Connections and Camaraderie at GaymerX

Kevin VanOrd spent the weekend in San Francisco's Japantown exploring the joys of GaymerX, a gaming convention focused on LGBT culture.

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This weekend, I witnessed something special. After serenading the audience with a stirring rendition of the famous Portal theme Still Alive, actress and singer Ellen McLain (the voice of GlaDOS) announced that new lyrics had been unearthed--but that she needed someone from the audience to help her perform them. She asked if anyone was from Belgium, and a young man raised his hand. McLain called the man up to the stage and sang the tune, accompanied by her husband and fellow voice actor John Patrick Lowrie on the banjo, but there was electricity in the air. Not only did the lyrics feature such lines as "We'll be married and you're still alive," but McLain was clearly getting choked up. Something magical was happening.

A moment later, another man appeared, grasping a portal gun. He dropped to his knees and asked the beaming Belgian to make him the happiest man on Earth. A heartfelt and tearful "I will" rung out through the room, and the audience erupted in applause and sobs. Two lives were changed in front of my very eyes. Two men committed to a lifetime of happiness.

This incredible moment happened at a convention called GaymerX, which I attended this weekend in my own city of San Francisco. GaymerX is billed as "the first gaming convention with a focus on queer geek culture," and true to a first-year con, it was smaller in scale than a major event like E3 or Comic-Con. But it was hardly tiny. Thousands of LGBT game players and allies browsed the halls of Hotel Kabuki and lined up to hear people like McLain and BioWare writer David Gaider speak. I, too, was one of those speakers. On Sunday, along with IGN's Chuck Osborn and panel organizer Rob Galbreath, I shared my experience as a gay games writer with a packed house, shocked that people had to be turned away from the room because it couldn't hold any more.

I'm often asked why the LGBT community "needs" a convention just for them. GaymerX isn't just for LGBT people, but for everyone, and many attendees are straight. But it does focus on LGBT gaming culture, allowing us to view games through a particular lens. This weekend, I didn't feel like an outsider. The atmosphere was warm and pleasant. The world around me is one in which not everyone thinks of me as "normal;" at GaymerX, it was safe to be wholly me: a gay person who is really into video games. It was a place you could ask your boyfriend to marry you without fear of negative repercussions.

Why else do we need a convention created with the LGBT community in mind? I suspect that glancing at the comments section below will help answer that question. For people like me, the real world can be trying. The Internet, where anonymity allows human beings to unload the most disgusting corners of their minds without facing the consequences of hurting others, is downright toxic. A friendly, healthy place where LGBT people can share their stories and experiences is valuable, if not absolutely vital.

On Saturday, I attended three different panels after perusing the public spaces, where games like RuPaul's Drag Race: Dragopolis were on display, and various visual artists plied their wares. The most memorable was "Voice Acting 101," where McLain and Lowrie discussed the ins and outs of getting into the voiceover business. Their most important piece of advice: get a demo reel. You'll need to make a personal investment, maybe around $500-$750, but doors can be opened, even if you feel your voice isn't the marketable type. Lowrie warned the crowd against thinking that they sounded "too gay" to get into voice acting, though given his deep made-for-radio baritone, it sounded like an easy thing for him to say. But there's no shame in a certain amount of typecasting, he said.

The information and anecdotes that McLain and Lowrie shared were illuminating, but the couple's connection to us in the audience wasn't built around the how-to's of voiceover, but on the sisterhood and brotherhood we join as game players and human beings. When McLain launched into her rendition of Still Alive, the majority of the audience sang the lyrics with her. Later, we sat rapt as the pair told us the romantic story of their courtship. The two of them were both in Europe participating in a tour of the musical Show Boat, where a simple guitar lesson ultimately turned into what Lowrie referred to as a 27-year honeymoon. How amazing that the two of them were instrumental in the evolution of another romance.

Another panel I attended was equally entertaining but in a far different way. It featured noted drag artist Pandora Boxx, most famous for her role on Logo TV's RuPaul's Drag Race. Pandora has several connections to video games, the most prominent being her win of Spicy Horse Games' Alice costume contest. Pandora's appearance as American McGee's Alice is properly demented, though she appeared at the panel in Harley Quinn drag. Much of Pandora's panel was too bawdy to quote here; with a name like Pandora Boxx, the double entendres are bound to pour forth. But even the most cringe-worthy sexual quips came across as charming rather than obnoxious, thanks to Pandora's clipped nasal giggle.

Pandora is clearly not much of a gamer, as evidenced by her deflection when asked, for example, what her favorite character in Dragon Age: Origins is. She did seem to know her Zelda and Mario, however, and had some snide words to share regarding Skyward Sword, which had the audience chuckling in agreement. But Pandora's most interesting story related to her participation in the mobile game RuPaul's Drag Race: Dragopolis. Rather than appear in a studio or record at home using a high-end digital microphone, Pandora recorded her flamboyant lines on an iPhone. In her closet. Please insert gay-themed "closet" humor here.

