a staff. I poked it, shook it, and finally looked at the end. "Open this end," it said, so I did, and upended it on the table.
Out slid a Hitachi Magic Wand.
Cue hilarious pictures of us laughing our asses off in a most scandalized manner. ["I didn't mean for you to find that until later," said Arthur afterward. "Well, maybe you should've made sure somebody didn't write OPEN HERE on it," said my friend Andrew, who built the staff from scratch and also gets a huge shout-out for keeping all these scavenger hunt materials at his apartment until the big day.]
Judgement, and Rings
We waited around until a little after 1 pm, because Arthur's siblings had gone to McDonald's for lunch and were late getting back. Finally I went back to the registration desk and asked for my final clue. The guy there gave me a blank look.
"We don't have any more," he said. "I was only given the ones you have."
Catastrophe! The instructions said I should receive a final clue at 1. He double-checked the place where they had been kept for me, but came up empty. (This is what it should have been, but I didn't see this clue until days later.) "Well," I said, "We'll just have to figure it out from the cards. Two coins reminds me of arcade games..." Our red herring this time was a Terminator 2: Judgement Day console in the arcade alley. We checked it out but nothing seemed amiss.
We finally agreed that the other clues had involved a person who looked expectant, shady, or slightly out of place, so we decided to wander through the game room looking for someone who might match this description. I also mentioned that according to my reading the coins are often also portrayed as rings, so we might look for games in the game room that involved either of these as a currency.
Everybody knew where I was going except for me. Nonetheless they mostly stayed out of my hair as I checked a few possibilities. Super Mario Bros. - no dice. The Sonic 2 station where I'd taught a 4-year-old how to solve the Marble Zone puzzles the day before - nothing either. Eventually we passed the Challenges booths again, where I was accosted by a guy with a clipboard. "I believe you have a reservation," he said, ushering me to the laptop at the end of the row, which had a "RESERVED" sign taped to the screen.
Oh jeez. I could feel my heart sink as I sat down. This was the final boss of Sonic 3 and Knuckles. I loved the Sonic games when I was younger, and Arthur had heard me talk about how awesome I was at them, but my self-directed video game education was somewhat spotty - I had never played Sonic 3 and Knuckles before in my life. I was so screwed.
The challenge was meant to be at least a little hard. Sonic had no rings - financial crisis! - and no extra lives. Tails was there to back him up, but of course Tails sucks and usually gets in the way more than he helps. All of my friends were standing expectantly behind me. Someone was already recording. I picked up the controller and pressed F8 to unpause the ROM.
It took a lot of dying to learn Dr. Robotnik's moves. It took more dying to figure out the exact timing of the laser, and yet more to figure out how to jump so that Tails wouldn't hit first and cause Sonic to fall directly through the robot to his death. Twice, I struck the final blow but screwed up the dismount and Sonic fell off the bottom of the screen even in his moment of triumph. Clipboard Guy later said that if I'd beaten the robot but died anyway one more time, he would have jumped in and ended it anyway.
I do not like performing in front of other people. I could feel the bile rising in my throat as I died and failed and died again - I was utterly humiliating myself in front of everyone! Why would Arthur do this to me? This was awful! I was choking on what was probably one of the easiest challenges available!
But, y'know, insert BS speech about loving and believing in myself. Arthur believed in me. He knew I was awesome at Sonic. I knew I was awesome at Sonic. I was just nervous as hell and screwing up more than usual. All I had to do was focus on the game, and I would be fine. So eventually I did.
After what couldn't have been more than 15 minutes but felt like an hour, I prevailed - and dozens of people erupted into cheers. Unknown to me, as I had played, the group of my friends clustered around and cheering me on had attracted a few strangers who wanted to know what was going on; this slightly larger group had attracted a few more, and more and more people had been pulled in by simple curiosity and then stayed when pssst! he's going to propose! had made it to the back of the crowd. At least half the cavernous game room had gathered around to see my victory.
The end-of-game triumphal music played. The credits began to roll. But they had...changed. The music shifted to a chiptune rendition of Daft Punk's Harder Better Faster Stronger, one of my favorite songs of all time.
"CONGRATULATION ELIZA RITCHIE BLAIR!!!" the credits said. "YOU HELP SONIC FIND MASTER EMERALD!! BUT TO CLAIM YOUR OWN MAGIC JEWEL...ANOTHER QUEST AWAITS!!!! YOU HAVE ALREADY PASSED MANY CHALLENGES..."
The screen flashed pictures of my family (lol), my high school, my college's logo, a bunch of people, places and things from college that only really have meaning to me, my workplace, a midget shaking his fist from a podium...
"BUT YOU STILL HAVE TO OVERCOME THE GREATEST CHALLENGE OF ALL..."
"SPENDING A LIFETIME PUTTING UP WITH -" and up came an old picture of Arthur clutching his throat, possibly from the time I nailed him in the trachea with a stale brownie from across the room for disrupting a club meeting -
The room erupted in laughter. "ONLY ONE QUESTION REMAINS..."
The music died away. The crowd around me seemed to be holding its breath.
The screen switched to a video of Arthur, recording late at night as I slept in the other room:
"I love you, Eliza. Will you marry me?"
Fade to black, except for the rotating image of a pixel-art ring and the words "ACCEPT ENGAGEMENT? (Y/N)"
Forgetting it was a video - I was still in game mode - I leaned over the laptop keyboard and pressed Y. Then I turned around.
Arthur was just behind me, all dressed up in his theater suit, on one knee. I totally cried.
This was the coolest thing that anyone's ever done for me. ["Your parents might beg to differ," says Arthur. Okay, besides giving me life.] So many people pulled together to make the props, rig up the games, slip away at various times through the day to help make sure stuff was set up elsewhere, help guide me along when I didn't know where to go next, and cheer for me as I advanced my quest, increment by increment. I've never had a surprise party before, and I will never have one this awesome again. That I can say for sure.
I want to extend a GIANT thank you to everyone who participated - from good friends I've known for years, to acquaintances I've only met once, to total strangers on the MAGfest staff who made sure everything went smoothly. I would have had a wonderful time at MAGfest 9 even if it hadn't been the scene of my engagement, and in fact didn't get to hit all the games and panels I wanted to because of that pesky scavenger hunt!
I can't freaking wait for MAGfest 10, where I hope that both Arthur and I will be able to volunteer all weekend as a measure of our gratitude. :D