Imagine yourself in the halls of the Electronic Entertainment Expo – the famous E3 conference, the mecca of video gaming, where the latest, greatest, and hottest games, consoles and peripherals are within your touch. Imagine the hordes, the masses… 40,000+ people, all involved in the video game industry. Designers, writers, marketers, journalists, TV anchors, and randoms that somehow got in by “knowing someone who knew someone.” Everyone shaking hands, everyone trading business cards… now imagine that in that mass of 40,000 people, you are cut off from everyone else. You are utterly alone, divide by a gap that very few have figured out how to cross.
Sounds impossible, right? According to Benjamin Williams, not only is it possible, it’s growing more and more common.
The gaming culture is growing; no one can deny this. Today we have the first generation of parent that plays video games with their kids not just to be hip, but because they grew up playing console video games as well. We have a generation that understands, just like films, some games are for everyone and some games are for more mature audiences. Thanks to the ESRB and a more knowledgeable gaming adult, we do not have the shock factor associated with kids playing ultra-violent video games, and though the system isn’t perfect, it helps parents locate titles that would be good for them, but not necessarily their eight year old.
While this generation has grown into adulthood, so has the attitude to video gaming. Fading away is the stereotype that all gamers are social rejects, locked away in their parents’ basements. An awkward, but relieving acceptance now replaces it, much like the feeling of relief when two people discover that not only do they both enjoy Sailor Moon, they both thought Sailor Venus was the coolest one.
As the gaming culture grows and evolves, it is natural to see gaming subcultures develop organically. Gamers who share a common bond, such as a genre, series, or platform. And in their formative stages, it may be easy to look past these needs.
Enter Gaymercon, the first-ever gaming and tech expo for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning gamers. Gaymercon co-founder Benjamin Williams says the convention is designed to address the needs of this new gaming subculture, so they may not be lost in the crowd of thousands.
“Our goal at Gaymercon is to provide an arena for the LGBTQ gaming community where they are the audience,” said Williams in an exclusive interview with GotGame.com. “When you go to PAX or E3, you have this huge, crowded space, and that’s great – PAX and E3 do a great job and they’re lots of fun. But maybe the gay gamer might not feel like they are part of it, that they don’t belong. I mean, what do you see in the media provided if you’re a gay gamer or a woman gamer or anything like that, you still see booth babes, games with naked chicks and guns. They’re not really the audience; we’re creating a space where queer gamers and allies know they are the audience.”
To the founders of Gaymercon, the idea was simple to conceive: make a convention for people like themselves. “The founder of Gaymercon, Matt Conn, originated the idea, but we were all thinking about it, percolating ideas about what we would want to see in a convention as part of the queer community,” said Williams. “If you look at gaming conventions, they’re so big and popular right now, that there is a clear need for more gamer space out there, and we said, well, if we’re going to make one, we should make it tailored to us.”
The need for more convention space for gaming is clear: over 45,000 people crammed into E3 in 2012, a supposedly industry-only event, and an official attendance of “lots” from PAX Prime and PAX East, gaming culture is growing into a phenomenon. Industry people can do a year’s worth of business in a week’s time. Press outlets have scads of material before the expo even starts. Gamers can meet and greet IRL without expensive plane tickets. But although the need is clear and the culture is evolving, would the industry get behind a queer gamers conference?
EA Games did. “We just announced that EA Games will be the first developer to have a booth at Gaymercon, which is very exciting,” said Williams, with noticeable pride in his voice. XBox LIVE and Penny Arcade business mind Robert Khoo also voiced their support for Gaymercon.
According to Williams, support for Gaymercon is as simple as human nature. “I think the main thing is what Ellen McLain said in a video she made for us. Ellen McLain is the voice of GLaDOS from the Portal games, and she basically said that we’re all human, and all humans want to have their stories told. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, it matters what you can identify with. If a game is telling your story, you’re going to be excited about it. We, the queer gaming community, we have great stories, and if someone tells our stories, we’re going to give you money. We want to experience media just like everyone else.”
He links the need to have one’s story told to the psychological concept of “translation,” which states that when one’s psyche confronts a situation he or she is unfamiliar with, the psyche tries to transform the situation into something he or she can comprehend in order to advance. For example, if a gay male went to watch a romantic comedy about a man and a woman. He might put himself in the woman’s shoes, or eliminate her altogether and swap himself in. Says Williams, “It’s very tiring to the psyche. It takes mental energy. On the flip side, when you encounter media that doesn’t require translation, it becomes less taxing to watch, and more enjoyable.”
