I attended Nexus Game Fair for the second time this past Memorial Day weekend. It took place at the Regency Hyatt in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a more central location than previous years. After a fairly negative time last year, it was a difficult decision to attend. The early bird pricing passed. Events began to fill up. It was not until two weeks prior that I finally bit the bullet and bought a pass because, at the end of the day, I love gaming and I will try to do it whenever possible.
The good news is that, as a gamer, I had a lot of fun. The enthusiasm and quality of people attracted to Nexus is truly its strength. I love gaming conventions. Where else can you get a truly intergenerational and cooperative (or competitive) experience? However, as an attendee at a convention, I saw a poorly planned and poorly executed event run by a dedicated crew of people who love to game.
To start with the fun stuff, this year I went for some new content instead of locking myself into every Call of Cthulhu game possible. I still got the chance to try out the new edition in a daunting six-hour adventure run by Keeper Cory Welch, but I also tried out some miniature games. I usually stay firmly away from these after a childhood of forced summer afternoons being destroyed by my older brother at Battletech and Warhammer.
However, I tried out Space Hulk and was pleased with the opportunity to be queen of half an alien hive attempting to shred four teams of human space marines. Another highlight were the three-dimensional boards co-crafted by Epic Quest Publishing owner Nicole Baker for their Pathfinder campaign, Dragonwars of Trayth.
I also tried out the boxed version of a game I am familiar with as an educator and camp counselor, but had foolishly avoided at conventions: Ultimate Werewolf. It was a mistake to not begin playing sooner, as it was truly the highlight of the convention for me. Playing with attendees ranging in age from 10 to 70 created complex and hilarious dynamics found nowhere else in gaming. There were more young people playing at tables this year than the last, and I have to say that if you get the chance to game with children, do it immediately. They tend to have a take-no-prisoners attitude we could all learn from.
There were still plenty of role-playing games this year, with an impressive variety of horror settings and rules systems. Writer Rob Wieland ran an excellent and truly spooky Chill adventure, and I took the plunge into a haunted house with a party of dice-challenged adventurers in a Dungeon Crawl Classics module run by Valerie Emerson. Matt Forbeck was also there, writer of Shotguns & Sorcery, to demo the upcoming game.
Unfortunately, now the bad—though I admit some of these were issues that could have been as much the hotel’s fault as an overworked convention planning committee. Throughout the weekend, some games were canceled or moved without informing the players, events were not allotted enough space, and game masters failed to show.
Numbers also seemed low for the size of the space. I suspect the lagging social media presence is hindering them quite a bit. An event page was not set up on Facebook until a little over a month prior, and the Twitter account was not updated at all during the weekend. The website is also missing crucial information such as a dealer listing and sponsorship. The vendor listing was not shared with attendees until two days before the convention, which was then squished into a email about parking. On top of all of this, game names were misspelled in the event book and sponsors were missing.
Also: where are my non-cis men guests at? It’s true that Wig Wig and Bright Eyes cosplay brought both video game interests and variety to the convention, but I would be much more attracted to seminars and trying new games if there were more women and nonbinary folks in the industry being invited as guests!
Finally, the part I was hoping I would not have to discuss: to follow up on the presence of Tentacle Bento at the table of the Milwaukee Company of Gamers game library last year. It was there again this year. This sucks. The entire situations sucks.
Prior to the attending, I had been in talks with a convention organizer about their dealer hall rules and regulations, as well as their harassment policy, which failed to make an appearance at the last convention. Let me be clear: if you have a harassment policy that your attendees have no access to, your policy does not exist. Luckily, it was indeed included in this year’s event book, but it did not cover products on display, so the dealer rules and regulations is at the discretion of Nexus staff.
Other attendees I talked to were at least uncomfortable with Tentacle Bento being present, and at most were absolutely incensed. It is extremely difficult to bring up a social problem in gaming circles, as we have seen with so many forms of harassment at larger scale events. That being said, I have no idea if others also complained. I only know that more than one person expressed that they were uncomfortable with it being there, but were too afraid of speaking up for being found too sensitive. The cycle of silent complacency continues on all sides.
During the course of conversation, other attendees were made aware (by me) that I had already approached both Nexus and MilCog about this item, and there it was, sitting on the table. So, really, what difference would it have made if someone else had also said something, when just me saying something had not? It should be enough for a single person to say, “Hey, can we maybe not support an appropriation of a pornographic Japanese trend that also offers women’s bodies as objectives at this convention?” But that’s not how the world works.
I emailed Nexus via their website the first night of the convention about it and received no response.
On my end, there were other things I could have done: attempted to reach out to Nexus on another forum or approached a member of the staff in person. But at that point, I had already talked to the convention and the organization in question about it. MilCog straight up ignored me, and a seemingly receptive Nexus failed to act. By my reading of the situation, it was clear this kind of product was acceptable not only at Nexus, but in one of the most utilized and open spaces at the convention.
Unfortunately, that also means I do not currently plan on returning to Nexus. I am tired of paying for badges for special interest conventions only to stand alone. I have been attending events like this one off and on since I was in elementary school, and little has changed. Essentially, I’m too tired to keep fighting this stuff. There isn’t a place for me there right now, so I’m going to move my custom to another convention.
Despite my issues with their handling (or lack thereof) of sexual assault content at the convention, I would like to see Nexus succeed. At its best, it is the best. At its worst, it’s more of the same old school gamer exclusivity and all. I don’t see it as sustainable or having a future of inclusion, but I am also hoping it will still prove me wrong.