GenCon First Impressions: HOPE FOR THE FUUUUUTURE

Well, folks. I’m back from GenCon! And there is SO. MUCH. I want to write about! So the goal is to get up a flurry of posts in the next week or so covering a wide range of topics related to GenCon and how my experiences there reflect on the community as a whole.

However, I have come down with the most instantaneous case of con crud I have ever suffered (I imagine I must have contracted it about 5 seconds after entering the convention hall) and am also deeply sick right now. So I might just collapse on a couch at home and play Final Fantasy while moaning about how miserable I am for several days (seriously, I’m so whiny when I get sick). I guess we’ll see what happens.

I have so much I want to write about! But I thought I’d start on a high note and talk about the many things this year that made me feel SO FULL OF HOPE FOR THE FUTURE YOU GUYS. SO SO FULL OF HOPE.


1. Things I saw while walking around the convention

Walking around the convention hall, I was pleased to see so many women attendees – in the dealer’s room they seemed to account for around 35-40% of attendees. And I was especially pleased to see lots of families with young children in tow. I didn’t see as many men wearing babies in slings as I have in past years, but I did see instances of face-meltingly adorable family cosplay. Like the mother and daughter both cosplaying as Super Girl, or another mother and her son both cosplaying as Iron Man. And then there was the mom in street clothes with an 11th Doctor fez, accompanied by her two daughters – one cosplaying as Elsa and the other as a princess (?) I admittedly didn’t recognize.

All of which made me so happy. It’s so great watching the hobby literally expand into the next generation. I can only hope that this new generation of nerds in training will do better than the generations that have gone before them.

The Women in Gaming panel (that I was on! Wow was that nerve-wracking!) was also something that gave me a lot of hope. It was packed(!) with women, many of whom were eager to jump into the discussion to tell their story. And all of the women who spoke emphasized the need for women to support each other in bringing other women into the hobby instead of turning into gatekeepers because we want to be “not one of those women”.

Also encouraging was the fact that there were men in attendance at the panel, and that they largely behaved themselves. Some of them did make comments, but they were largely on point and supportive. And they didn’t try to mansplain or dominate the discussion either, which was a relief. (Well except for that one guy who said we should just make games instead of speaking out about sexism. But there’s always going to be at least one, I guess.)

Lastly, I was about to triumphantly post NO CORPSE TITS IN THE DEALERS ROOM. Only someone on my G+ posted a picture of a life-size statue of Thay, so I guess I have to amend that to “no corpse tits that I personally observed”. [sigh] Baby steps?


Saturday afternoon, I was lucky enough to have a great lunch with Tracy Hurley and Mike Mearls where we talked about sexism and misogyny in the industry, and about the issues with trying to increase the diversity of representation in games themselves. The meeting was prompted by ConsultancyGate (if you don’t know what that is, be very thankful), but the conversation mostly focused on other things.

Mike was very open about the difficulties that he’s faced in trying to push inclusivity in the game products he’s worked on. He talked about how he’d been assuming diversity of representation was the default, only to realize later that there were many others who had assumed the opposite, who feared they might face consequences if they pushed their content “too far”. And now he’s working to actively make D&D products more inclusive going forward (something which I will write about in further detail later).

All in all, it was a really great conversation in which both Tracy and I were encouraged to be honest about our feelings and personal experience, which – let me tell you – is not always the case when talking with male industry professionals. Coming from the head of the flagship product of RPGs, this means SO SO MUCH to me. I left our meeting feeling like the new direction of art in 5E D&D isn’t just competitiveness with Paizo, as some have suggested, but a genuine desire to do better. I look forward to seeing what comes out of D&D under his direction.

(Amusingly, I will note that when we asked Mike if we could blog about the meeting, Mike said “of course”, then said he hadn’t wanted to assume that we would because he didn’t want to sound all HEY FEMINISTZ PLS GIVE ME COOKIES THX. Which, ironically, made me want to give Mike feminism cookies, and I don’t even believe in feminism cookies.)

3. Games on Demand

This was my first year of running games at Games on Demand, although for the last many years I’ve spent most of my convention at Games on Demand. It’s funny, because the notes that I made for this post before writing it included “lots of women GMs”. But then when I asked one of the organizers, he told me that about 15% of the GMs were women or non-binary by his tally.

Which. Huh. Okay. I guess my brain fooled me on that one. But the women I saw who did come out to GM were really bringing it to their games and I saw people really having fun at those games. (Can I just take a moment to say that I am insanely jealous that I didn’t get to play Karen Twelves’ Apocalypse World: Olive Garden scenario? So very, very jealous.)

So yeah, the total number of not-dudes at Games on Demand might have left something to be desired (and let’s be clear, I am not attacking GoD here. This is a problem GoD staff have been working for multiple years to ameliorate, but it is hard because both the causes and possible solutions are difficult to pin down). But overall, the emphasis on diversity and inclusion was really a breath of fresh air.

