For four wild days, MAGFest returned to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside of Washington, D.C. I’ve been attending MAGFest since 2011 and it remains one of the few conventions that I go out of my way to get to. As the “Music and Gaming Festival,” MAGFest combines a lot of things that I’m a big fan of – namely, video games, tabletop games, and good music.
Highlights of the show this year included a lot of the panels, such as Voice-a-Palooza (in which the voice acting guests at the con act out scenes from various films) and fan-run panels that covered topics ranging from “How Neopets Taught me to Lie and Made me a Furry” to game preservation tips and more.
I was also a huge fan of this year’s edition of MAGFest Versus, a game show directly inspired by the old Nickelodeon show Nick Arcade. Not only did this year’s show feature far-upgraded tech from previous iterations (including a number of games that included virtual reality headsets rather than a wonky green screen setup), but they actually got the old host of Nick Arcade, Phil Moore, to host MAGFest Versus. Despite technical issues, Moore managed to bring the spirit of the 1990s to the show in a way that hadn’t been seen before. MAGFest Versus also highlighted a number of the indie game titles in a cool way.
Speaking of those indie games, this year’s show featured the best and most varied selection of them that I’ve seen at any MAGFest so far. It’s certainly a tribute to the indie game scene itself that the area dedicated to indies at the show was just as large as the area dedicated to arcade cabinets or console games.
Other highlight events included the “’80s Bandaoke,” which featured a roulette wheel of songs that anyone could jump in on, either on an instrument or vocals. Though by the time it ended it had devolved into somewhat of a mess of humanity, it was an absolutely delightful time. There’s nothing quite like a chorus of 80 or so people all shouting the chorus to “Africa” at the top of their lungs.
Despite the fact that I had a solid time at MAGFest, there are some gripes that are worth discussing. The issue most often discussed about this year’s show was the registration nightmare and the hotel debacle that followed. A convention that’s been around for more than a decade shouldn’t be having these kind of issues, but they’ve never been more prevalent. It may be a symptom of growing pains for the MAG family of events, which now includes five regularly occurring shows; it feels as though the staff is spreading themselves a little too thin between all of these. It may be time to trim some of the fat here with the smaller shows and instead focus on making the big shows run as perfectly as possible.
On the guest end of things, this year’s show felt a little mailed-in. It seemed as though the same handful of voice actors and bands were once again back for another round, and besides the Sonic Adventure Music Experience concert, there wasn’t anything that felt like a “headlining” event. I’ve been going to MAG for several years now and I’d have liked to see a wider variety of bands and guests rather than simply repeats from previous conventions.
That all said, this year’s MAGFest was an absolute blast. It’s one of the few conventions out there that I still go out of my way to attend every year. I hope that there were some lessons learned from the missteps that happened leading up to the show this year and that next year’s show will be that much better because of it.