My final panel of the day was called "Meet Bioware!" There, Dragon Age writer David Gaider and Bioware community manager Jessica Merizan told of the negatives and positives of making games inclusive of the LGBT community. The two discussed in earnest--and with warm humor--the realities of facing an unkind Internet. If you haven't heard Gaider's name before, you may not know of his now-famous response to a player angered that BioWare "neglected" the straight male gamer in Dragon Age II. Dragon Age II, like many of Bioware's games, allows you to participate in same-sex romances if you so desire, but the fantasy RPG sequel marked the first time that any romanceable character could be romanced by a player character of either gender.

Gaider and Merizan have both been the victims of vitriol based on Bioware's inclusion of same-sex relationships in their games, though Gaider fondly recalled one message on his blog that had this to say about gay people: "F*** them all." Gaider's response? "Very ambitious goal, but good luck!" Not all of us are so quick-witted, of course, and Gaider impressed upon the audience that Bioware will continue to represent the underrepresented, and that even companies as risk-averse as Electronic Arts see value in acknowledging and marketing to the LGBT community when they may not have even a few years back.

After Saturday's panels, my night was filled with fellowship. I met a teacher from Houston, a programmer from Irrational Games, a couple from Orlando, and several others in the bar at Hotel Kabuki, where most of the convention was occurring. We drank sake and talked games for hours, enthusing about Dark Souls, discussing the ups and downs of BioShock Infinite, and debating whether classic games are always best played on their original systems. My tipsy group made its way to Mel's Drive-In for some unspectacular diner food before the out-of-towners hobbled back to their hotel rooms and I stumbled back to my own place. Lucky for me, my place is only a 10-minute walk from Japantown.

It was tough to rouse myself Sunday morning, but I forced my groggy body to obey my brain's commands. I was due to speak at 2PM at a panel called "Journalism 101 with IGN and GameSpot," but I didn't know exactly what I would be speaking about or who was joining me. This was my first time speaking on a con panel, so the lack of detailed communication was giving me the jitters, though the butterflies in my belly were at least calmed by the brisk walk to the hotel.

As it turns out, I didn't have much to worry about. After taking the stage with Chuck and Rob, the audience began to file in. Yet I wasn't nervous anymore. The faces in front of me were smiling. They were there because they thought my fellow writers and I would have something of value to offer. And once we began to speak, the words flowed. And the first anecdote I shared was one that I hope can communicate why I think it's important that LGBT gamers have voices speaking out for them.

It was 2002, and the latest copy of PC Gamer arrived in the mail. At this point, I wasn't in the industry--I was just passionate about games, and PC games in particular. I eagerly awaited the magazine each month, anxious to see what great writers like Greg Vederman would have to say. It was Chuck Osborn I most looked up to, however. He wrote the mag's monthly first-person shooters column, and I eventually developed a crush on him. And one month, Chuck wrote an article about game nude mods, referring to a Max Payne nude mod as appealing to the ladies out there, as well as 10 percent of the guys.

This was the first time I'd ever seen that 10 percent acknowledged by a games publication, or even by anyone I knew who was into games. It was a defining moment for me--that moment when I realized that there might be other gay men that also liked playing video games. And so I wrote an e-mail to Chuck, thanking him for the column and telling him that there were also a number of great nude mods for The Sims out there too. (Not that, you know, I would ever have downloaded such a mod myself! Ahem.) I never imagined I'd get a reply, yet the following day I had a response from Chuck, thanking me for the email, and in the process, referring to his own male partner.

Not only did a magazine refer to people like me, but my favorite PC Gamer personality was also gay. Maybe I could follow my dream to be a games writer after all. Maybe there was a place for someone like me.

I shared my story with Chuck seated directly next to me. I've met Chuck before. I'd told him the short version of the story before this. But I don't think he truly knew how instrumental his e-mail to me was in driving me to pursue my passion. After I shared my experience with the crowd, he leaned over and hugged me, and my eyes became wet. How grateful I was, and am, that I get to do what I do, and that I had a gay role model in games writing to look up to when I needed it. The rest of the panel was a blur, the three of us commenting on the path to games writing, the cruel comments we so often have to endure, and our personal responsibilities to make our voices heard.

I finished the weekend both exhausted and energized. Being an out gay man writing for a mainstream games publication can be trying. I have received death threats and faced concerted efforts from people seeking to hurt and discredit me simply because I am gay, and that vitriol is only a fraction of what some of my LGBT colleagues see on a daily basis. Thank God for GaymerX, then, for reminding me that there are so many people of all ages out there that are like me. I hope that in my own small way I can show aspiring LGBT writers and developers that there's a place for them in the games industry, just as Chuck did for me. And I hope that GaymerX can continue to give us a public venue for sharing stories while authoring new ones for the future.

