Los Angeles has the Electronic Entertainments Expo; PAX stretches from Massachusetts to Texas; San Diego is home to Comic-con; London houses the MCM expo every year; and then there’s the small seaside town of Margate in Kent. Although don’t be put off by the apparent David amongst Goliaths, GEEK (which stands for Game Expo East Kent) is the hugely popular exhibition of everything related to ‘play and games;’ a celebration of classic and modern video games, board games, card games, cosplay and stalls packed full of merchandise, memorabilia and crafty novelties. We certainly couldn’t afford to miss out on the greatness that was practically on our doorstep. Nerd is the word…
Nestled in the Winter Gardens on Margate’s seafront held between the 19th and 21st of February, the three-day event that is GEEK 2015 accommodated a plethora of old and new gaming consoles from around the world. Set into different zones, there was a chance for paying members of the public to play different types and genres of games. From action, sports, simulations, shooting, fighting and puzzle games spread over all generations of Nintendo, XBox, PlayStation, PC and Sega systems (to name but a few). It was hard not to be spoilt for choice on what you wanted to have a go on next. Ever wanted to play on a Nintendo Famicom with a mouse? Never got round to playing a Dreamcast? Want to know all the fuss is about with the new Call of Duty? Felt the need to show off your battling prowess in Pokémon against real players? All of these questions could be answered. With the main hall featuring the massive selection of gaming consoles, another full of exhibitor’s stalls with a secondary stage set up for interviews and a final Chill zone complete with niche indie games and mood lighting, there was always something worth your time.
Starting with the exhibition hall, you could get all your game and pop-culture related merchandise from this opening hub allowing you to purchase retro games, character prints, and mugs, wallets t-shirts or even classic sprites made out of Hamma beads. You could also pick up your copy of the Geek Gazette – a useful souvenir guide full of articles, interviews and information on all that was happening over the weekend. Set to the other side were board games and players teaching others the ins and outs of their favourite past times. Another hidden gem was the simple computer arrays made of old egg boxes and some that replaced input devices with forks and knives. The stage headed the front of the space which held informal interviews with YouTubers and indie developers as well workshops with cosplayers and the Saturday afternoon’s cosplay masquerade (other days held talks about video game narratives, a showcase of the Unity gaming engine and storytelling workshops over the weekend). On the upper gantry, more board gamers were set out and there was also an opportunity to meet with the previously mentioned YouTube personalities and ask them questions one-on-one.
The main hall held the meat of the event; a vast room full of the consoles before and during our existence. We jumped straight onto Puyo Pop Fever on a GameCube – a colourful but crazy falling blocks game – and although we had no idea of the controls, we picked it up very quickly and were battling it out to see who could get the highest score. Saturns, Mega Drives, PlayStations, NES’ and SNES’ caught our attention the most as we played through some well-known titles such as Clockwork Knight, TOCA 2, EA Hockey and Yoshi’s Cookie. The sixteen XBox 360’s playing Halo deathmatch tournaments centred the room; Hearthstone had a few machines dedicated to its own mini-contests and newer blockbusters such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, WatchDogs, Far Cry 4 and Need for Speed Rivals on current generation consoles were contained in an 18+ area for obvious reasons. Having never played some of these on a newer system, this gave us the opportunity to try them out. It was also good to see some of the greatest and newest indie titles such as Fez, Thomas Was Alone, Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, I am Bread and Screamride hold their own against the likes of FIFA 15 and Halo’s Masterchief Collection. Although no-one could compete with the greatness of Minecraft. It had its own special area with a queue to get in and its own tournament. Not hard to understand as it’s one of the biggest selling and most popular games. Another selection of stalls then sold modified Gameboy’s, figurines, cartridges and table top games which included our personal favourite, Rory’s Story Cubes (review imminent).
And if you wanted to take things a bit easier and remove yourself from the scale of the event, there was also the Chill Zone filled with ambient lighting and independently developed games that reflect on the cool and calm. Whether you wanted to jump from cloud to cloud as you drift through the storybook world of Castles in the Sky; explore as a rolling cube in a geometric domain in Cube and Star: An Arbitrary Love; sore over Journey’s sand dunes; float through the neon-rainforests of The UnderGarden or simply watch a projection of someone else wander through a world of beautiful glowing particles in A Light in Chorus. This zone also became a small theatre later on in the day as it showed the 2012 documentary, ‘Indie Game: The Movie’; a nice change of pace from the hectic Main Hall.
But of course this was only the tip of the iceberg since we only went for the Saturday. Earlier that morning there was a Guinness World Record attempt to beat the quickest time in completing Bricking It in Time Splitters II. There were different retro gaming tournaments running throughout each event too with a Sonic challenge each day, a Mario Kart 64 challenge on the Friday, Street Fighter II on the Saturday and finally a Super Smash Brothers Melee closer on the Sunday with prizes from each awarded to the best player. With enough differences each day to warrant a subsequent visit it made for a very unique day out. We had missed the early ticket sales online but on they were reasonably priced at £15.50 on the door and you definitely got a lot for your money. Friday and Sunday were slightly cheaper but only by a pound or so but with it being the start of the weekend, it was easy to see that the Saturday was priced the way it was. Either way, no matter what day you could have chosen, you wouldn’t have felt any less out-of-pocket.
Getting around was fair also; the map included in the guide was clear but having a list of what was on offer from the off would have been a great way to go around and essentially tick off our favourites or finding something that sounded good. Luckily a lot of what we played was found with our eyes and that was probably and arguably a better way of discovering. A few machines did cease to work but that’s only understandable when a twenty something year old console is running throughout a day of a busy play through and lots of play styles. On the other hand, seeing older Master Systems and NES’ continue through it all just shows how they can continue under pressure.
And so our time at GEEK 2015 was a pretty epic trip down memory lane, reliving some of the nostalgic games we used to play and also getting a chance to try something different which may have otherwise been overlooked. We have both been avid gamers for a long time and so this event has given us a taste of gaming exhibitions; something neither of us has experienced before but it’s something that we would wholeheartedly recommend to gamers and pop-culturists alike, no matter what the scale. Although compact, GEEK 2015 offered us a new insight into one of the world’s biggest and best mediums. Hopefully we’ll get chance to go to the event in 2016. It certainly beats sitting inside and playing video games all day.
Words by Jimmi and Kat