A metallic voice echoes across the warehouse: "The dealer's room is now open." That means it's show time. For the past two hours, Carlson Stevens has been stocking, arranging and preparing himself for the crowd at the Otakon dealer's room. He stands at the ready, with his friends Erik and Dak as his wingmen, proudly standing under the sign for Mad Gear, Carlson's company that sells rare and imported games and systems at conventions. For him, this is living.
Mad Gear's display booth is a treasure trove of all the games of legend. Copies of Chrono Trigger, Radiant Silvergun, and Ikaruga are prominently on display, the glass case smudged from fingers and faces pressed up against the glass. To one side lies a demo of Daigasso! Band Brothers, where anyone with a DS can join in on the musical fun. Up on a shelf sits Samba de Amigo, still in the box, not too far from a Neo Geo console that's still in the shrink-wrap. Across from that are several Japanese box sets and special editions. Everything is laid out carefully. "Visually, I try to have rare stuff and the paragons of the genre prominently on display," says Carlson. For those walking by, the booth acts like a flame at a moth convention. It's a guaranteed talking point.
"Some people are just curious and like to sit back and peruse, but some just want to be paid attention to." Carlson and his wingmen greet everyone they can who stops by the booth, to get an idea of what they're interested in. "It's fun when you've got a customer who knows a lot, and so you get to talk about obscure suggestions. It's also nice to lead in people who haven't taken the plunge into import games yet. No matter who comes by, it's going to be interesting." One guy's eyeing a copy of Doki Doki Majo Shinpan. Another is debating whether to get food tonight or instead buy a Wonderswan Color and Final Fantasy I. Maybe his friends will let him steal their fries.
Even though this is Carlson's first time at Otakon, he's been going through the convention circuit for several years now. Occasionally, some familiar faces pop up. "Whenever I see someone who has bought something from us in the past, I'll go and greet them and see how they're doing. I'll try to remember what they bought in the past and then suggest something based off of that," he says.
Carlson and his crew are only three people - less if the convention isn't as huge as Otakon, which drew in 22,852 anime fans this past year. So, it's up to the center display to keep the customers around and interested while the Mad Gear team is handling purchases, chatting about prices and eyeing shoplifters. The display is a slew of games for the PS1, Dreamcast and all the other disc-based systems of yesteryear, thrown together in a semblance of order. "Flipping through all the discs opens up the chance of discovery," he says. "It's like going through vinyl albums at a record shop. You might find something that you never knew you wanted."