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Written By

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

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Discussion

731 comments
stuff238
stuff238

Why is Gamespot re posting an old article? Are they trying to copy IGN? The last comment before mine is from august 14 2013.....LOL

fgjnfgh
fgjnfgh

God damit, that was ugly

anasazi_pr
anasazi_pr

That proposal warmed my cold, dead heart. *sniff sniff* So glad the first GaymerX went so well!

paulsifer42
paulsifer42

The saddest part to me is that we have to say "good job" to them for doing this.  If a bunch of Catholic gamers had a convention would we be saying, "Good job, guys."?  This should just be another convention of gamers who have something in common.  Kevin shouldn't have a story about how he feels like an outsider at gaming conventions, or that he's had death threats.  He should just have some information about games that was discussed.  Maybe one day we'll get out of everyone's business and care more about what they have to say about video games than who they sleep with.

At any rate, good article Kevin.

valium88
valium88

Reading through the comments I saw no need to elaborate on thoughts put to the ink by well reflected gamers, and more than adequately so. Games are indeed for everyone, hope the gamers at the convention had a blast. Congratulations and best of luck to the newlyweds.

Great article Kev.

bgranli
bgranli

Great article, Kevin! :)

patstewartva
patstewartva

I'm sorry, Kevin, but you call this video game convention coverage?!

Where's the "GameSpot's 3D Costume Cam! We take nearly 100 high-resolution photos from all angles and convert them into a 3D model so you can view them online as though you were there" for all the scantily clad, professional model GaymerX booth dudes?

I mean, really, we expect a lot from GameSpot these days!

:D


vishisluv7
vishisluv7

Also Kevin, warn your friends to stay the hell away from Russia these days!

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

Heh, a handful of GameSpot accounts have been flattened by the Banhammer just because of this article. :P

Some people just aren't aware of the Terms of Use, or anything like that either.  :D

Stabba_The_Kutt
Stabba_The_Kutt

The fact that this convention not only exists, but thrives is a testament to its necessity.

liotinedario
liotinedario

LGBTs everywhere self ghettizing themself.

Poodlejumper
Poodlejumper

As a straight gamer who supports his LGBT Gamer buddies I fully approve (not like anyone needed me to but I'm glad to say "awesome")

liftplus5
liftplus5

thats awesome i wish i could of gone to that as a bi-sexual gamer i wish i had some thing like that in new zealand a place for lgbt gamers to come together and just play games

SpazldNinjaDude
SpazldNinjaDude

I am none of LGBT, I understand what it means, but I don't understand why they need their own convention, doesn't that just mean they are segregated? This may sound dumb, and offensive, but I don't mean it at all that wau, but if they is an LGBT convention there should be a hetro convention, or should there? i really don't get why, you are just pushing your self into your corner? Aren't you? I am probably missing a point, I tend to miss points a lot, I am good at getting stabbed....

But yer, are the LGBT community not allowed in all the other conventions? Not saying it's a bad thing, it's awesome! And in some ways beatiful! Always amazing when anyone proposes in the middle of a crowd and gets a yes! But is it needed?

vadagar1
vadagar1

anyways

lets stop arguing and bask in the glory of a better tomorrow :D

* commences basking* 

Sardinar
Sardinar

LGBT community needs conventions for the same reason Blacks have a Black history month - because they were(and still are) oppressed and discriminated against for the longest time, and they have to put the newer generations in a direction of acceptance and just general well-being, as well as remind the old-timers of what they've been fighting for this whole time. Gaming conventions like this help get the message across while having fun at the same time. Nothing like that for heterosexuals or for whites cause they're the ones that had it easier all these years.

I am sure these will go away after LGBT people haven't had to worry about discrimination for at least a hundred years, but it won't happen anytime soon.

l777l
l777l

"I'm often asked why the LGBT community "needs" a convention just for them." Perfectly fine to have that. Freedom of association. Pluralism. Specialization. Similarly, conventions that focus on the interests of heterosexual men are fine. (Not that feminists wouldn't call these sexist.) The same goes for conventions tailored to the specific interests of heterosexual women. And so on. In this contexts, it is important to note the value of freedom from forced association as well.

Glad you had a good time, Kevin. "Raising awareness" as to the existence of such conventions is a very good thing. It informs people of options. 

Killroyjones
Killroyjones

Well, I have read the comments below longer than the actual article now and I really cannot agree with the two premises that argue against the content of this article and the author's defense of it.

