As part of Episode 5 of the Super Podcast Action Committee we sat down with Matt Conn, the founder and key organizer of GaymerCon – the first of its kind fan-focused gaming event that caterw to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) community. While the very first event won’t happen until early August of 2013 (in San Francisco, California at a venue to be determined), Matt was kind enough to explain in great detail why he decided such a conference was needed, what it’s going to take to get it funded, and why he feels so strongly about creating a special space for the LGBT community outside the confines of conferences like PAX.
GamePolitics: Today our guest is Matt Conn, organizer of GaymerCon – that's Gaymer with a Y – and he's going to tell us a little bit about this event which is planned for the summer of 2013. Matt, welcome to the show.
Matt Conn: Thanks for having me on.
GP: So why don't you tell us how you came up with the idea for GaymerCon.
MC: You know, actually it’s a combination of a few things. You know, growing up I was a huge gamer and I’d always dreamed of going to E3 and I’m sure it was kind of a dream to a lot of kids growing up; you get EGM or Nintendo Power and you see all the photos and videos of what goes on at E3 and it's kind of like the Disneyworld for dorks. And then when I was 19 I actually got to go there and experience it and it was really amazing, and it was humbling and awesome, but at the same time I felt like something was missing.
Part of that was that it wasn't really made for me. It was made for a very specific group of people, a very specific demographic of gamers which are pretty much that 14 – 30 year old white straight male Americans. Which there's nothing wrong with, but there's definitely a large amount of other gamers out there that exists – whether that be women, minorities, to gays. And I really wanted to create a space that is a safe fun community orientated space that people of alternative sexualities – or even maybe people that kind of feel like they have been overlooked – can come together and play and chat and really have a safe alternative space. And that is why the tagline of GaymerCon is "everyone games."
GP: Right, and so this event will be all-inclusive of course, right?
MC: Absolutely, yeah. I think the name is going to be a little bit of a fire starter in that in naming it like that it definitely catches people's eyes and attention but it's not just for gays. You don't have to be a gay person to come. I like to liken it to a gay and lesbian film festival, in that plenty of straight people go to those, and they go to appreciate the different cultures around them. In the same way, this is going to be a gaming convention that is going to begin to focus on the LGBT themes in gaming… which admittedly are very, very few and there's going to be very little to talk about and that's kind of part of the idea is that showing the gaming world that this demographic does exists and that we do appreciate the strides towards equality so far but there has been very few of those and we like just kind of want to just show the world we exists and that if gamer makers make games for us and talk to us we are there to listen and interact.
GP: Do you think that some of the current fan-geared events are comfortable for someone that's transgendered?
MC: No, I don't think that if you are transgendered or even necessarily gay or lesbian, that going to one of these other fan-orientated cons like PAX are necessarily the most comfortable or the most supportive places. I think they try their hardest to make them as open minded and kind of [as] accepting as possible, but I think that the gaming community in general is just so — they are a little behind the times in terms of having gay culture in their games and having you know the kind of different reference points. There's definitely no games that have transgendered main characters are even gay or lesbian main characters, so it's hard for the gaming community at times to wrap their head around gay scenes and especially transgendered scenes.
Which is part of the reason why when you go into any of these Call of Duty games or any of these things you hear "faggot" all the time. A lot of these people have never been around gays or transgendered and they don't have any experience around that, and I think that when they go for the first time to a Con like PAX they would be intimidated or put off by seeing transgendered or gay people. And I think that's part of the worry being transgendered or gay and going to one of these events is that there's definitely going to be a lot of open minded tolerant people there, but there's also going to be your stereotypical gamer who might not be as accepting of your life choices as maybe you would like the entire Con to be.
GP: What are people going to do when they go to this event? There's obviously going to be stuff like tournaments and maybe cosplay and stuff like that… but are you planning on doing any workshops, talks, or having any video game industry guests speak at the event?
MC: Totally, yeah. I want this to be a mix of educational and entertainment so I’m talking to different leaders in the tech and video game community whether that be engineers at Twitter or Pinterest, to people who are game designers, to people who work at companies like Kotaku or Destructoid. So just kind of different gay, lesbian, transgendered people across the industry and also straight people and allies who are just involved in different elements of the industry… Because I want to show people that you know if you are trying to get into the gaming industry and you are gay or lesbian or transgendered, that there are plenty of other people who have done it and have done it happily and you can learn from them. Learning about the history of gay characters and gay themes in games. I think there's a lot to talk about. I think a lot of this is stuff that has never been talked about, so even though I have been working on this Con for awhile, a lot of these kinds of themes and ideas and topics that we're thinking about having as panels are really starting to develop just now because a lot of these thoughts and dialogues have never even been started before. So we're really excited to see the progression of those dialogues.