For one thing, there were equality stickers freely available at GoD (I stuck one on the back of my badge – might as well make it a useful space since that’s what winds up getting seen half the time anyway). The ever-fabulous John Stavropolous also wrote an amazing “instruction manual” on how to run games with some great sections on how to help everyone feel safe at the table as well as tools for dealing with problem behavior and helping make sure everyone feels welcome. (And honestly, this is a great document for anyone who runs games, not just GoD GMs.)

And more generally, it was awesome meeting so many new people who are committed to building a supportive and progressive tabletop community. I was also lucky to run into a fair number of people who made a point of telling me that they appreciate my blog.

There was so much bile on certain parts of the internet prior to the convention that it was really hard to remind myself that things were getting better. But I talked with several people, not just women!, who made a point of thanking me for blogging that it made me feel really good that this is the direction that most gamers are heading in. Speaking out makes a difference, and things will get better.

Stuff for next time(s)

I’ve got so much more to talk about! There’s the inevitable picture post, where I go through my many shots from the dealer’s room. I’ve also got a not-so-happy post about Stuff I Didn’t Enjoy at GenCon. But on a more positive note, I do intend to do some post-GenCon followup writing about some non-WoTC publishers who I felt like were really Doing It Right – Pelgrane and Paizo. And I might also do some followup about a previously blogged about topic.


23 thoughts on “GenCon First Impressions: HOPE FOR THE FUUUUUTURE

  1. This is a breath of fresh air, especially after all of Tor’s hand-wringing over how racist and full of Nazis GenCon was going to be. (Was it full of Nazis?)

    • Don’t get me wrong, there IS stuff that was crappy at GenCon. I’ve been going to GenCon for pretty well a decade and as much as I LOVE it, I’m perfectly happy to agree that GenCon really has a race problem. Every year I see people in Drow face (which, ugh, can we learn that that’s just not okay already?). And while it may not be an area of personal discomfort for me, I can certainly understand how the psuedo-fascist elements of the Storm Troopers et al can be discomforting for some.

      For that matter, one of the key points in the article is just the feeling of looking around at a crowd of 50,000+ people and seeing almost no faces like your own and the pain of that. AND I GET THAT. I mean, Jesus. I stayed out of the CCG room for pretty much that reason, because it was a literal SEA OF DUDES and that sort of an atmosphere is just too unwelcoming.

      So let’s not dismiss what I felt was a very on-point piece on Tor just because racism isn’t something that you may have experienced personally at GenCon.

      • “I mean, Jesus. I stayed out of the CCG room for pretty much that reason, because it was a literal SEA OF DUDES and that sort of an atmosphere is just too unwelcoming.”

        As a male CCG player (who skipped Magic entirely this year, but thats beside the point) — what should we be doing to make non-males feel more welcome in the CCG area? I can understand how sea of guys feels intimidating/unwelcoming to a non-male, but at the same time we can’t say “OK, if the ratio of male-female players exceeds X, no more males are allowed until more females” for obvious reasons.

        As I can’t see from your perspective (obviously), what can we as CCG players – not the companies running it, but the players playing, do to reduce / eliminate that intimidation?

        • Honestly? I wish that I knew the answer! Because this is something that we’re struggling with in tabletop RPG land as well. I KNOW there are tons of ladies who play TRPGs, but the attendance in the games that I ran certainly didn’t reflect that.

          I think the bare minimum is that conventions are going to have to rein in the proliferation of awful cheesecake banners and start making targeting recruitment efforts before women want to play at conventions. There’s been such a long and awful history of this crap that women are going to have to be told “no really, we want you here” with at least *some* genuine sincerity before they feel even sort of okay about venturing into that space.

          I also feel like there should maybe be some women-only events, and they should be promoted heavily. I played Magic at GenCon last year when my husband was with me, but this year on my own I didn’t feel up to dealing with all that dudeosity on my own. But if there had been some casual ladies-only events sealed deck tournaments, I totally would have made a point to squeeze at least one in.

          As far as what players can do? That’s a hard one. It’s something that I wrestle with in the stuff that I do too. Mostly I think just changing the culture so that it’s less shitty to women is the big one. I mean, encouraging women to play CCGs in general is great, but it doesn’t necessarily fix the con imbalance since a lot of us are strictly “casual play with friends only” and avoid formal or convention events.

          • One thing I’ve noticed about Magic in particular is that the promotional artwork these days is waaaay more cheese-cakey than back in the early mid-90s. While there had always been cards with some nudity in them, I don’t remember seeing the promo material of scantily clad women hanging in game stores until the last couple years. Part of that could be that there was a good 15 year stretch between the one game store closing in my town and another opening, but I never saw MTG pin-up girls when Ice Age was a thing.

      • May I ask for some clarification? I know why black/brownface is problematic historically and generally, but I was under the impression that drow fell under a different category due to being literal ebon-black (or some that are blue-ish or stark white)? Like, say, cosplaying Shadowchild from Ursula Vernon’s Digger, or one of the Monster High characters that is ebon-black. I’ve read a lot of discussion on black/brown-face, and this is the first time I’ve read that literal non-human black characters fall under blackface rules. And if this does, does this count for mainly the ebon-black drow, or drow of different colors?

