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Berserkon: Kindred spirits share a love of gaming at Duluth convention

The games that brought a few hundred people to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center this weekend involve intricate rules, fantastical plot lines and many-sided dice.

Jawa
Dressed as a Jawa from the movie "Star Wars," Lynn Wloszek of Minneapolis, a member of 501st Legion: Vader's Fist, walks through the exhibit hall at Berserkon, a gaming convention at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth this weekend. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The games that brought a few hundred people to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center this weekend involve intricate rules, fantastical plot lines and many-sided dice.

But participants in Duluth's first Berserkon Gaming Convention said it's not really about the games, it's about the people.

"It's a good excuse to get together with friends," said Robert Fensterman, 31, of Duluth about the enjoyment of role-playing games. Fensterman was a

volunteer host at the DECC's City Side Convention Center, where the three-day event was based.

"It's the people," agreed Kris Kapsner, 36, of Duluth who was setting up a table for a Warhammer Fantasy with Michele Clark, 27, also of Duluth. "It's like this worldwide community. You just don't get that same experience from any video game."

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About 300 people had registered for the convention by midday Saturday, said Amanda Mickelson, whose husband, Kevin, organized the gathering.

It may have been one of the quietest conventions the DECC has seen. Most of the action was carried out around tables with four or five people speaking

softly as they rolled dice and traded cards in games with names such as "Egg of the Phoenix" and "Way of the Kirin."

In a side room, six people sat at tables facing a video screen, saving a starship from disaster. Michael Mesich of St. Paul greeted newcomers in the kind of voice sportscasters use at a golf tournament.

Mesich created the portable event so that groups of people could compete together in a game called Artemis. It's one of only a couple of attractions at Berserkon that involves electronics. But that's not the attraction, Mesich said.

"It's not about the computers," he said. "It's about people being able to communicate."

Doug Michel doesn't want it to be about computers. Michel, 52, who lives in the Coos Bay area of Oregon, was playing "Giant Catan" on a people-sized board with his wife, Heather, and children Miriam, 12, and Derek, 5. All were dressed for role-playing parts, Doug Michel in the all-yellow costume of Perf, a wizard in "Journey Quest."

The Michels drove to Duluth for the event in part because they were extras in the movie "The Gamers: Hands of Fate," a rough cut of which was getting a test screening at the convention. They'll extend their vacation with some camping in the Upper Midwest. It's all about family, Doug Michel said.

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"They're all a way to have family time together when nobody's on the computer or in front of the TV or on their electronics," he said of the role-playing games.

The Michels were among a smattering of convention attendees who dressed according to their roles. Another was Steinarr (pronounced: SteinarRRR"), who was touting his business, the Nordic Inn Medieval Brew and Bed in Crosby, Minn. Steinarr has gone by the single name since he founded the lodge 17 years ago after fleeing a corporate job with a California biotechnology firm.

Steinarr said his attire was authentic from his horned headpiece to his boots to his sax, a Viking blade he keeps in a sheath. "I practice safe sax," Steinarr joked.

A fixture at Minnesota Vikings' home games, Steinarr had never appeared at a gaming convention before. But he thought gamers were a receptive audience for his role-playing lodge. "It's perfect for these guys," he said. "If they play 'Dungeons and Dragons,' I'm going to take them to the next level."Although convention participants didn't entirely dispel their geeky stereotype, they weren't all guys in their 20s and 30s. Although Michele Clark was, at least for the moment, the only woman in the Warhammer Fantasy room, she said gender wasn't all that significant.

"I don't know if it's a man or woman thing," Clark said. "Because my husband doesn't play. He's not really too interested in it."

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