The main argument is two-fold and perhaps one in the same. Having a special interest group of like-minded individuals in this case an LGBT group, is really no different when we see something like, "Marine Gamers," or "Navy Gamers," or "Atheist Gamers," Yes that last one exists. I have been denied to join Clans in multiple games because I was too old, too young, because I am male, or not of a certain branch of the military. So, I ask you, should these clans/groups be dissolved because of them being selective? No, they shouldn't. In fact, this LGBT group is the opposite as it counts straight people among their ranks. So the argument of articles like this separating gays from everyone else, is just silly. 

I don't post much on Gamespot but I have been a member for years and I have to pipe up that writing an article about broader social contexts DOES NOT take away from the integrity of Electronic Entertainment Journalism. It adds to it, now if we saw several similar articles like this in a rapid succession then perhaps we could express concern, but there have been tons of content delivered to this site that fit the "Video Game News" category.

Just my five cents. Good article Kevin, and good moderating Cynthia. Also, for everyone else, good job keeping it civil in expressing your opinions without being insulting --for the most part.  

stuff238
stuff238

Like seriously? No one out of 7 billion people will comment about this. LOL gamespot sucks and they are hurting for page hits.

ShadowsDemon
ShadowsDemon

@paulsifer42 I agree. To be honest, I don't give a damn about anyone sexuality. It's not important to me, and it shouldn't be. I treat people as people. I really don't care.

And yeah, if a group like Catholics had their own convention for whatever reason, because they felt "excluded" I highly doubt anyone would be saying "good job". Just sayin'.

rktPYZQShWz
rktPYZQShWz

@Poodlejumper Yeah this is a good thing. A place where any gamer can go and have fun and not have to worry about being judged by his or her's sexual orientation.

Stabba_The_Kutt
Stabba_The_Kutt

 This is the same old veiled bigotry that surfaces every Black History month in the form of "I'm not racist, but if there's a Black History Month, shouldn't there be a White History Month?"."

l777l
l777l

@SpazldNinjaDude When you're dating someone, you are segregating yourself, while you are dating. The same happens on ladies' nights. When you join a sports team, you are segregating yourself. When you choose to be a fan of a team, you do the same. When you join a religion you do the same. Even when you join a certain profession. And so forth. 

4le_breVVer
4le_breVVer

@SpazldNinjaDude Until society accepts gays and lesbians as equals, with every privilege afforded to traditional hetero's, Organizations like this will exist. But that won't happen anytime soon. 

l777l
l777l

@vadagar1 In case this basking is some kind of nudist thing, there are several conventions for that.

Atheosis
Atheosis

@Sardinar I think you are confusing the sentiment "I don't want social commentary in my gaming news" with "the LGBT community shouldn't be allowed to have conventions".  Those are two very different things.

tightwad34
tightwad34

@Sardinar Discrimination will always be around. Even if it's not in ways you or I think of. Just like violence and killing, fighting over land, etc.....

derceto
derceto

@Killroyjones Glad I skimmed through this article once more to catch your post.  Nicely put bud.

c_rakestraw
c_rakestraw moderator moderator

@Killroyjones Well said.

I would give this comment all the "likes" in the world if I could.

l777l
l777l

@Killroyjones "It adds to it, now if we saw several similar articles like this in a rapid succession then perhaps we could express concern (...)."

A reasonable position. (Of course "similar" and "rapid" are open to interpretation, but the idea stands.)

FallenOneX
FallenOneX

@stuff238  It's being relinked from a newer article talking about the next convention.

SpazldNinjaDude
SpazldNinjaDude

@Stabba_The_Kutt As I said, I am not racist/ homophobic, or anything of the like. I really still don't get why there is a Black History month? Well still, anyway. Haven't we got past all that now? Well as I said, maybe I have, both society as a whole is still way way back. And also as I said, I am not against it happening, it's a great thing I has, I am merely questioning if it really needs to be here.

Sardinar
Sardinar

Well, there has already been a shitton of social commentary on other topics, like gun violence, government surveillance, terrorism... and for some reason the GameSpot populace has the most problem with LGBT articles in particular, what gives? :P

So, yeah, you're right; I just felt I'd make more sense if I made a more general point.

Killroyjones
Killroyjones

@l777l Haha yes indeed! It was my attempt to be thoughtful of others concerns, it is difficult to choose correct wording while working at the office. :) 

SillySkeleton
SillySkeleton

@SpazldNinjaDude @Stabba_The_Kutt I think it's something you have to experience from an LBGT perspective to really understand. At a regular convention you can still run into bigots. I had a transgender friend a while back, and some of the comments they would get from random people were disgusting. Why not have a gaming convention then, where LGBT's can feel completely comfortable and safe with everyone around them?

l777l
l777l

@Killroyjones @l777l Don't get me wrong. Your wording is correct. Defining it in detail would require a philosophical treatise. So, well done.

tightwad34
tightwad34

@Forefront-049 Nice try yourself. I'm quite calm and I won't fall for it. I am actually a bit sorry if I seemed harsh at all. That's wasn't my intent.