It's not your average gaming convention, and that's quite all right with them.
Nearing close to 2,000 attendees, the inaugural GaymerX convention will open on August 3-4, 2013 in Japantown, San Francisco. Billing itself as the first gaming convention with a focus on LGBTQ Geek Culture, the convention has drawn the attention of several big names both in the world of gaming and in queer culture, including EA, BioWare, Riot Games, The Advocate, and LOGO TV. If nothing else, the convention has commanded the attention of gamers worldwide.
“I'm beyond excited for GaymerX. It's my first major con, and I'm making a mini-vacation of it with my good friends and partner,” said Kristi Avila, of Arcata, California. “I have high hopes for it.”
“I've been stoked for nearly a year,” added Adam Lucas, flying in all the way from Cork, Ireland. “If anything, it almost seems unreal for it to be so close now, what with it being some far-off calendar entry for so long.”
The concept for the convention, according to Toni Rocca, community director for sister site GaymerConnect, came when the convention founder Matt Conn found himself trapped in the dual door closet many LGBTQ gamers find themselves trapped in. According to Rocca, Conn was caught between “the tech circles, which were predominantly straight, and the gay culture which seemed to ostracize nerds. He wished for a place he could both be openly gay and geeky. When he failed to find one, he started the SFGaymers group.
“When Matt found that there were so many people like him with such interests in the gay community, it got him thinking about making a bigger event. He felt that if there were more people out there like him dreaming for a community like this, he wanted to make that come true. And that's where GaymerX came in.”
Lucas, a gay 26-year-old lover of RPGs, has seen the dual door closet in action:
I remember when a lot of what we now rightly consider really offensive and hurtful stuff was being dismissed as just harmless smack talk, which was thought of as part of the gaming culture.
It's quite a poisonous attitude to have, because if that's how it's handled by the administrators and community managers and such, you start to feel as though you're in the wrong for being offended.
The festivities will unofficially begin the night before the convention, as anyone who has bought a “Boss Level” (VIP) badge will be welcomed to a pre-convention party, featuring musical talents and hosted by RuPaul's Drag Race fan-favorite Pandora Boxx. Targeted to the LGBTQ “gayming” community, offered panels [Ryan and I will be on a couple of panels for Gaymers and Video Game Journalism. ~Ed. Nick] strike a balance between gaming issues and queer society issues, including Pokémon trainer meet and greets, gayming glory stories, what it takes to build queer geek communities, how to navigate problematic fandoms, and how to translate iconic character qualities into a notable LGBTQ protagonist.
Rocca reinforces the idea of event diversity:
The highlights really depend on who is coming and what their interests are. For industry people we've got industry-oriented seminars and meet-n-greets, [and] for the fun weekenders we've got cute, cosplay-friendly pageants and a fun concert. For the more do-it-yourself crowd we've got games workshops and talks with indie game devs on how you can get into the world of games. And for the diehard fans we've got names like Ellen McLain, Anna Anthropy, David Skleres, and more.
Josh Stephenson, the 28-year-old host of the Geek Charisma podcast, has a variety of interests going into GaymerX:
There are some panels I am looking forward to a lot, like the Pokémon meet and greet, the one called 'Double Whammy' which focuses on lesbian and bisexual women in gaming, and 'Voice Acting 101' being hosted by McLain and her husband, John Patrick Lowrie, both who have voiced notable characters for Valve Games, including titles like Portal and Team Fortress 2. Stephenson is also looking forward to meeting fellow gamers of all types.
The fact that he's straight and they're not doesn't phase him. “I've known people who were gay or transgender, and you would never think it looking at them unless they told you,” says Stephenson. He sees gaymers as “normal, awesome people. Just because they live a different lifestyle than mine, it's never changed my opinion that we are all equal. A gamer is a gamer, and they have the same rights as me.”
Avila, 21, agrees. “As a straight female gamer, I do find myself bearing many slurs and gender-targeted taunts. I do feel that the gaming community treats the LGBTQ* and female members of its community with more or less equal disdain. One can be taunted for being gay as an insult to player ability, but also for being female—and God help you if you reveal that you actually have ovaries.”
