When I first arrived in Denver Colorado for the Dark Carnival Games Convention, wearing a circus-themed dress and an Insane Clown Posse hoodie, I felt totally alone. This was the first ICP event I was going to without my usual guide, my partner Ape, who has been a fan of ICP (a Juggalo) since he was a teenager. As a Juggalo new to the community, I was excited but pretty nervous. Having traveled across the United States to attend the Gathering of the Juggalos, the March on DC and Juggalo Weekend, I had some experience under my belt, but as a queer femme, being in a group of men known for “wilding out” was a little intimidating. I needn’t have worried. Arriving at the convention hotel, I heard the familiar sounds of joyful “whoop whoop”ing and laughter, then I saw them—hundreds of Juggalos, all here for a weekend of concerts, partying, and… gaming?
I’ve been to a lot of gaming conventions, my favorites being Big Bad Con (focused mostly on tabletop and LARPing) and GaymerX (focused mostly on video and computer games). Contrary to expectation, I often found myself in very mixed company as it pertained to gender, orientation, and age… far from the stereotype of the antisocial gaming nerd. I never realized that Juggalos would flock to a gaming convention to play Dungeons and Dragons, and yet here they were, ready to play anything from Monopoly to old school wrestling video games to Magic the Gathering. Turns out that Juggalos have a couple games made by and for them as well—Into the Echoside (a deck-building game) and Juggalos Against Sanity were the ones I saw most often. There was a casino area, a game show area (Juggalo Family Feud was particularly hilarious), and a video game area, as well as a games library that had many of my own favorites— Pandemic, Settlers of Catan, Dominion and more. “Most Juggalos come from poverty or working class families,” said Justin, one of the people I met over the weekend, who was running a “Eat Monopoly and Shit Out Connect Four” tournament (aa reference to the ICP song “What Is a Juggalo”). “My generation grew up with a game system in the household to keep us entertained.”
“Also, most of us listened to music that can make you believe in fantasy realms and creative stories. Games do the same thing. Our community is full of gamers of every kind. You might even play with a Juggalo on Xbox Live and you wouldn't know it.”
This is definitely true. I’ve been getting invested in Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and I’ve definitely seen names that sound like they came from the Dark Carnival flash across my screen. Being surrounded by people who share two of my obsessions right now, Juggalos and gaming, was the major draw of the event, and the more people I met the more it began to make sense. With so much to choose from, it was hard to settle down to actually play something. I had agreed to set up a custom playset of one of my favorite storytelling games, Fiasco, which I expected Juggalos might enjoy but might not have have experienced before.
My boyfriend and I collaborated on one we called “Fuck Your Sleep,” based off of my first Gathering of the Juggalos and his multiple years of experience. I was nervous to guide my first Fiasco with strangers, especially as my slot was scheduled for an hour after I arrived in Denver. I rushed to the convention center, checked in, and got to the room for the game with minutes to spare. Ten minutes went by without anyone poking their heads in, so I prepared to give up on the game. It was while I was putting away my players’ handbooks that four Juggalos walked in, a group of friends who were curious about my game.
“So,” one of them said, “is this like, Juggalo Dungeons and Dragons or whatever?” I laughed. “It’s a storytelling game,” I explained, “where we’re all going to sit around the table and tell a story together. Unlike other games, where we try to say “yes and,” Fiasco is more like, “yeah, but”—you add on to what other people say and add a twist about how it doesn’t go as expected.”
I read them the intro by way of explanation: “It’s hot, and the night is young. You’ve rolled up to Gathering of the Juggalos feeling fresh as fuck—you’ve got a lot of partying to do with your fam! With some cash for some sweet merch and some drugs to keep you going, you’re ready to see some acts, spray some Faygo, and just have a good time. But there’s a lot of juggadrama just under the surface—and are you sure that guy wants to be in that bag…?” One of the Juggalos chuckled as he settled into the chair on the opposite side of the conference table. His friends sat down and began to look through the character creation sheets. “Ok, cool… but how do you win?” “You don’t really win,” I grinned, “as much as you try to lose less badly than anyone else.” With that, they were hooked.
We spent an hour and a half together, weaving a tale of betrayal, hijinks, and some pretty messed up port-a-potties while laughing and getting to know each other.
“You don’t really win,” I grinned, “as much as you try to lose less badly than anyone else.”
To give you some idea: “Dillon”, “Quartz”, “Snowcone”, “Shakita” and “Lion” began at the Gathering of the Juggalos parking lot party, waiting for the gate to open. Snowcone was estranged from his daughter Shakita, who had apparently trapped her father in a stinky port-a-potty for reasons we never fully explored. Thankfully, his wrestling buddy Dillon and his road trip homie Lion were there to help Snowcone escape his chemical dungeon!
Meanwhile, Shakita was Dillon’s drug connect (and, it later turned out when she abandoned us in a Waffle House dumpster, a thief, as she ran off with the drugs she sold us!). Shakita got her comeuppance when she was put in a trash bag with an unhealthy amount of dirty bong water courtesy of Lion. And there was a low budget porn we found in the Waffle House dumpster that made everything just a little more complicated…
When we left the table, I had four new friends that I would connect with the rest of the weekend, and they gushed about the game I had run. I was delighted, not only to have played a game I loved with some new folks, but to have written my first playset for any game ever and watch it come alive so successfully. I had gone from being a consumer of games to a creator of games, and I loved it.
While the gaming was my particular draw, I was also really excited for the concerts, especially when I discovered MC Lars would be performing. I was familiar with his music from my more nerdcore days, but I had no idea he was a Juggalo until he began a regular Youtube show called “Hatchet Chat” that reviewed ICP albums in a particularly geeky way. “The festival was an awesome Venn diagram of my two worlds… gaming culture and rap,” MC Lars told me via email. “I’ve seen ICP many times over the years and being able to open for them on the main stage was one of the coolest opportunities I could have dreamed of. The best moment for me was during our set, I talked about how ICP inspired me to be a rapper when I first saw them when I was 16, and then I freestyled about people’s various shirts and ICP-related suggestions on the “Chicken Huntin’” beat. When we finished the crowd chanted “Family! Family!”, which was really awesome and unexpected.”
"I came to the Dark Carnival Games Convention with a bag of dice and a lot of anxiety, and I left with a sense of community"
Pressed up against the folks I had been playing with all weekend as ICP played, I could see the joy in people’s faces. Here, in this sweaty venue kindly donated by SCUM, a local band that had performed at ICP events, we weren’t being insulted as nerds, or harassed as supposed “gang members,” or laughed at for being Juggalos. I never felt uncomfortable as a queer person, or as a woman, or as a fat person.
I came to the Dark Carnival Games Convention with a bag of dice and a lot of anxiety, and I left with a sense of community I’ve struggled to find anywhere else. Here, we were all family, and everyone was accepted. Have thoughts? Swing by Waypoint’s forums to share them!