When someone asks which Korean city boasts the highest concentration of geeks, many would immediately answer Seoul, for obvious reasons. It is the heart of eSports in the nation, perhaps even the world. But eSports alone do not a community make. When it comes to waving the geek standard high, you would be hard-pressed to find a city more audaciously geeky than Gwangju in Jeolla province.
Whether it’s the theater geeks of Gwangju Performance Project or the board gaming geeks found playing at local restaurants, the geek community is loud and proud in the city of Gwangju – so much so that the lifestyle has permeated nearly every activity.
Case in point: P2PRPG. This acronym stands for Pay-to-Play Role-Playing Game, a unique fundraising program founded in Gwangju by expat J.J. Billett. The program, he explains, is meant to leverage the tabletop game (read: Dungeons and Dragons) experience to raise money for underprivileged children living in orphanages.
Which brings us to Alleycon, as P2PRPG made its debut at the 2014 event.
Alleycon is South Korea’s first Western-style geek convention, differentiating itself from Korean events by offering up a large variety of geeky hobbies: board game and video game tournaments, a cosplay contest, musical entertainment and panelists. A considerable portion of the proceeds are donated to the Adopt-a-Child for Christmas program and the Michael Simning Ndwara Scholarship Fund.
The event was first conceived in foreigner-owned restaurant The First Alleyway – hence Alleycon – as a day of board games. Quite organically, it expanded to include cosplay, video games, author Q&As and a Magic: The Gathering tournament. Around 60 people attended Alleycon 2013, including Anna Volle, who recalls some of her trepidation about coming in costume.
“As soon as I got to the [First Alleyway], I was relieved and jazzed to see that there were so many other people who had also put a lot of time and effort and creativity into making costumes,” she said.
Hearing positive responses like Anna’s encouraged the organizers to try for a bigger Alleycon in 2014. Much of the same was offered at the new location, Kwangju Women’s University, on a larger scale. The efforts saw 225 people pass through the doors that year, among them some new faces hoping to find a community. Thomas Butler was one of those people.
“A month or two after coming to Gwangju, I heard about Alleycon,” he said. “We showed up a bit late and didn’t stay for as long as we could’ve, but it was really nice to become acquainted with the healthy nerd culture in Gwangju.”
In the words of event alum Thomas Buist, “Go to Alleycon. You need it and it needs you. You need it, because who doesn’t want to go to a convention full of anime, comic books, movies and role playing? It needs you because, well, the more the merrier.”
Alleycon 2015 takes place September 19-20 at the Gwangju Design Center. Find out more by visiting the Alleycon website at www.alleycon.com or following them on Facebook.
Story by Jordan VanHartingsveldt – Photos by Relja Kojic