Geek conventions are more fun than watching a weasel try to escape a pair of nylons filled with vaseline. But in addition to the enjoyment of seeing thousands of like-minded geeks dressed in their swankiest cosplay, meeting blinding luminaries of the nerd multiverse, and playing a game or two; attending conventions has all sorts of positive and measurable effects on attendees. Conventions build community, improve creative thinking, and decrease stress. This last feature is particularly significant, as a decrease in stress has been linked to increased lifespans.
Play Is Practice for Creation!
At conventions, a fan can grab a lasso, park their invisible jet, and become Wonder Woman for the day. A fan can don a coal-black cape, matching helmet, and play at being Darth Vader. With the help of a pencil, paper, and some dice, six friends can become a band of adventurers roaming Middle Earth, questing to get rid of a very pesky ring.
This type of high-level cognitive play is practice for creative problem solving. According to the National Institute for Play (Yes, there is a National Institute for Play), such immersive play can:
transcend the reality of our ordinary lives, and in the process germinate new ideas, and shape and re-shape them. Given enriched circumstances, and access to novelty, our play drive takes us into these realms spontaneously.
The institute references Einstein as a specific example of the application of this sort of play. At the age of 16, Einstein imagined himself traveling at the speed of light, catching up with it, and riding it “like a surfer.” This thought experiment helped move him down the path to his theory of special relativity.
So play, especially the deep, difficult, and immersive sorts of play that we geeks engage in at conventions, is actually serious and important work.
Dr. David Sack describes a trip to a convention as a “mental vacation.” During a con, attendees enter a fantasy headspace, and engage in days-long, outside-the-box thinking. Saying that the imagination is powerful is cliche, but Dr. Sack points out that the benefits of the imagination have been proved in research. Imagining goals has been shown to help people achieve them, and Dr. Sacks says, “Just think what goals you might reach if you imagine things from the point of view of someone for whom ordinary rules don’t apply.”
Community: Live Long and Geeky
Growing up geek can be lonely.
If you’re the only one in your church, family, or school who knows or cares what the Council of Elrond was, you can feel isolated and forlorn.
A convention, however, is the antidote to the Muggle world. Whether it is Comic-Con, Worldcon, GenCon, or just a tiny convention at the local VFW hall; every convention is a gathering of the nerd nation; a time and place where we are among our people, others who understand that Cthulhu is not a Thai noodle dish.
And that community we feel at conventions has real and tangible benefits. Community is a basic need of humankind. It’s so important that psychologist Abraham Maslow included it in his hierarchy of human needs. Furthermore, Psychology Today reports that the social connections built at conventions “buffer us from stress, boost our immune system, give us a sense of belonging, motivate us, bring us joy, and make us feel liked and loved.”
Stress has been linked to premature aging and shortened lifespans. The negative effects of stress can be seen written on the faces of presidents in this before and after gallery, and a study conducted jointly by Harvard and Stanford says that a stressful job will shorten your lifespan. And that study is no outlier. The British Psychological Society found that even low levels of stress can lead to an increase in mortality.
All of which means that going to conventions can lead you to live a longer, better life.
Do you go to conventions? How do they impact your life? Let us know below!
Feature Image Credit: Greyloch/Flickr