        I really apologise if I sound utterly clueless, but I’m autistic (I promise, I’m not trying to use this as an excuse); I mention this *only* because my way of functioning socially is to build, basically, a mental social “rulebook” to reference. While general “don’t color yourself black or brown to fit a character’s ethnicity per sociohistorical reasons” is in there, the question of coloring yourself ebon-black, or blue, or stark white as being racefail-y isn’t something I have run across before. Would you be willing to please elaborate, because 1) to quote Alanis “we want to know why about everything”, and 2) I’d also like to have solid reasoning (I do not mean to imply that there isn’t; but from an off-hand comment all I’m getting is “this is bad”, but not the why, and people don’t tend to respond to just “this is bad”) to correct friends before *they* accidentally racefail.

        Thank you very much for your time, both for reading this, and if you should answer this, because I know these things are frustrating to put into words and address repeatedly. I wouldn’t ask if it’s something that I quite literally have not come across before, and I’m not sure why, since I spend a fair bit of time in geeky social justice circles. I’m not really coming up with much on Google, either, which is my first check; it’s possible I don’t have the right keywords.

        In interests of not creating a second comment, THANK YOU for the tidbit about the new D&D management and 5E. My family just got the 5E PHB and were astounded by the change in artwork; we saw the art for the female barbarian and were agog that the character was dressed in a proper mountain dweller style clothing that wasn’t overly sexualized, nor were the other characters sexualized as they have been in previous editions (often egregiously so). If they’re dedicated to being more inclusive (and I hope that means of more than just women, speaking as a queer and disabled woman), I really hope they stick with it. I’d love to see a more inclusive D&D (at least, that isn’t made more inclusive by the DM altering the rules).

          • Thank you for the link! It’s very much appreciated. (I’m a long-time lurker, I adore your blog. ❤ )

          • And, um, holy shit, having now read the article, that makes a ton of sense, and addresses other issues that I was thinking of as well (like other dark-skinned non-human races like Klingons)… this is totally going into my “Useful Social Justice Links” folder. TYTYTY.

            • I’m so glad I could help! And honestly, so much of what I do here is informed by just having a really great blogroll of folks who point my way to stuff like this.

    • I love how the complaint about how GenCon won’t even follow its own rules about vendors got straw manned into the convention is full of Nazis. Seriously you would be really naive and kind of dumb to think that allowing that stuff isn’t going to drive people away.

    • First comment I’ve read all week, and it totally lived up to the horrid reputation of comments being full of trolls and crud.

  2. Possibly your positive experience was a case of stepping outside the internet for a bit. Reading too much stuff on the internet can be like watching cable news: it can make you anxious and make you believe that the world is worse than it really is, because the horribleness is amplified there. I know that happens to me sometimes, so I have to remember to do stuff IRL.

    I’m looking forward to the posts!

    • The problem with that theory is that I’m not just talking about passive consumption of bile. I’m talking about bile actively being targeted at me and rammed down my throat by people who want me to SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GO AWAY. And it’s not like I have the option of just ignoring it, because I’m already utilizing every blocking tool I have available and this shit still sneaks through the cracks. Nor can I just walk away from the internet, because the internet is vital to pretty much everything I do, from game design to art to publishing to blogging.

      So yeah it’s helpful stepping away from that for a few days. But at the same time, I don’t get to separate my internet life entirely from my “real” life, because the two are inextricably linked. And while some segments of the community are GREAT, others are really just as bad as I think they are. (And maybe worse.)

      • Yerp, I realize now that my comment is (once again) made from a place of privilege. I don’t get targeted harassment and my work doesn’t depend on being online (at least not on social media).

        So comparing my feeling of “the world feels better after being off the internet sometimes” to your positive attitude coming out of GenCon isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s probably more a reflection of the fact that on the internet, I get my privilege highlighted way more often than “IRL” because I actively try to read feminist/post-colonial blogs. Off the internet I am once again facing a whitewashed and phallo/hetero-centric version of reality that hides the bad stuff for me.

        I’m also recognizing that calling non-internet interactions “IRL” dismisses the very real experiences that people have on the internet, and that disconnecting isn’t possible, or is too disruptive to be an option. I’ll try to start using the word “offline” instead of “IRL”.

  3. I *LOVE* seeing all the families there. I started taking my wife and kids a few years back and it has been wonderful.

    So awesome to hear you found so much to like at this Gen Con.

  4. What did you GM at Games on Demand? I only played one game there this year but really should get more in 🙂

    • I got to run a hack of Dogs in the Vineyard that went pretty well. I also ran a game of Zombie Cinema. But mostly I ran The Shab Al-Hiri Roach at Hogwarts, which is exactly what it sounds like, and it went GREAT. I’m going to write up my notes on how I ran it and post it in the near future because it went so well.

Comments are closed.