Noah J Nelson on Wednesday, Aug. 15th
Careful observers of video game culture know that there is a sea change going on. Over the course of this summer we’ve even seen a pretty stunning examples of harassment within the gamer community make their way into the mainstream press.
All in all the aggressive subcultures of fighting games and first-person shooters are giving a harsh reputation to what is actually a pretty diverse group of people. While anyone who has spent time on XBox Live has come across mouth breathing 14-year olds who use racial epitaphs and derogatory sexual slurs in lieu of “Hello” and “Have a nice day”, there are plenty of gamers for whom those kinds of comments hit too close to home.
That’s where the organizers of GaymerCon come into the picture. GaymerCon is scheduled to have its inaugural run next year in San Francisco and is billed as “the first gaming and tech convention with a focus on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) geek culture.” Like a lot of smart, socially focused grass roots organizations the organizers turned to crowdfunding to pull the event together.
The response was tremendous. Looking to raise $25K the campaign is nearing $50K with over two weeks left before the clock runs out.
We spoke with two of the events organizers, Noah Silas and Ben Williams, about how the idea for the gathering came about, and the state of current affairs for Gaymers.
Turnstyle: Does it feel to you and the other organizers that gaming culture is at a turning point?
Noah Silas: “Gaming Culture” is definitely in flux right now. There is tension between ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ gamers. We’re seeing that more women are playing games (as both ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ players). Game developers are using the medium in incredibly rich ways, crafting stories that can appeal to both mainstream culture and niche markets. We think that this is an incredible time to be a gamer in general, and that there is an important place in this community for LGBT gamers.
Ben Williams: I think gamer culture has grown a great deal in the last 5-10 years. PAX Prime alone draws 75,000 people. It’s so large now, that sub cultures within it are starting to appear, and I think that is a healthy and natural progression for a community of this size.
TS: Just how hostile is the mainstream gamer culture to LGBT players?
Noah: We’ve heard lots of stories from folks telling us about times that they have felt unwelcome or uncomfortable in gaming spaces. Mostly we are hearing about online negativity; in competitive gaming one of the most common insults is ‘fag’, which can create an extremely hostile environment for people who are already feeling alienated by their sexual identity. In real-space the discourse is usually better, but when an LGBT person comes out in gaming circles there is often a feeling of needing to prove ones-self, as if being LGBT and being a gamer are somehow opposed. Even in spaces that are more tolerant, the gaming industry is incredibly sexually charged, usually in a way that is extremely catering to straight men. The frequency of appearance of ‘booth babes’ at gaming tradeshows and events is a huge indicator that there is an audience being pandered to.
TS: When did the idea for the con first come up?
Noah: We started talking about this around half a year ago during a meet-up organized through the Gaymers subreddit. Since then, Matt Conn has been relentless in getting folks involved, organizing our meetings, and generally pushing a very aggressive schedule for this event! Probably the most important role I (Noah) have played to date is in trying to talk Matt into setting slightly less ambitious goals (such as having the con next year instead of this fall). He’s a man on a mission!
TS: You’ve had a great financial response, how has the game press reaction been?
Noah: We’ve just been blown away by the press coverage and the positivity coming from journalists and bloggers. Part of the success of our kickstarter to date is that we have reached an awesome audience by being covered by a wide variety of media outlets, especially those catering to the broader gaming community like IGN and Destructoid. At times the comments on these articles have been critical, or even downright negative, but these have actually driven a variety of awesome articles and posts from some really fantastic gamers and writers who really seem to understand our intentions and goals.
Ben: Addressing reaction from the gamer community, we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and the industry is starting to take notice too. James Portnow from Rainmaker Games, also famous for Extra Credits on Penny Arcade TV, is donating his time and expertise as a reward on our Kickstarter. We also have a very exciting announcement coming up later this week about some industry leaders that intend to support us.
TS: Has there been any gamer blowback– or are folks really getting this?
Noah: A lot of folks ‘just get it’, but there are also some who seem to believe that by creating GaymerCon our intention is to fragment the gaming community into LGBT and Straight segments. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth! GaymerCon is expressly devoted to creating safe space in the gaming world for everyone, although we have a focus on LGBT participation and issues. Participation in GaymerCon is also not going to remove our presence in the larger gaming community; we believe that these identities are additive, and that we can celebrate all of them.
TS: What communities within gaming do LGBT gamers already have?
Noah: There are a variety of existing communities, but the vast majority of them are online groups and forums. Sites like reddit and gaygamer.net host active gaymer communities, and there are a wide variety of game-centric guilds, clans, and groups that are expressly for LGBT gamers. GaymerCon hopes to complement many of these communities by providing a real-world space for gay gamers to gather, meet, and mingle over a weekend of gaming.
TS: In the pitch video there’s a sly suggestion that donating to the con is a kind of pathway to penance for gamers who have cavalierly used homophobic slurs. What’s the intended take-away there?
Noah: It’s sort of dark humor – part of the problem is that it’s so easy to join in to the peer group in virtual space and take part in the language and bullying, so we know that lots of well intentioned people have done it once upon a time. Now is your chance to repent! Err, wait. No, really we would love it for folks to just engage in this discussion about homophobia and discrimination in the gaming communities, but if you are already talking to us (or watching our kickstarted video), you are probably going in the right direction. If you _still_ feel bad, well, nothing washes away guilt like a KickStarter donation, right? Or, maybe we just have a twisted sense of humor.
TS: One last question about the video: there’s a gag about needing an SNES in the pitch video, but there is TOTALLY an SNES in the background in that very shot. What’s up with that?
Noah: Totally intentional. Definitely an easter egg. One hundred percent humor. Not coincidental in the slightest.
The GaymerCon Pitch Video (NSFW language)