Games and gaming in all its forms - electronic and unplugged - crosses so many boundaries. Religion, race, politics, abilities, gender and of course sexual orientation. So what happens when gamers from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community want to put together a Gaming Convention? Wee Gamers find out more about GaymerX.GaymerX is a gaming convention focused on making an awesome experience for everyone, while focusing on LGBTQ culture in gaming. This year there is an expected attendance of over 2000 people with panels by industry leaders and AAA companies, gaming rooms, dance & concert, and even a wedding!
We perked up our ears as we believe gaming is for everyone no matter what. And we had to find out more about this convention with its unusual (to us at any rate) focus and why.
1 - Gaymerx is about uniting gay gamers of all walks of life in a safe environment - so says the great internet. But you guys are in San Francisco which to our understanding over here is a pretty liberal place. So first off, why the need to build an event around the GLBT community especially? What issues brought this about? And how has the event been received within the participant community and the wider community in general?
First, i do apologise for the long response, because to answer this I need to describe quite a bit of factors that led to this point. I'll address the city of San Francisco to begin. Well, it makes sense to start a movement where it'll be strongest. We're certainly all for fighting for right, but there's something to be said about avoiding an uphill battle. Furthermore, one of the things that makes San Francisco a perfect home for the first-ever LGBTQ gaming convention is the fact that it IS so safe and symbolic. Being an international event, we knew people would travel from far and wide for it-- and they did! In San Francisco it is easy to be gay and out and as loud as you want about it without people so much as batting an eye-- except perhaps to flirt. Unfortunately this is not the case everywhere and we wanted to hold GaymerX in a place where it did not have to be in a bunker, but where people could go out and enjoy the town and see the sights as well. Now, as safe a place as SF may be for LGBTQ folks, it is quite the contrary in the digital realms where gamers often spend their day. Online game spaces are some of the only places where the word "fag" is still thrown around casually and constantly, outside of circles of twelve year old boys and ironically-homoerotic fraternities. In fact, rampant homophobia and misogyny is so prevalent in gaming, that the gaming culture is lately being described as stunted around the early to mid 90's, like a 20 year time-capsule of bigotry-- as if our obsession with the "retro aesthetic" somehow came along with "retro" intolerance. There's a recent culture-shock that's brought a lot of this to our attention as of the last five or so years especially, despite most of us-- and shame on us-- having grown so complacent about the neanderthal social graces. It's kind of the culture's own undoing, really. As mobile gaming, social gaming, and other forms of "casual" gaming sprouted up, they were fought off by gaming's hardcore audience as being "not real" just as women and anything else outside the rather narrow stereotype of "gaming" or "gamers" is treated. However, all this managed to do was to lead to a rift in the audiences and staffs of these divisions of gaming-- and it's true, they are just as much a part of gaming as Nintendo and shootman games are. However, once these cultures merged there was some shock and ruckus at the lackadaisical attitude that was being taken toward the rampant sexism, homophobia, racism, and all other sorts of bigotry rampant in the industry and gamer culture. And so, Matt Conn searched for an LGBT gaming convention, just like we have lgbt film festivals and art galleries and parades and bars and parties and etc. He looked and looked but couldn't find any. And that was quite a surprise to him, but only because he was not aware of just how homophobic gaming still was. So he made a group called SF Gaymers, and later the kickstarter for GaymerCon. Reception was actually rather great, at first. People in the gay scene and less-gamery kickstarter audiences really jumped on the idea. It just sounded so fun and cute. However, once gaming press started making articles about it, quickly came the haters. Furious about the possibility of a convention not intended solely for straight white men, people were quickly jumping to the comments sections to voice their vitriol. But I don't think that ever hurt, however. Because every time some slimeball went on a homophobic tirade on Kotaku, another pair of eyes went "wow, okay, maybe we DO need a little less bigotry in gaming."
2- so where and when did the idea actually take birth and the concept for the convention get discussed? Who where the founding dreamers? And has the event in it's reality matched the dream?
I believe the idea first solidified somewhere around March of 2012. Matt Conn began it all, being a man who grew up a geeky gay boy, both shunned by the hip and fashionable gays and by the nerds who didn't need more reasons to get wedgied. He'd always felt there should be a space where you can be geeky and gay and talk about how Garus is indeed everyone's dream man-- because he is, lets face it. Matt had moved to San Francisco as a sort of pilgrimage to gay mecca. He ran around, creating a group called SF Gaymers, finding more people like him in the nest of both tech and gay history. Eventually he had a good audience of a few hundred and decided to host an event, if only to send a message that "we're here, we're queer, and we can beat you at Dance Central." I was brought on around the time of the Kickstarter, which blew way out of proportion from what Matt had originally planned. It was clear the event had to be bigger, better than he'd envisioned because the public's eyes were on us. And so we hosted the best event that we could. And, frankly, to this day I can't believe how well everything went. I still feel like I'm going to wake up and find myself two days before the event. We had an international proposal sung by the voice of GLaDOS, Ellen McLain. We had a real life gay pokemon gym. We had We had a drag queen MC a cosplay contest. All of the support we got from the audience and fans led to a very successful event, and we expect a great event this year as well.
