For those who aren’t aware, GaymerX is a convention where gaming and LGBTQ interests come together. Whether your interests involve socializing with queer gamers, networking for gaming jobs, or changing the world through inclusiveness of players and content in games, GaymerX has something for you.
GaymerX has seen a lot of change and growth over the past four years. Despite facing financial challenges almost every year, GaymerX has returned due to incredible interest from the community (and presumably some generous sponsors). This was the first year that particular financial cloud wasn’t hanging over the event, or at least not publicly. With recent expansions to Australia and New York (this November), GaymerX is unlikely to end its mission anytime soon.
Here’s a recap of my GaymerX experience:
GaymerX was located in reasonably sunny Santa Clara, CA this year, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel next to the Santa Clara Convention Center. The hotel was pretty inexpensive, about $150/night, quite affordable (especially with a roommate), and flying into San Jose was also inexpensive and fairly easy from Seattle. For those who aren’t aware, Santa Clara is in Silicon Valley, several miles from San Jose, all of which is about an hour drive south of San Francisco. The weather was warmer than Seattle, with highs in the 70s, though it got considerably colder at night.
Thursday was mostly an arrival day, with registration and a VIP party. GaymerX attendees can choose to pay a premium for a VIP ticket, which includes a Thursday night party, a couple of free drinks and some swag (mostly a T-shirt). VIP was a nice bonus but not essential, and I’d recommend paying the premium if you’re able mostly to support the convention. Registration differs from some other conventions in that you’re asked your gender identification upfront and you wear it on your badge, which can help eliminate uncertainty and makes sure no one is misgendered.
Thursday night’s party was fairly mellow, a good crowd but a small cross-section of the eventual 2000 attendees. In addition to catching up with old friends, the highlight of the evening for me was discovering an obscure Neo-Geo game called Waku Waku 7, a fighting game with incredibly cute anime characters and creatures. I was surprisingly successful at beating my opponents for a while, until I finally was destroyed by a giant robot.
Opening ceremonies started out the day, with the improvisational comic duo of organizers Matt Conn and Toni Rocca, as well as Tanya DePass and other staff offering greetings and an emphasis on convention guidelines, confirming anti-harassment and safe space rules. The Pokemon Gym was highlighted, as well as the expanded tabletop area. I chatted briefly with someone who’d traveled all the way from Ireland for the second year. They told me their experience was so positive the previous year that despite financial considerations, they saved up the entire year to fly out again!
In addition to the opening ceremonies, I attended two other panels that day. “Dave Fennoy Reveals ALL” was an informative Q&A with voice actor Dave Fennoy. While not a household name, if you’re a gamer, you’ve probably played a game that he’s acted in, or watched an animated show or film he’s starred in. He’s best known for playing Lee Everett in the Telltale Games Walking Dead series. I’m always interested in learning about actors’ process, and Fennoy had a valuable perspective as an actor of color and how that relates to incorporating LGBTQ perspectives. (Intersectionality was a theme that often came up at GaymerX.)
“Bioware and Beyond: My Perspective” was an incredibly packed panel to hear David Gaider, former BioWare writer, speak. He spoke about his experience working on Dragon Age, Jade Empire, and Baldur’s Gate, and his shifting perspective on incorporating gay perspectives in games. David spoke about his difficulty coming out initially in the game industry, and his mental shift towards more inclusion in games after positive response. (He grew up in an era when people didn’t come out in high school and acceptance wasn’t so easily found.)
I found it interesting that public outcry about LGBT characters really started with Dragon Age 2, not with the first game. Incorporating gay and bi characters, and Krem, a trans character in Dragon Age: Inquisition, did not affect sales in any discernible way. David has since moved on to work at Beamdog, a smaller studio known mostly for its remakes of Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2. He disappointingly wasn’t able to chat about his current project, but I look forward to learning more about it nonetheless.
The exhibition hall was pretty solid, with a stronger VR presence than in previous years, particularly with the official presence of Oculus along with a couple of independent VR games. (Oculus was right across from Feminist Frequency, which was an odd juxtaposition given some of the recent controversy around Oculus’s founder.) The tabletop area was also more expansive than in past years, and while I didn’t partake in any official tabletop sign-up-in-advance activities, it was always a relaxing place to drop in between activities.
Evening activities ended pretty early (around midnight) and I felt they could have been expanded, maybe with some late-night festivities. I went to the concert and hearing a rap version of the Steven Universe theme was amusing. Other friends enjoyed the chiptunes violin of Aethernaut later in the evening. I played some Dominion with friends and some playtest games, and then had some drinks in the lobby before calling it a night.
One of the downsides of Santa Clara, and this location in particular, is that it’s not the most urban setting. There’s not a lot of food within walking distance, and while GaymerX brought in some lunch food and the hotel compensated some with some quick eats, the location was a downside to this year’s event. We had a $25 breakfast buffet at the hotel that definitely didn’t feel worth it to me.
This was a triple-panel day for me, and all the panels were strong. The one I started with was fascinating: “Queer Game Studies: Q&A with Scholars.” It’s a relatively new field and I loved hearing about the work of these four game studies academics. I was particularly interested in the work of Bonnie Rubert, who runs a more academic conference called The Queerness in Games Conference. “Game Dev For Everyone: Modern Interactive Fiction” was fascinating despite some technical difficulties, and it’s remarkable how easy it is now to develop games. A number of very personal, queer-themed games have come out of the programming language Twine, which doesn’t require any coding knowledge. “Creating Inclusive Gaming Groups & Events” was mostly review for me as an organizer, but definitely helpful information.
A dance was the highlight of the Saturday evening activities. It was a great crowd, with tons of cosplay and lightsaber battles on the dance floor. Some attendees complained that the DJ was playing hits from 10 years ago, but I found the event more compelling than Friday evening activities for my tastes.
There were plenty of panels and activities on Sunday, but I mostly spent my time wandering the exhibition hall to try anything I had missed, including the VR games. Some highlights included Polemic by Garden Path Games, a fun party game involving guessing what your fellow players like and dislike, and Funomena, a relaxing puzzle game.
The biggest downside of the event was a scheduling issue. A huge football game was hosted at the stadium next door, changing the timbre of GaymerX from Saturday night through Sunday. For me, it primarily affected getting to the airport Sunday evening, with no taxis/rideshares permitted at the hotel. I had to walk a half mile and wait 45 minutes in a lot for an Uber to the airport. One friend also dealt with an anti-gay slur from the football crowd Saturday night. Sharing our space with that particular crowd was not ideal for keeping GaymerX a safe space.
Overall, GaymerX was a great event, and I haven’t even covered a number of major attractions that I missed, including the cosplay contest and a drag show by Kitty Powers.
If you’ve never been, I encourage you to check out the next one, or consider attending the East Coast version in November!