Unfortunately, while the culture may be evolving, the media still has a narrow scope. Williams sees a pattern in the gaming world that truly feeds upon itself. “You have people, mostly straight white males, and they’ll make a game that they find entertaining, you know, muscle guys, explosions, naked women with guns. That in and of itself is not evil or bad. But then they’ll look at the sales, and they’ll think, ‘Oh, straight white men bought the game. There’s our target audience.’ Then they’ll make another game aimed at straight while men, and surprise! That’s who buys it. And this is why games like Dragon Age or Mass Effect are so well-received, because you can tailor your character to align with who you are. Maybe you’re not straight, you can reflect that in your character, for example.”
Despite all the support from the industry by companies like EA Games and ventures like Gaymercon, gay and lesbian gamers may still pressure to keep a part of them hidden. Though they may feel singled out and alone in venues where booth babes entice straight male gamers into their web, they may feel even more ousted in venues amongst their LGBTQ peers.
Chris Saldaña, reporter and weekend anchor for KLAS-TV’s 8 News Now and Las Vegas LGBT activist, feels that it’s these people who fall in-between the two doors of this proverbial “dual-door closet” who need the most reaching out. “These youth are often the ones who feel secluded or left out,” Saldaña says, “because they don’t feel like they fit into the heterosexual or ‘straight’ world, but they also don’t match that gay stereotype that’s out there.”
Williams says the staff at Gaymercon recognizes this, and states that this issue was one of the motivations behind creating the LGBT gaming conference. “Sometimes as a gay gamer, you don’t fit in to either community. When you’re around the gay community, you get cast as a nerd or a geek who lives down in the basement and doesn’t shower. You don’t fit the mold or that stereotype that popular media has constructed, and sometimes that our own community has constructed for us. But then when you’re around the gaming community, you don’t fit in there because of the dominance of straight white males. It’s almost like a dual closet. This is one of the reasons why Gaymercon is so important… you can be whatever the hell you want, and it’s okay.”
In addition to creating that safe space, the staff at Gaymercon hopes that people will come in droves just because it’s a great convention, and in turn realize that gaymers aren’t all that different from their straight counterparts. “I mean, the reason people usually aren’t down with the gays is because they haven’t met us yet,” says Williams. “There’s a direct correlation between how cool people are with the queer community and if they have spent time with them or not. Once they sit down and talk to us and hang out with us, it’s like, Oh, hey, you guys are cool, you’re not some scary monster, you’re just like me.”
Saldaña agrees, and feels that events like Gaymercon are leading society in the right direction. “You see the acceptance at younger and younger ages,” he said, referencing several of the Las Vegas schools he speaks at throughout the year. “You talk to these kids, and you see that these kids today could really care less if other kids are gay or straight, because they’re still a friend. It’s the kids’ parents who care.”
Saldaña compares Gaymercon to an event like the Gay Games, a multi-sport competition for openly-LGBT athletes. “Anything that showcases what the LGBT community can do, I think builds tolerance and acceptance,” he states. “Not only that, it builds those ‘safe zones’ where gay youth can be themselves, without fear of being ostracized. I know that on some of these games you can reach out to other people around the world, and for some, it really is their only resource.”
All this, opines Williams, could eventually lead to a triple-A title starring a non-heterosexual male hero. “Jim Sterling did a really great article [featured here on Destructoid] about the main guy from Uncharted… um… Nathan Drake, and wouldn’t it make more sense if he came out as gay? It would explain why he couldn’t maintain any important female relationships, why there’s always an old guy hanging around. It would make him much more interesting than just some guy who runs around and beats things up.”
It would also finally explain the existence of Tingle.
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For more information on the first-ever Gaymercon, including room reservations and how the gaming public can choose what panels will appear, log on to www.gaymercon.org.
To learn more about Emmy award-winning Las Vegas news anchor and reporter Chris Saldaña, follow him on Twitter at @ChrisSaldana.
I am happy to say that as a gaymer myself, I openly advocate for and support Gaymercon, and will be there to represent GotGame.com. Stay tuned for the latest developments on the conference.