3- how important was kickstarter to the second events creation? Has using kickstarter allowed any aspects of the convention to occur which otherwise wouldn't have? And how did your team find KS as a process to funding in general?
For our second year, the Kickstarter was mostly supplemental. It was mainly useful as a means to get word out about the event moreso than for the money. Since the event press had been very reluctant about covering us. I suppose 'event goes very well' isn't exactly the most grabbing headline and the shock value had worn now that we'd established ourselves and proved our promise. On top of that, some gaming press editors are still rather scared of alienating straight gamer audiences, believe it or not! And so Kickstarter helped that a little. We find, generally, if people learn about the con they usually want to go. So without the press it's simply been a matter of running around and doing footwork to raise awareness. We've used Kickstarter for other projects as well (Such as our game Read Only Memories) and we encourage people to use crowdfunding. We had a Kickstarter panel last year and we will again this year.
4- when you set out to build the event, how did industry contacts react and respond? Without naming names did you get any knock backs and if so would you put them down to the convention being new or the nature of the event itself?
We were struck negatively in this department in two ways, really. One, and perhaps the largest, aspect of this was simply that neither Matt nor myself were people who had been in the game industry for very long. It doesn't really matter how good a product you make and how well you prove yourself, or even how much the public loves you. If you don't have the contacts, if you aren't on a first-name-basis with them, getting sponsorship or even simply an audience with a potential sponsor is very rough. On top of that, there were several people who were very excited about the idea, but couldn't further us to the people we needed to speak to in their company because of the fact that we were an LGBT organization. A lot of companies in gaming are really scared of alienating straight audiences. This is, really, partially because of just a lot of misguided upper management that, like the culture, is kind of stuck in the early 90s where these things were far more controversial than they are now. And, if you ask me, a lot of these companies are actually far behind their audiences, and it starting to become very apparent with the successes of companies like BioWare that being out-of-touch with social awareness is really leaving a lot of money on the table. I know there are plenty of producers and marketers in the game industry who are set in old fashioned ways. These people hiss at the market research that straight white boys in their late teens are a now only a small fraction of gamers not unlike a vampire would hiss at sudden sunlight.
5- so what can joe public expect to find when he/she comes through the doors of GaymerX? How is the event broken down in terms of activites? And what are the key events over the convention?
I think a straight joe public might be surprised just how much like any other gaming convention GaymerX is. However, JANE public might be pretty excited about the fact that she doesn't have to worry about being sexually harassed. The event is basically broken down into an expo hall, game rooms, special events and panels. There will be plenty of places to have fun and play games and talk to some awesome game developers and other industry folks. The panels are pretty exciting, because they can cover so many interesting topics on the intersection of gaming and queerness that you might never see elsewhere. And of course, the parties are pretty wild, with drag queens and musicians and dancing and drinks. We're trying to plan some really special stuff this year, too.
6- so who does come to GaymerX what's the mix of people like, the atmosphere and mood? Perhaps a silly question but are 'straight' attendees welcome too? What sort of feedback have you had from your first event?
We're always so shocked when people ask if straight people are welcome! I'm not sure what sort of test is required at the door to card for homosexuality. But in all seriousness, yes, straight people are welcome. Just like a San Francisco gay bar welcomes straight people. Of course, far more straight women showed up than straight men, but we can go back to the gay bar analogy for that. Of the straight men a lot of them were game industry professionals or just guys who were curious, and they learned a lot! The rest of our attendees are gay men, lesbians, trans and nonbinary people, bisexuals, asexuals, and other LGBTQ identities. We sent out a big survey and got a lot of really interesting feedback! Mostly the only negative criticism we got was "too short" and "too crowded" which, to be fair, just means we did well! We have moved to a bigger venue this year to deal with some of those issues, however. The mood at the convention was very friendly and lighthearted. I was told that people kept considering it "the friendliest con." People were streetpassing and playing Animal Crossing constantly, it was really cute. I'm glad Pokemon X/Y wasn't out or the entire event might have been just a bunch of people sitting and staring at their 3DS's. There were no altercations or fights or anyone reported for harassment. The one issue we had was one guest at the saturday party partied himself a little too hard and some volunteers helped him with a taxi home, but nothing ever got hostile or anything like that.
7- what have been the biggest problems you have encountered, outside financial ones, in organising your convention and how did you overcome them?
Really just getting press to cover us. LGBT press loves us, mainstream press even loves us. However, gaming press is still scared. I don't see why, really, because all those angry comments are just more clicks on their site. And I can assure you those people are way more into talking about gay people taking over their videogames than walking away from an argument. The one time we did get a big sweeping array of press was when we announced this might be the last year as an annual event, and a lot of the articles had a much more grim spin than what the situation really was. It was pretty disheartening seeing some of those commenters cheering as they thought we'd been brutalized or something. But at the end of the day it's really more reason to keep fighting. Aside from that finding people who are willing to volunteer the time has been pretty tricky. Our staff is really, really awesome, but relatively limited in size for the very grandiose scale we do things. We work as much as we can as hard as we can within reason to cover for the smaller staff and we've been growing steadily, which helps a lot.