GP: Speaking of online play, do you think the console owners are doing enough to combat the kind of abuse that the LGBT community suffers when they go online to play a game (like Microsoft and Sony)?
MC: You know, I think it's a tough situation to be put in because I don't know exactly what they can do to really enforce it. You know, I think that obviously there should be some sort of way where they can lock down accounts if you were being abusive or bullying or something like that… but a lot of times that kind of goes into that gray area of what's free speech. And you know, I would hate for companies or us to have to be the police where we're coming and saying 'you can't do that and if you do that you get punished.'
I want people actually not want to be hurtful or to understand why there other sexualities and other people in the world and that they're just like them and that they play games like them; they're normal people, that there's nothing to be afraid of or intimidated by or whatever.. So I think a lot of it is just education. Letting these other gamers know that there are gay, lesbian, transgendered, minorities, women.. that there are other people out there that play games like them, they have the same goals and ideas, and they are just like them… except, you know, who they love, or the color of their skin, or their body parts.. And so I think a lot of that is going to be education, and letting people know that we exists.
And also I think it's going to a lot more of this selective gaming where instead of just hopping to a random arena where you’re just playing with other people, I think people are going to be much more careful about choosing who they play with and coming up with different guilds that really reflect their interests and the kind of people they want to be around.
So part of that is — we're actually launching an app along with GamerCon called GamerCon X where you can go and you can out in your different gamertags and just very basic information about yourself and then you can find other gamers to play with that play similar games — but you know that it's going to be a safe normal experience. You know that you're not just hopping in with random people who may or may not be accepting of who you are.
GP: Okay, so how far along are you in the planning stages of this event?
MC: I'd say that we're about 30 or 40 percent in. We've been planning since the beginning of this year and the actual event is going to be running on August 3rd and 4th 2013 so we still have about 13 months until that happens so we have a pretty long runway and things are actually starting to speed up pretty quickly. What we're going to be doing is – we're actually going to be launching a Kickstarter on August 3rd this year – that's going to be in about two months from this call — and basically what we're going to be doing with the Kickstarter is we’re going to be raising money for the Con, make sure the Con happens, but also figuring out what kind of venue we need, what kind of events we need to do, what kind of guest of honor we need to bring in..
We'll really be able to tell what the interest for this convention is. So when we launch the Kickstarter we're trying to raise $50,000. A lot of that money is going to be based on pre-sales of tickets to the event. So if you donate $25 you get access to the event, if you donate $100 you get VIP access where there's like a red carpet fundraiser dinner the night before.. so there's different levels where we'll be able to know just what the actual interest in the event is based on the Kickstarter and then we'll be able to reserve a venue and really get things locked down based on that. We'll still have about ten months after the Kickstarter ends to really get it in gear.
GP: So how has the response been from the community? I've watched all the YouTube videos that were put up, but how has it been received so far?
MC: You know, it's a little bit of a mixed bag. I think that a lot of people are still very wary… until they kind of actually see everything in action. I think it's very easy for someone like me to say 'yes I’m going to do this Con and this is what's going to happen' but until they actually really see the forward momentum I think they are a little bit wary just because they've kind of been hurt so many times before and this sounds so much like a pipe dream I think to a lot of gay gamers.
A lot of forward thinking people I’ve been chatting to for instance Zach Weiner who is on the board of directors of GaymerCon — he actually runs the second largest web comic in the world called SMBC Comics and they get about 450,000 hits a day — and he's someone who's kind of very well respected in the geek community and has a wide following among the geek world. And he's really heavily promoting it, really getting into the idea because he understands what this could mean for not just having a safe space and a great kind of way to get gay and lesbian and transgendered gamers all together and learning that there is a community for them, but also showing the world that this demographic does exists. And that just like the TV industry, the movie industry, or any other industry, there is a market there that needs to be filled and there needs to be different products and services for.
GP: All right Matt, I think we're out of time – thank you for telling us about the event. Where can we learn more about GaymerCon with a Y?
GP: All right thanks.
MC: Yeah thanks you so much for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.
GP: No problem at all. Thank you for your time.