Avila takes pride in the fact that GaymerX will be her first major gaming convention:
Consider the two other big gaming conventions/trade shows I've always dreamed of attending: PAX and E3. PAX is great, but the recent brouhaha with Gabe's cisprivilege was discouraging, as have been many of Penny Arcade's other responses to similar scenarios—not a great paragon of the forward-thinking gaming community.
E3 has notorious trouble with sexism. GaymerX is different because I believe that it will be a massive step in the right direction. I'm personally taking shelter in that safe space. It's comforting that there's a major con that makes the big wigs in the gaming community take notice, and that it's a con devoted to equality.
For Lucas, the decision to fly across an entire ocean was near-instant. “I knew as soon as I'd read the Kickstarter that I wanted to go, and decided to worry about the little details—like the four-figure plane ticket bill—later. It felt to me like it was something special, something that I really wanted to be a part of, moreso with it being the first of its kind.”
In part, says Lucas, the decision was fueled by the chance to meet other gaymers in person. “I think it's because there's something of a commonality between gay people that leads to a feeling of comfort,” he reasons. “That's not to say we all get on great all the time, of course, and we all have our differences, but I find it easier to break the ice and easier to relax around people when I know I can be myself without worrying about having to defend my way of life.”
Las Vegas-area life coach Show'Chi Drake believes that this comfort could—and should—spread through gaming culture as a whole. Speaking of the August convention, Drake says that it “brings awareness first and foremost. GaymerX says, 'Yes, we live an alternative lifestyle—but we're gamers too.' It says that yes, we exist. Yes, it's okay to be a member of the LGBTQ* community and be a gamer… overall, though, we are all gamers and you're welcome to join us as such, as gamers. No matter your orientation, games are something we all have in common and it's okay to cool with us.”
And while finding similarities is good, Rocca, who identifies as genderqueer, believes that noticing differences and appreciating them are also good. “I think the big takeaway,” says Rocca, “is going to be mainly that while most game conventions follow the same formula of what sorts of things to feature and headline, there is a whole world within the game industry that isn't being given attention. We want to make sure people have a new experience and learn that a different game convention is a good thing.”
While the convention itself might be different, the thoughts of the attendees resonate with other gamers.
Lucas is co-hosting the Pokémon meet and greet, and has gone as far as to create the legendary Golden Bay City Gym, appearing once a year, according to their Facebook page. He confesses, “I'm trembling with equal parts excitement and terror.”
Stephenson says that his goal, “entertainment-wise, is whatever is happening that I can make it to.”
Avila is ready to meet “all of the lovely people from GaymerConnect, seeing Pandora Boxx, and attending panels from important figures in the gaming community, including Riot.”
“Not in that order,” she quickly adds, then clarifies, “I'm excited for everything.”
Drake sees GaymerX, and other gayming conventions, as positive progress: “I would hope that it opens the average gamer's mind a bit. There will always be folks who shy away from an event like this for their own closed-minded reasons, but for those who check it out, it can be an enlightening experience. They may even make a few friends in the process.”
The life coach also makes a pointed note at the positive effects on the psyche of LGBTQ gaymers. “I think it would encourage them to 'come out,' so to speak,” Drake continues. “To be proud of not only their sexual community, but to the gaming community. It lets them now that there are many others who they can identify with on the gaming level, and kick a little butt in the process. After all, true gamers strive for more competition. An event like this can only increase the competition.”
Lucas sees the event as bigger that just a weekend of fun. Regarding LGBTQ representation in games, he thinks that “GaymerX will actually play a big part in that through its very existence—the idea that being gay and being a gamer aren't just acceptable traits, they're things to be celebrated. If we can get that idea out there I think the future will be pretty bright, though I'd perhaps say it's a little further off than we might have liked – but worth every bit of work that'll have got us there when we arrive.”
Avila concludes with a final word: “Change happens on a case-by-case basis, and being a bystander never affected meaningful change.”
[Look for GameRevolution's coverage with Ryan Bates, Jessica Vazquez, Kevin Schaller, and me when we attend the inaugural GaymerX.]