Don’t tell Don Hobbs that Sherlock Holmes is fictional. Or if you do, be ready for a fight.

“Of course he’s a real figure,” Hobbs insists, always speaking of the detective in present tense. “There’s never been an obituary in the newspaper for him, has there?”

This conviction — that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed character is alive — is part of what Holmes aficionados like Hobbs refer to as “The Great Game.” It’s a game that drew more than 130 Sherlock devotees, known as “Sherlockians,” from as far away as Japan to attend “The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes,” a conference that kicked off Friday and runs through Sunday at the University of Minnesota.

Held every three years, the conference offers collectors the chance to mingle with a diverse sampling of fellow fans — from the Tennessee politician who worked for Al Gore to the local Lutheran pastor.

“The ‘game’ is always afoot here,” said Hobbs, a software engineer who traveled from Flower Mound, Texas, to attend. “You come for the camaraderie and the people. It’s like the world’s greatest fraternity.”

But this “fraternity” isn’t strictly a boy’s club. Regina Stinson, a teacher from Laurel, Mich., has loved Sherlock since she was a teenager in the 1960s. Stinson makes Sherlock-inspired jewelry and came to the conference to display her wares.

“At one time, it used to be pretty much men, but now there’s definitely a mix,” Stinson said. “And there are some strong female characters in the books.”

As some Sherlockians perused vendor tables Friday afternoon, others examined the rare materials on display from the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the U. With more than 60,000 Holmes items, the archive is the largest of its kind in the world, said Tim Johnson, who curates the collection.

The collection — a robust cache of books, memorabilia and manuscripts — attracts hundreds of visitors each year and attests to the evergreen popularity of Doyle’s super sleuth, Johnson said.

“Sherlockians are such a varied group,” Johnson said. “They’re both young and old, and almost all of them have read and love the stories.”