There are so many things I feel I could talk about first, such as the fandom as a whole, the authors, art or period design influences but I feel I must engage my conscience and talk about what I enjoy the most—steampunk immersion.
I will not make a secret of the fact that I run TeslaCon, which is a fully immersible convention where everything, and I do mean everything, is brought into the fold of a convention. TeslaCon is run on the principle of immersion for one reason—nobody else had it. To be fair, I had never really heard of anything like it before, unless you consider historical re-enactors. I wanted a destination, not a hotel. I wanted people to have a journey, not a three day weekend. I wanted there to be surprises, not constant planning of their time throughout the day.
Immersion for steampunk fans is, I feel, different depending on how far you like to take it. I listened to many fans before putting the convention together and finally discovered a common thread—everybody loves details. The more details the better. For some, immersion is simply pretending to be someone else, simply a character or a persona. For others, it is the chance to be that person as much as possible for the three days you’re at the convention.
What makes this fun is the amount of immersion the fans like to create for themselves. I am often taken aback by how ingenious and clever steampunk fandom is when creating their personas. The background stories behind them are hugely entertaining and I always feel more at home when I hear about someone’s balloon or their gadgets’ purpose; and this usually happens over dinner and in full character.
After spending years in Star Wars fandom, where everything is dictated by a character from the films or books, I found this to be refreshing and new. Imagine creating your own character, sans a huge studio and PR department, where you have a story in which you are the lead. It made me think of so many possibilities and led me to believe that there is always more we can do as a group.
I do, however, take it to another level. Luggage tags and stickers, bathroom signs and rewritten menus in the restaurant are a few examples. I even refit the photos on the walls and, of course, tag the guest rooms appropriately to fit the theme of the convention. Most people would never go this far but the more I immersed myself into the world of Steam the easier it became. Doing research is my favorite pastime so finding posters and treasures from around the world for a particular purpose has given me a creative spark I’ve not had in many years. It also creates a link for me between my character and the surroundings at the convention.
No matter the amount of immersion, if staff and personnel aren’t also part of it, the immersion as a whole is just a setting and nothing more. For immersion to work at its best those leading the convention must truly lead. They need to be part of the fantasy or the illusion does not work. While others hold meetings about badge checkers, we hold meetings on how to shake hands and use proper etiquette. It may seem contrived, or even over the top, but the genuine feeling the staff and others have while doing it is magic. And that feeling is felt by the people attending. It is the warm sentiment that goes far—the smile, the nod or the simple dip of the head. It is what people remember and embrace.
When we started I never imagined the length many would go to in order to become part of the atmosphere we are trying to encompass. The complete surrender of modern ideals and manners for a bygone era have embraced all of us—from the way you address others to hand shakes or the courteous nod from a passerby—it becomes all-consuming and, for many, the foundation of the weekend.
Many people have commented also on the fact that they notice how different they interact with friends and strangers. The whole weekend becomes more relaxed and enjoyable. One friend commented that, before our modern era, they “didn’t have the worries we do—they enjoyed the company of friends more and truly engaged each other.”
If that is what immersion truly is to us then I hope to continue for years to come.
Steampunk is more than costumes and music or gadgets created from toys. It is, by its own nature, the creative spark that drives us and gives people imagination. It lends itself to life in many ways but is always accepting.
The more I become involved with the fandom the more I cherish my new friendships and encounters with people from all walks of life. It is a balance of being myself or Lord Bobbins that creates the synergy in my world. The act of immersing oneself into a character or time and making a thought or action believable in a world that no longer exists is what I strive for.
Immersion is not for everyone but imagination is. So use it, explore with it and create with it. We have many adventures ahead of us.
Lord Hastings Robert Bobbins is the alter ego of steampunk convention creator Eric Jon Larson. Eric created TeslaCon as the first ever immerse experience for Steampunk fans. Larson is a graphic designer, teacher, and lecturer who has worked on such films as Star Wars and Toy Story along with companies such as Warner Bros. and Disney Pictures. He won a gold Clio in 1995 for copywriting.