Tag Archives: conferences

GaymerX: an event is born

GaymerX Logo

GaymerX Logo

“Queer culture, especially gay male culture, discourages geekiness. It puts emphasis on physicality and mainstream pop culture. You almost have to be closeted twice.”

This is the experience of Seattle queer geek community organiser Charles Logan, as expressed in a panel at GaymerX this weekend. The event, part conference and part convention, was a tantalising taste of what the queer scene and games culture could be like; a small hint that maybe one day I won’t feel alienated or isolated.

It was an extraordinary event; while it had precedents in Seattle’s Queer Geek community and the existing Gaymer scene in San Francisco, many attendees had never before had a venue for being openly queer and geeky. I hadn’t seen anything like this before. To look down a conference schedule and see it packed with topics such as ‘Gender in Interactive Fiction’ and ‘How Queerness is changing games media’ was uniquely thrilling and fundamentally affirming.

More than a couple of panelists acknowledged in different contexts that safe spaces are only ever ‘safer spaces’; the creation of a safe space takes ongoing effort, and mistakes will be made. There were certainly eye-roll moments for me: the EA panel calling male femininity an “extreme stereotype” of homosexuality (cringe), or the partner of a trans guy saying, in front of their spouse, on stage and on camera, that they are “not into cis guys” (not cool) [edit: many thanks to the panelist for apologising in the comments (12th August)], or the moment in a panel called ‘Knowing your roots’ where Uncharted’s Nathan Drake was described as someone “everyone can relate to” (perhaps a white, cis, male vision of ‘everyone’).

We’re all still learning how to get this right, but I personally feel optimistic that events like GaymerX will give us more opportunities to learn together.

Watch me hit the gay button

One issue raised in relation to mainstream games was that even though some studios within large publishers like EA are getting the greenlight to include same-sex romance options, there are tight restrictions on how this can be implemented: an engineer working on The Sims 4 recounted an occasion when a test build sometimes showed gay couples cuddling on park benches in the background; they were instructed to change it, because, “the rule is that you don’t get a homosexual encounter unless the player initiates it.” In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner, Anna Anthropy described this as the ‘gay button’.

Jessica Merizan, community manager for BioWare, said that she wanted to see gender options become non-binary in more games. “People don’t trust that community managers actually do anything, but I do advise on what our fans want. I really want to help reshape the misconceptions. Gender and sex are not the same thing, and neither are binary. Unfortunately, because of tech limitations, you always pick male or female. I hope that some day we will get through that milestone–that you don’t have to pick male or female–because that’s not how the world is.”

When queer romances have to be kept out of sight and out of mind, and with each BioWare game having a limited ‘word budget’, it’s hard to imagine EA allowing gender diversity any time soon, but it’s encouraging to know that the intention is there in its studios. The higher-ups may be worried that their bottom line relies on traditional boundaries of sex and gender, those on the EA panel at GaymerX left no doubt about what the bottom line is to them: “If you don’t want to buy our games because they have gay characters, then fuck you.”

Meanwhile, queer indie games are doing great work pushing far beyond the publishers’ comfort zones. Some of the best loved boundary-pushing work was well-represented, with panels on interactive fiction by Porpentine and Christine Love as well as Anthropy herself.

BioWare’s David Gaider put his weight behind the indie scene, arguing, “the publishers aren’t just capitalists; they’re copycats. As soon as one indie game breaks out they will jump on that bandwagon so fast. The best thing you can do is support the indie games that do what you want to see more of.”

The publishers may be keeping queer relationships hidden from view, but it’s clear that one way to ‘hit the gay button’ in the industry as a whole is to put your dollars behind queer indies.

Continue reading

I’m bored of hearing about your wife

Almost every time I go to a tech- or gaming-related conference, I hear middle-aged white men in suits talk about their wives and children. This would be lovely and rather sweet, were it not for the fact that they all seem to be married to the same woman, and they all seem to be raising the same children.

A photograph of a blonde woman smiling and holding two blonde children. FlickrCC image by Micah Taylor

“The wife”, as she is often called, is frequently described as “not very good with computers” or “not a gamer.” Often, I hear humbling stories about how The Wife provides an amazing insight into the human condition. Or how she teaches The Exec about what it’s like for the ordinary user, who isn’t familiar with the high-end technological wizardly in which he is apparently so accomplished.

“My son”, says the exec, “is already using an iPad, and he’s only a year old.” There are older children in the family too. “My daughter would be so embarrassed to be seen using a Blackberry!” remarks The Exec, concluding “young people are all using iPhones.”

It’s taken me a while to figure out why this bothers me so much. So what if the people running technology companies make public reference to their wealthy, heteronormative lifestyle in an attempt to give examples of use cases from ‘ordinary people’? They’re bound to draw on their own experience in their work. Far be it from me to tell them to leave their personal life out of it.

I’ve realised that it bothers me because they never once talk about focus groups, and only ever reference market research on a macro-level. These two things combined – coarse, macro-level demographic data and constant reference to the upper-middle-class nuclear family, are leading to design and product decisions that are bad for women, bad for the elderly, and not even that good for business.

I don’t care about this guy’s wife. What she spends her time on is her own business. I do care that he gives his technologically inept wife as the key example when talking about the vague demographic of ‘women aged 35-50′. I don’t care how talented his children are. I do care that he calls tablets “a technology that doesn’t require any training – your children will teach you how to use it” – someone actually said that at the Global Mobile Internet Conference this week. What if I don’t have any children? What if my children don’t have their own iPad?

The Exec decides where to allocate the product development budget. He decides what products get made. He decides the direction the tech industry is moving. And the future he sees is one in which women are removed from the means of production, and anyone who cannot afford to buy an iPad for their children is irrelevant. All because he can’t be bothered to carry out a focus group or buy some qualitative survey data.

This narrow-mindedness appears particularly stupid when you consider the millions of elderly people who are completely neglected by the tech industry. Many of them have a sizable disposable income and lots of leisure time on their hands – perfect for selling computer games to, as long as you get the platform and design right. I always wondered why they were being ignored by the market. Could it be because they don’t fit into the image of the nuclear family with which execs feel compelled to ally themselves?