By Lara Taylor
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend GaymerX2, the sequel to the first convention of its kind. Striving to push boundaries and promote inclusivity for all in gaming, GaymerX looks at the gaming industry from an LGBT perspective. With the theme of inclusivity, allies not part of the LGBT community were welcome as well. I had a blast, and part of that was the sense of respect and community that seemed inherent in the event.
GaymerX created a sense of safety and dignity from the outset with their inclusivity statement. They defined clearly that there would be no tolerance of harassment or discrimination of any kind, including use of slurs against sexuality and gender identity (the "f" or "t" words) or against mental disability (the "r" word). I would venture to say that most conventions do not have a harassment policy, and those that do probably don't go as far as GaymerX has in the protections spelled out for attendees. However, what really makes them stand out is their policy addressing how to handle a situation in which someone feels offended by something. Attendees were asked to be polite, respectful and discrete in informing others that they have been offended and how to prevent the issue in the future. Those who had offended others were expected to listen to what was being said, apologize, and ask for help in making sure it doesn't happen again. While policies like this can help to build a foundation of security, the real reason for the sense of safety at GaymerX were the people. Everyone at the convention seemed so open and friendly, and ready to help.
Having the LGBT community in mind resulted in having small details that meant a lot to many attendees. Having things such as gender pronoun identifiers on badges, and gender neutral bathrooms shows the thought put into making everyone feel welcome in the space. Most of the programming was geared toward the LGBT community as well, and issues specific to both sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Panels covered everything from coming out in the gaming industry, to exploring queer identity through games, to forming relationships with straight allies in the gaming community. Gearbox Software and Bioware even had panels highlighting the forward thinking work coming from them in the near future.
One panel in particular caught my attention, which was the panel on gaming and mental health in the queer community (surprise, surprise). Joey Hannah and Serenity Sersecion, both currently practicing mental health professionals discussed both the positive and negative effects of gaming and what the signs of unhealthy gaming are. Many of the issues brought up are issues we have covered many times here at Geek Therapy, and I have covered repeatedly at Therapeutic Code. In addition to healthy vs. unhealthy habits and the skills built by playing games, they also discussed LGBT specific issues, such as being able to explore sexual and gender identity safely in games. When they asked the audience for examples of negative experiences with online gaming there were some standard stories of disrespectful or sexist comments (Is it sad that those can be referred to as standard? I think so). One transgendered woman told a story about being misgendered due to her voice being more masculine. As a cis-gendered woman it never occurred to me that something like that would be an issue. Obviously it is, and it's one that I will be more aware of now. That's part of the point of GaymerX, to learn to see things from different perspectives.
Joey and Serenity also pointed out a few games that they felt were therapeutic. Serenity told the story of a transwoman who was able to live out being a teenage girl through playing Gone Home, and how incredibly empowering it was for her. Other games they mentioned that I will have to check out are The Unfinished Swan, which supposedly deals with grief and loss, and Papo & Yo which deals with abuse. Their panel, and all of the panels from GaymerX (once they have been edited), will be available to watch online through their YouTube channel.
The fun continued on the expo hall floor, where 2k Games had a chance to play Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Ubisoft had a daily raffle giving out games (SO MANY GAMES!) and there were plenty of opportunities to play some awesome indie games. One developer was demoing a game called Throw Trucks With Your Mind in which you wear a device on your head, which measures your focus and your calm. The more calm and focused you are, the stronger your super powers are! He hopes to demonstrate some therapeutic qualities for the game, but for now it lets you throw things at your friends with your mind, and who hasn't dreamed of doing that?
Another thing which stood out at GaymerX was the cosplay. OMG, the cosplay. There was a fabulous Maleficent in drag, an amazing Tiny Tina from Borderlands, a Yoshi and Boswer couples cosplay, and so much more. Everyone in the cosplay pageant deserved an award. Seriously. Some took the chance to make a political statement while still having some fun. Two cosplayers dressed as Ubisoft's version of women, wearing boxes with messages such as "2 hard 2 render", in an attempt to bring attention to the company's earlier statement concerning the lack of women in their games. You would think that Ubisoft being at the convention would cause a lot of tension, but everything seemed to be handled respectfully and peacefully.
The LGBT community is known for its activism, but it is also known for its ability to have a good time and throw one heck of a party. GaymerX had 3... and 2 after parties. I only had the opportunity to attend the concert on Friday night, but it was full of giveaways, drinks, loud music, and dancing. There was even a dance off, ending with one man proposing to his boyfriend. It brought the room to tears.
Earlier in the year it was announced that this would be the last GaymerX, however the founder Matt Conn and president Toni Rocca (a previoius guest on the podcast) announced at the closing ceremonies that there would be something in its place in the future, and that they weren't going anywhere. I hope they're right, because this event is truly needed for this community. The outpouring of thank yous at the end of the convention, and even into the days after on Twitter have been plentiful. People felt safe at GaymerX, they made friends and connections they might not have made elsewhere, and some even changed how they saw their sexual identities. All while playing games.