Three event-filled days, 14 hours of travel home by train, and a few weeks of post-con mental processing, and it’s official: GaymerX 2015 (GX3) is over, and in its wake I’m left with … mixed feelings. As a first-time attendee, I went into the con without knowing what to expect and came away with a list of things I loved, hated, and dearly wished for in future conventions. But was it enough to warrant a return?
Before we tackle that, here’s a little info: GaymerX is a small convention founded by Matt Conn via Kickstarter in 2012 and held in San Jose, California. Despite only being in its third year, it has attracted the attention and support of some big name tech companies, game developers, and fans. Stating that “gaming is for everyone,” GX3 strived to create a safe and inclusive space for its attendees. The majority of its audience fell somewhere in the broad spectrum outside the “game marketing default” of straight white cisgender male, and the focus of this year’s convention seemed to center around the need for diversity in games and tolerance in the gaming community.
I would also like to note that while this was my first time at GaymerX, it was by no means my first convention. I’ve been to cons ranging from little more than large community meet-ups to ones with attendance numbers that rival the population of a small town. I know that running a convention is an arduous and precarious process that doesn’t always go according to plan, and my personal opinion on my experience is just that: personal opinion. Please take it with a grain of salt.
First, the good. GX3 was, in essence, wonderfully queer. As a bi/ace woman, I was thrilled to see so many openly queer gamers in one space. Nearly everyone from the official Bosses of Honor all the way down to the company reps on the dealer hall floor were either wonderfully open or visibly supportive. It can be easy to forget just how many of our fellow gamers sit somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum when the gaming community at large seems so focused on non-queer narratives and players. We become accustomed to protecting ourselves in those spaces from the ignorant or the hateful—even in places we otherwise enjoy. Personally, I know that even when I’m being “open” in gaming spaces, there’s always this part of me that’s guarded, ready to defend myself should the need arise.
So, unsurprisingly, being around so many openly queer gaming folks in one space felt a bit like being able to take a deep breath after holding it in. It was delightful to not only see people being openly queer with few intentional filters, but to also see a good number of games on display with queer themes or characters. Naturally, the combined dealer’s/gaming hall was hands down one of my favorite things about the convention. Whether it was the opportunity to engage with developers creating queer games, play games with other queer fans, meet artists creating queer gaming fanart, write/draw on the Intel gaming wish board, or simply take a moment to people watch, the dealer’s/gaming hall had it all. It was an open space in more than one sense of the word, and it was absolutely wonderful.
That isn’t to say that the panels weren’t interesting or compelling. Panels like “We Need More Diverse Games” and “Diversity in Games—What’s Next?” provided opportunities to really get at the heart of these issues; a way for gamers and game developers to talk about them face to face. Panels like “Streaming Your Queerness” and “Introduction to Unity Game Development” allowed experienced and novice game developers or streamers to come together and share knowledge, while “Voice Acting 103” was just plain old fun.
But one of my chief complaints regarding the convention panels was that, ultimately, too many of them felt like I was at a developer’s conference and not enough of them felt like they were geared toward general gamers or the gaming community as an audience (rather than, say, as producers). I’m hesitant to put this out as criticism, because I truly believe that developers talking to other developers about how to create diverse gaming narratives and experiences is extremely important. But as a non-dev fan searching through the convention schedule for something that I could really engage in, rather than simply observe academically, I found it incredibly frustrating. On top of the meat and bones of game creating, I wanted a few more panels dedicated to what it means to be a fan and the experiences that come solely from an audience perspective.
Similarly, a frustrating trend among these panels (that was noted by a fair few in the post-con wrap-up Q&A) was the disappointingly low number of women panelists. Tanya DePass, creator of #INeedDiverseGames, was an amazing contributor featured on an astonishing eight panels overall (which she totally rocked!), and many times she was up there alone, the single woman among three or four cisgender men. Very little space was devoted to women in gaming, or the intersection of queer and feminine identities. A total of one documentary screening and two meet-ups were the only women-oriented events, of which one was exclusive to lesbians in the tech industry. And the numbers were equally low for trans and genderqueer individuals and events.
