In 2014, gaming culture came under attack. Not from social justice warriors. Not from persons of color, women, or LGBTQIA. Gaming culture came under attack from a group of individuals who thought they owned the gaming culture. Their issue: gaming was being overrun with people who didn’t worship the ground they walked on. It would be easy to associate this group of individuals with the whole of their hashtag, but in reality these cowards are hiding behind a movement that was supposed to be about ethics in journalism, in order to pursue their own agenda.
In a lot of ways, it should be easy enough to ignore such a small group of individuals, but while we praise the internet for amplifying the unheard voices of decent people, so too can it amplify the voice of others. These individuals have harassed, degraded, and terrorized anyone who stood in the way of their happiness, or who was a threat to their place in the hierarchical structure of their own making. Brianna Wu has repeated talked about a folder on her desktop filled with letters from women who are terrified to go into the tech and gaming industry because of what has transpired in 2014. Needless to say, damage is being done, and if not rectified soon, what makes gaming so fun and fantastic will be destroyed thanks to despicable, narcissistic trolls.
This year, I had a chance to attend PAX South, and though small in comparison to PAX Prime and East, it is still one of the biggest gaming conventions. Only a few weeks ago, I attended AggieCon and got a chance to meet with gamers and geeks in my area. Both are excellent, well-run, and organized. But at the risk of sounding too cliché, if PAX South and AggieCon is what gaming culture wants and deserves, the new convention HavenCon is what gaming culture needs. 2015 is the inaugural year of HavenCon, the first LGBTQIA+ geek and gamer convention in Texas, and one of the very few that exist in the United States. Conceived by Shane Brown, HavenCon was introduced as a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ geeks and gamers. In a state that is not exactly revered for its queer-friendly policies, it was big endeavor.
I was informed about HavenCon around December, and got to know more about it when I talked to Shane at PAX South in the Diversity Room. Ecstatic about this new convention (and living only two hours away from Austin), I purchased a VIP pass. HavenCon was slightly bigger than AggieCon, but would still classify as a regional conference at this point. However, its goal is to get bigger and be nationwide in the near future. Now, I could write about how absolutely fantastic the convention was with sponsors like Gamers Beard, Gaymer App, and Finji, how hospitable its hosts and convention-goers were. I could write about how fun it was to be a VIP, to get a dinner and an absolutely hilarious theater show. I could even write about how I accidently broke into the autograph signing of Janet Varney and P.J. Byrne (Korra and Bolin, respectively, from The Legend of Korra)—by the way, totally sorry for breaking in. But instead, I’ll preemptively mention all that, and talk about HavenCon as it deserves to be.
Surprisingly, it’s not just because LGBTQIA+ needs a safe place (though it is important). Many of the LGBTQIA+ individuals who attended the convention were at PAX, Comic-Con, GDC, and the other multitude of gaming and geek conventions. Even if HavenCon did not exist, they would still attend these conventions and have a fantastic time. What made HavenCon special and so important to gaming culture were the conversations being had! If you have gone to conventions before, how many panels were featured that talked about LGBTQIA+? Most likely there would be at least one (perhaps two if they were really progressive). The panel would probably be very broad, and certain groups and important conversations would be left out all together.
At HavenCon, there was panel on bi-visibility (thanks Mia Moore, Danni Danger, and StJoan), a panel on increasing economic opportunities for LGBTQIA+ game developers, panels on LGBTQIA+ superheroes, LGBTQIA+ in literature, and LGBTQIA+ in cosplay. There were also panels for beginner cosplayers, the history and future of gaming, the lives of voice actors, vampires in popular culture, women in gaming, and furries. There was even a fantastic panel featuring a group of high school students who call themselves the “Wee Blue Beasties” who (as an extracurricular club) are designing, coding, and creating their own game. The panel attendance was on the smaller side for this one, which was sad because what the students on the panel could do—all of whom were girls, though the club is co-ed—was amazing! The game, Dark Crux, sounds great and is expected to be released on their website this summer.
I could only attend HavenCon for one day as it was Easter weekend and I had to get home to celebrate, but I regret not being able to stay for whole thing. In that one day I was at HavenCon, I was able to connect with such awesome people, and had conversations that would never be considered at other gaming conventions. It’s conventions like HavenCon that I want to see more of. I want to see more of this open diversity and representation in gaming. I want to see more in-depth conversations regarding character development, story development, and game development. More importantly, I want all of this—an environment that does not dismiss the voices of LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Let’s be real. I identify as a straight, cis-women. I am white. I am by no means rich, but I do not have to worry if I am going to lose my job or be evicted from my apartment (though you are more than welcome to donate funds to help a poor graduate student). When it comes to privilege, I know I have it. I recognize I am an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community. Don’t get me wrong, allies are important; but in our attempts to help, we often shut out the voices of those we are supporting in favor of own. While HavenCon is for everyone, I am glad to see that it gave LGBTQIA+ voices not only a chance, but to have the first and last word about what needs to change in gaming culture. It’s rare to hear these arguments coming from the voices that are actually affected—and it shouldn’t be. In many ways, I was humbled by my experience at HavenCon. It got me out my own little progressive bubble, and forced me to listen, really listen to what was going on, not just sit with my head bobbing in agreement as I pat myself on the back for being so caring. And that, I believe, is the reason why HavenCon is so integral to gaming culture.
I am not sure when HavenCon is going to be in 2016, but I do know that you should all attend. Austin, Texas is lovely this time of year, and hotel costs are surprisingly cheap. More importantly, it’s a great time for everyone and a chance to really appreciate gaming culture in the most diverse, open, and caring way possible. So Mr. Brown, sign up this blogger next year (VIP, of course). When it comes to home conventions, HavenCon will forever be mine.
I have recently been informed that HavenCon and Texas Furry Fiesta (TFF) are working together to create the mascot Haven, the physical manifestation of the love, curiosity, and joy that has come from the gathering of these two amazingly supportive groups. Haven will be the mascot for HavenCon, promoting HavenCon wherever he can. He will be seen at conventions, picnics, and countless other events, including TFF-run events. Because money with HavenCon is tight, they are raising funds to create a suit for $2,500. If you could donate to this awesome cause, please visit: http://www.gofundme.com/havenfur.