8- what's next for GaymerX what's the big plan or are you folks content to get your convention in every year? Would you hope to transplant GaymerX events elsewhere in the country or world?
Well, our company, Midboss LLC, just released the documentary Gaming In Color (gamingincolor.com ) and we're working on our first game Read Only Memories (readonlymemori.es). There are also other exciting projects in the works that I can't talk about! Likewise, with regards to bringing GaymerX events around the globe, if you know someone with the resources, we can help them do it. We don't really have the overhead to move our entire operation elsewhere and make all new contacts, but we're certainly not against doing so if we can find a good partner for it. We support events like QGCon, Different Games, Geek Girl Con, and IndieCade for being places with a good, safe environment where you can experience gaming from a broader set of points of view and we are very excited to see more events popping up in the future.
9- so setting aside for a moment the community focus of GaymerX how do you feel your event shapes up against - well - standard gaming conventions?
I think it's safe to say GaymerX is a pretty fun convention, maybe not as massive as some other gaming conventions, but probably more interesting. There's a lot less overlapping redundancy, a lot less "here's 50 games with white straight male heros" and a lot more "here's a game I a lady made about slapping her girlfriend" and other fun, funny, weird, interesting stuff. I know personally after entering this world, gaming cons outside of the ones I mentioned before just feel so boring and dry. I'm just kinda trying to get through them. I think it's that generally gaming cons are all the same. You're never surprised, you see exactly the same stuff you always see and you know to expect it. At GaymerX you can't ever expect what you'll see. It adds enough of a wild card that it makes everything, despite being similar, just different enough. I really really hope this is a good example to set for other conventions. Frankly I would love it if there were tons of cons I could go to that I could genuinely look forward to like I do some of these alternative gaming conferences.
10- what attendance numbers are you expecting this year and what would you most like to hear folk saying post the event or as they head out the door at the end?
This year we're expecting somewhere between 2000 to 3000, and probably capping it at 3500. This isn't counting day-of sales which will likely be a lot. Last year we sold more than half of our tickets in the last month, so we're not really sure if we'll reach the cap but it's certainly possible. I think my ideal for people walking out would be for them to have a hard time even describing how they feel. I want people to have experienced so many new things that they have to go home and sit down on tumblr trying to figure out all of their feelings. I want a very cynical person who normally hates gaming events to say it's "pretty cool I guess". I want a straight gamer or a casual gamer to go "I had no idea any of these things were happening in the game industry." Most of all I just want people to walk away like they did last year, having experienced something truly different, having learned a lot, having met new people. Although, some greedy part of me hopes they all walk out making a bunch of LGBT game studios (which I actually told people to do in the closing ceremonies of the first year.)
11- what's been the most positive or unexpected bonus achievement or breakthrough you've had with the whole project, and how did it come about?
I'm personally super excited to be working with IndieCade and Cards Against Humanities on a room of around 16 developers showing off all sorts of incredibly interesting, inventive, clever and most importantly weird games. I'm a huge fan of the IndieCade festival since attending and to have such a great event working with mine is just excellent. We definitely have CAH to thank for that, as they played a major role in the process.
12- what does the GaymerX team do then when not planning this massive event? What sort of work and recreation does the real world hold for you all?
Well, I can assure you, typing this at 4AM, that I do not do anything other than plan this event. However, our staff is very diverse. While I'm a bit of a gaming dunce, Matt loves playing adventure games. John James, our art director, is Sega-Obsessed. Our Security Director Jen Legay has lately been supporting Operation Supply Drop (operationsupplydrop.org), Volunteer Director Soraya Een Hajji is Platinum rank in League of Legends and is probably winning a match right now. We're mostly all remote and spread around the country, and some even in canada and the UK, so we aren't usually physically together. But we do have our skype meetings and long, endless email chains together where we derail from the topic into making weird jokes. Normally in gaming circles our thirteenth question is just a bit of fun normally related to the game in question or whatever. This doesn't seem suitable for yourselves as a convention is a very broad event - so the best, if appropriate question we can come up with is this
13- what known opponent to the GLB community would you like to be able to bring to GaymerX in a effort to show them the community at it's best and hopefully have them leave as a friend...
WELL the Westboro Baptist Church said they'd come last year but they didn't! I can't really say conservative politicians, since in America they are usually going to gay "events" in private anyway. I don't know, it's a tricky question because I think that I care a lot more about our audience feeling safe than I do befriending homophobes. At the end of the day, people like that either evolve and try to catch up with the rest of society or they just become obselete. It's just how it is. But if someone's said messed up stuff and gotten in trouble for it, but refused to listen and understand why they were wrong, and now they're ready to learn... then come on down. We're ready to teach, just try to keep up and have google ready. Also, bring your best Pokemon and your best Dance Central moves. ;)