Next year GX (formerly GaymerX), the San Francisco–based queer video game convention, is coming to Sydney. It will be the first event of its kind in Australia, and the country's sizable LGBTQ gamer community is understandably stoked. GX was established as a reaction to gaming's dominant "bro" culture, and serves as a place for queer geeks to hang out and enjoy cool shit in a safe, inclusive space. Founder Matt Conn said the experiences of queer people, women, and people of color feeling they needed to "keep their guard up" at traditional conventions was his motivation to create GX.
Seeing as Australian gamers have to wait until February before they can experience the convention themselves, VICE Australia called Matt to talk about queer culture and his approach to homophobia.
VICE: Hey Matt, so why have the first international GX in Australia?
Matt Conn: We met Liam and Joshua, the two guys who are leading the charge in GX Australia. They were just like, "I love what you're doing with GX, there's a huge gay gaming population here, we've always wanted to do something like this."
They're people who have the passion, skills, and more importantly the temperament. It's so stressful putting on GX. There have been times I thought I couldn't do it. I don't know if a lot of people have the mental fortitude to put up with the abuse. Liam and Josh are really nice, but also so passionate they can handle it. And it's going to get really nasty.
It's that intense?
Even just announcing it, they got abuse. I think a lot of white guys don't know what it's like to be a woman or person of color online. But they're really tough and smart, and there are a bunch of amazing queer gamers in Australia, so it's the perfect formula.
How do you respond to that stuff?
People just need to understand no one is coming to take away their things. If you want your sexy characters in games, cool. But queer people, and women, and people of color want to enjoy this medium and you're resisting them being able to create their own awesome space. And that's gross.
Generally how queer-friendly is gaming?
It's getting a lot better. But there's a mixture of American bro culture with this very conservative Japanese culture. When you combine those, it creates an environment a little behind the times on social issues.
Do you feel that's shifting?
Yeah, but for the most part if you're a queer gamer and you go out to events, read gaming publications, or play 99 percent of mainstream games, you feel like the content isn't made for you.
A handful of titles have made an effort to broach that, but are larger developers engaging a more diverse audience?
Sort of. I can see how it's tough for developers and publishers when you're working super hard, you're doing your life's dream, and people are saying, "This isn't inclusive enough." But we've got over that initial wave of people feeling like you're just criticizing them and trying to cause trouble. People are realizing inclusivity in video games is not going to ruin them.
They can still make their super bro games, but there's success in things like Mirror's Edge or Dragon Age Inquisition. Dragon Age Inquisition had a trans character and Iron Bull—who is basically there to be a sex object for the female and gay gaze. And it sold more, and reviewed better, than any other Dragon Age game.
People are realizing diversity and inclusion doesn't mean the product is going to end up not selling. It actually opens up sales channels to them.
There's still a lot of homophobia and misogyny in gaming, how do we address more aggressively?
I think more Japanese developers need to look at inclusivity. JRPGs (Japanese role-playing games) rarely tackle these issues. Or if they do, in the case of Persona 4, they handle it poorly. I appreciate queer people having a storyline, but it's obvious it wasn't written by someone who is familiar with those things.
Why didn't you do your first international GX in Japan?
I wanted to. I feel like Australia and America are awesome, but Japan is the birthplace of gaming. Everyone we've talked to has been like, It will never succeed there, that's not their culture, they would be very against it.
Is GX a traditional convention in an open environment, or is the content specifically LGBTQ-focused?
Both. There are people who don't give two shits about politics. They're super gay, and they love gaming. I want them to be able to come and play games with their friends in a space that's positive.
But we try have people on the forefront like Robert Yang, Naomi Clark, and Zoe Quinn who are making really cool games about queer issues.
There are a lot of approaches to consider.
I know, when I came up with the name (GaymerX) it came from a place where I feel comfortable. And I had a lot of amazing people say, "Matt I dig what you're doing, but it's problematic, or non-inclusive of this group or that group and we want to make it better for them."
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You mean because it sounds like it's only for gay men?
Yeah. So instead of being like, "Hey you suck because you're a white straight dude," it's like, "Here are some cool ways to make this more inclusive to trans and non-gendered folks." Or even for straight allies who think gaming's toxic. As long as you're cool with queer people that's all we want. We don't want it to be a space that's just for gay people.
I guess it's about making people comfortable, but to change something you need to speak beyond your audience. You need straight white guys to understand and care. But how do you do that?
In a way I can understand this weird pushback where straight people feel victimized. If you're a kid living in rural Kentucky, struggling to get by, and these people in San Fran are telling you that you have all this privilege, I can see why you wouldn't get it. So we try not to make it accusatory. We want change to come from a happy place where we can bring people in and make them see diversity isn't scary.
There are a lot of things conventions can do to make queer people feel welcome that don't make others feel bad. Like having gender neutral restrooms, or preferred gender pronouns at the registration table. That costs nothing and doesn't affect the experience of people who aren't gay. But for people who are queer, they know they were thought about.
It's more productive to engage someone with queer content than tell them they're homophobic.
We have a lot of panels that are just weird things we think are cool. We had the first openly gay WWE wrestler last year. A lot of straight people came and said it was cool to hear him talk about his boyfriend, but also being wrestler.
GX Sydney will be running from February 27-28, 2016. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for more information.
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