"Why do gay people need a gaming convention just for them?"
When I wrote on my experience at GaymerX earlier this year, this was one of the more common questions posed in the comments section. GaymerX is a convention open to the public that focuses on games and other geekery from the angle of LGBT culture. I have responded to this question before, but I recently got together with GaymerX founder Matt Conn to talk about his plans for 2014, and asked him how he would answer this question. His passionate reply was possibly more eloquent than any answer I could have offered.
"For gaming to be respected as the art form that we all know it to be," Conn says, "then we need to support all cultures and make sure that everyone who is in the community feels like they're welcomed. There's no harm in having queers and people who support them getting together and having a good time. We're not a 'gay' convention, we're a gaming convention that has panels that focus on queer issues and we pride ourselves in trying really hard to provide a space that makes everyone feel safe and welcome."
"Those who get angry at the idea that we're holding a convention that provides a safe space to queer geeks is something that I have trouble understanding," Conn continues. "Gaming culture can sometimes be exclusionary and mean, but it's a mentality that I think people will move away from as many people of all sexualities, genders, and races are starting to stand up and ask for their voice in the larger dialogue. It's a mentality that I hope people will move away from, but the games culture is in an awkward phase with regards to that subject, in that many people of all genders, sexualities and races are starting to stand up and ask for their voice in the larger dialogue. And I think that whenever something like this happens in a community, there are going to be growing pains, but I think as long as we treat each other with respect and have an open mind, our community can grow and get even stronger together!"
The respect and strength Conn hopes to nurture were on full display at this year's GaymerX. Not only did I wander the modest convention floor, but I attended multiple panels, and even spoke on one. The hallways at San Francisco's Hotel Kabuki were teeming with attendees, and every panel was packed to the gills, with some hopeful spectators turned away because there just wasn't enough room to accommodate everyone who wanted in. These crowds weren't frustrated or cranky, however, but warm and hospitable. We were all there to have a good time, and to enjoy the camaraderie of others so much like ourselves.
I truly believe that if you're in a position of influence, whether in the industry, or as a player, or as press, that we do have a responsibility to be role models.
As for Conn, he was happy to have helped create such a friendly atmosphere. "I think that the biggest thing, and first thing, I want to focus on is a safe space," he says. "Too many people feel uncomfortable and even unsafe at conventions and bigger events, and while that's not necessarily the fault of the organizers (because I've learned all too well how hard it is to run a con), it's a really big deal to me! How is anyone supposed to have fun when they feel unsafe?"
Conn continues: "When you provide an environment that encourages people to be open with who they are in a safe, nonjudgmental space, I think people are more likely to loosen up, relax, enjoy themselves. I like a sort of curious air. I like creating a space where people feel safe to explore and experience and ask new things. It allows people to grow and for people to ask questions and learn things that they may never have experienced if they hadn't stepped outside their comfort zones."
In that respect, then, GaymerX 2013 was a grand success--so successful, in fact, that an attendee gathered the strength to ask actress Ellen McLain, best known as the voice of Portal's GlaDOS, to help him propose to his boyfriend. Since then, the proposal has become the most-talked-about event of the convention--but it wasn't GaymerX's sole defining moment.
"So, as much as we all love the proposal--and I dare anyone to find a dry eye in that video--it's really just one of the fun parts of the convention," says Conn. "Concerts, parties, cosplay, panels: these were all fun, interesting, different. Yeah, the events added to the positive atmosphere but at the end of the day what got to me was the fact that we had amassed a big queer crowd and said 'come, talk about games. Play games.' A woman could sit down and play Smash Bros. without being asked if she had ever played games before. A man could bring up that he was gay without being treated like he'd walked into the wrong industry. It was the fact that people could enjoy themselves in a fun, relaxed environment that told them 'everyone's welcome here' and not 'sorry, this just isn't for your demographic.'
Now, it's time to look to the future. Conn recently announced GaymerX2, which won't take place at the Kabuki, but will rather take advantage of the extra space at the InterContinental San Francisco from July 11 to July 13, 2014. Conn loves the new venue, calling it "gorgeous," but more importantly, it provides plenty of space for attendees. Conn told me the hotel has a good, clean, fun vibe, and that its staff is eager to work with him to make the most out of the convention.
A convention is more than a bunch of hotel meeting rooms, however. What else does Conn have up his sleeved for GaymerX2?
"If you're a Dragon Age fan," he says, "you might go crazy over [Dragon Age lead writer] David Gaider. Portal fan? Ellen McLain's back again with some more surprises. If you're like me and love smart commentary on games, we've got [games writer and designer] Mattie Brice. Like Reddit? Well the co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, will be joining us. We also have musicians like Virt and 2Mello and Internet justice swinger John Scalzi. I mean the list goes on. Sometimes I do a double take and go 'wow, I can't believe this many awesome people support this.' We've got lots of things planned that we can't even talk about yet, but I can tell you one thing: If you loved the proposal, I hope you're ready for a wedding."
If there's a wedding, there must be cake, so I'm down. But there's more to look forward to, besides, like game rooms, an exhibition hall, a dance, a concert, mixers, and so forth. If there's one stereotype LGBT folks enjoy living up to, it's that we know how to party.
Ultimately, however, GaymerX2 isn't about the parties, but the people. Readers occasionally ask me if my sexual orientation is even relevant to the discussion about games, and in the past, I have mused on my responsibility as a gay games journalist to be a positive example to younger readers and viewers that struggle to feel welcome in gaming culture. So I asked Conn about his views on the matter.
It's up to us to speak and change things best we can so that younger gamers or newer gamers can have it better.
"I truly believe that if you're in a position of influence, whether in the industry, or as a player, or as press, that we do have a responsibility to be role models," Conn says. "I can't tell you how alone and awful I felt when I was a teenager, when I thought I was some freak because other gamers wouldn't accept me, and the openly gay kids at my school had no interest in gaming stuff. I felt so alone, and I thought I'd never meet other people like me. I don't want other people to feel that way, and I feel like if you're in a position where you have fans or people who follow you or read your words, then you owe it to the kids reading it so they know there's an entire world out there for them and they're not alone. It's up to us to speak and change things best we can so that younger gamers or newer gamers can have it better."
And so let the change begin.