How To Stay Safe At A Science Fiction Convention
Is there really a risk?
Are conventions safe?
The answer is - as safe as any other large gathering of people. Conventions are generally held either in hotels or convention centers. Security is present and most conventions have rules about not permitting real weapons on site. Some conventions permit replicas (generally, they must be properly peacebonded), others permit only props or nothing resembling a weapon at all.
Incidents of violence at conventions are extremely rare and when they do occur, they tend to be domestics that could have happened anywhere. What is often, however, reported is sexual harassment of female attendees - and sometimes of both male and female media guests (but those people have bodyguards for a reason).
So, in general, you're pretty safe, but here are some things to consider to ensure nothing happens.
Are you fit enough to LARP?
Many conventions have "active" LARPs. For example, the USMC, formerly Terrorwerks, runs live fire (airsoft) science fiction horror LARPs at major cons such as GenCon and the Origins Expo in Columbus.
Live combat LARPs are a lot of fun - but they are also a workout. If you're a couch potato the rest of the year, they may not be the best idea (Or you could use them as a reason to stop being a couch potato).
If you do participate, then follow all of the safety rules. Bear in mind that there's a minor risk of injury associated with running, diving for cover, waving boffer weapons around and otherwise being active.
If using airsoft weapons, wear the goggles. Period.
Safety for Women
Women, especially women traveling alone, are sometimes victims of the - to be frank - "frat boy" style environment some male gamers (and not always the young ones) seem to carry with them. As a result, many women are afraid to go to conventions and if they do cling to their friends or partner.
Truth is, I've walked right through plenty of conventions - including in costume - and never been harassed. Now, admittedly, I'm not one of those fortunate/unfortunate individuals who has "it," but I manage. Here are some things to consider:
1. Be careful with cosplay. If you wear a revealing costume, be willing to deal with the consequences - guys will hit on you, period. I'm not saying don't do it, but you have to be the right kind of woman to pull it off.
2. Be one of the guys. Show you can play competently at something and know what you're talking about. You don't want to look like you're there to be decorative. Bonus points for dressing up as a space marine or playing war games.
3. Be confident. Act as if you belong there. And if somebody does use a bad pickup line on you, I honestly do recommend retaliating if you have enough wit to do so. That way his friends will be laughing at him - not you.
4. Share a hotel room only with people you trust. It helps to know you have a haven to go back to.
5. Follow normal common-sense rules. Don't wander through strange cities on your own late at night (this goes for you guys, too).
6. Watch your alcohol consumption. Never get so drunk you end up doing something stupid. If you're invited to a suite party, don't go on your own unless it's somebody you know inviting and try to stay relatively sober.
More Tips For All Of Us
1. Keep your cell phone charged. Have a last resort rendezvous with anyone else in the room.
2. Most conventions are in large cities where you will be able to get anything you need. If going to a con in a small town or suburban area, consider taking a first aid kit.
3. If you feel threatened or in danger, head towards a crowded area such as registration or, if it's open, the dealer's room. People won't try anything in front of witnesses.
4. Don't go back to somebody else's hotel room with them. Don't let anyone pick you up. It never ends well. (If invited to a suite party, as previously mentioned, take a plus one unless you know somebody who's going - most suite parties are safe, but occasionally people try to take advantage).
5. If leaving the convention center, make sure you get yourself oriented so you don't wander into a bad part of town. If carrying replica weapons, avoid going too far from the convention - you might get arrested.
6. Don't take photos of people without their permission - especially children. This could get you into legal trouble later. Most cosplayers will allow you to take photographs, but you should always check. Don't post those photos to the internet without an in-writing model release. Yes, I know that's harsh, but it's got people in trouble before.
7. Follow all convention rules.
8. Keep your eyes open for evacuation routes when in a convention center or hotel, and check the evacuation route from your hotel room.
9. If making a long drive to the con, use common sense. Trade off or take frequent breaks, especially on the drive home - sleeping tends to end up somewhat optional at cons. Needless to say, I hope, don't drink and drive.