A news story caught my eye today. It was a light, local color piece, that just as easily could have been a serious tragedy.
Anime Nebraskon was this past weekend in Omaha. This is a large sci-fi convention, with an emphasis on Anime fandom. As with most sci-fi conventions, costuming is a big part of the event. One of the costumed attendees (who will remain nameless here, he's been embarrassed enough) ran short of cash during the convention, so he headed for a nearby bank. However, he was in costume as a character from the Resident Evil video games, complete with prop gun, worn in a visible holster. You can guess what happened next.
Witnesses who saw him walking into the bank called 911, and the police showed up full bore, no doubt fearing armed robbery at best, mass shooting at worst. Luckily all turned out well. The costumed attendee complied with police instructions, the misunderstanding was sorted out and everyone had a good laugh. But this could so easily have gone the other way.
A lot of commenters on the news media Facebook pages for this story are calling this guy an idiot, or worse, but that's hardly fair. Yes, it was an error in judgment (which he admits) but an understandable one. Now, I've attended conventions in costume, and I have stopped in public places, in costume, on my way to or from the convention. Sometimes it's necessary: you need food, gas or cash. And when you're immersed in geek culture for a weekend, it's easy to forget what you look like to outsiders. You spend the weekend in costume, surrounded by other people in costume, and everything you do revolves around your particular fan obsessions. Everyone you meet is "in the know."
Some fan commenters on the Facebook pages are calling the people who called 911 idiots for not realizing this was just a guy in costume, but that's not fair either. No matter how big a convention is, you can't expect average people nearby to know about it, or to recognize a particular costume when they see it on the street. After what happened in Colorado, like it or not, any costume including prop weapons is going to look suspicious - and it should! Better to err on the side of safety.
So a word of advice to convention-goers: When you need to leave this protected environment, try to remember that, no matter how big a deal the convention is in your life, people on the outside may not know it's even going on. They will have no idea why you're dressed as you are, or what your character is supposed to be. Use some common sense, and leave obvious weapons at the hotel, or in your car. After all, it's fun to explain your elaborate costume to curious outsiders, but you really don't want to try to explain it to the police.