The blame can’t be laid entirely on the GX3 team for this, however, since panels and their panelists are submitted by attendees and not entirely controlled by the con. Yet for a convention designed specifically to promote diversity in gaming, it seemed a large oversight on the part of the con schedulers that so few approved panels and panelists were devoted to gender issues in gaming, or were panels that featured multiple women panelists. This lack of awareness had consequences on the general atmosphere of the convention, with at least one incident of a cisgender male panelist blatantly ignoring women and genderqueer folks in the audience during open questions in favor of calling exclusively on other cisgender men.
Yet the lowest moment of the convention was not during a panel, but during the otherwise excellent Drag and Cosplay Pageant. I want to preface this first by saying, with this one exception, the drag show was absolutely beautiful and the performers were stunning. They put on a wonderful finale to the convention that, had it not been for Trixie Mattel’s performance, would have finished the convention on a high note for myself and other attendees who I spoke to afterwards.
Trixie Mattel, a well-known San Francisco drag queen, was hired to do a short performance during the finale. From my understanding based on answers during the Q&A panel after the con, Trixie was told about the convention’s expectations for conduct and content in the performance, but she ignored it. I personally don’t know enough about drag to know what’s considered par for the course, but Trixie’s appropriation of black culture in her performance coupled with the use of a derogatory homophobic term was like a hard slap to the face. The mood, which had been fun and energized thanks to the wonderful performances of the drag queens who came before her, immediately shifted to uncomfortable and upset. It was obvious from their expressions that the other show hosts, including convention founder Matt Conn, were shocked, but nothing was said about it. The rest of the pageant went well with a lovely exhibition of costumes created by attendees finishing off the night, but Trixie’s performance left behind a sour note that didn’t fully dissipate by the end of the show.
At the end of the night on the last day of the convention, the GX3 team opened the floor to questions and concerns from attendees in a post-con QA, and as strange as it sounds, it was one of the best parts about the convention for me. The Q&A was held in a small room on the mostly unused third floor of the hotel, and by the time it was in full swing, it was standing room only. Hearing the concerns presented by other con-goers was an immense relief, because everything I discussed in this article was addressed at some point. It’s very easy for us to think we’re alone in our feelings—to constantly reevaluate our experience and question if we are, to some degree, being too sensitive. Knowing that other attendees were concerned with the lack of women panelists or Trixie’s performance was honestly when I felt the most connected to the community of GX3 as a whole.
I think that speaks to something really good about the convention—something that shouldn’t be discounted during its review: GX3, for all its faults, went out of its way to create a space where attendees could come forward with concerns and really listened to them. As tired as they were by the end of the con, the GX3 staff seemed incredibly responsive and invested in the issues raised by other con-goers, and there was a sense by the end of the night that they would learn from the mistakes of this con and try to do better in the future.
Overall, I had a good time at GX3. The people I met were amazing (shoutout to Jillian and Tanya because holy Maker they were so cool and I was so excited to see them and hang out!), the convention staff were extremely helpful and professional, the dealer’s/gaming hall was a metric ton of fun, the panels were interesting, I got to meet Jennifer Hale (!!!!), and there was an entire room dedicated to board games for people to play. If the convention were a local one for me, I wouldn’t hesitate to go again, especially since I’d love to see what changes they make in the future to improve the overall experience for attendees. But right now, with the distance and cost, I really can’t say if I’ll go back. I’m happy to have gone this time, though, and I’m eager to see what the con becomes in the future. So if GX3 is a convention you can get to easily, or if anything about it has intrigued you, then I recommend going if you can. And if you do, definitely take a moment in the dealer’s hall to play some Queen songs on Rock Band. You won’t regret it.