First Steps and Kickstarter
"It was really shocking to us that there was no gay video game convention," Rocca told Joystiq, recounting the event's creation. "It just seemed ridiculous." While Rocca noted that LGBT-themed events existed for various other entertainment media, including film and comic books, video games lacked a centralized event dedicated to the LGBT community. And if no such event existed, Rocca and GaymerX founder Matt Conn would create one. They would call it "GaymerCon."
GaymerCon went live on crowdfunding site Kickstarter on August 1, 2012. It was advertised as an event where "all gamers and queer geeks can come together in a welcoming and safe space." It would feature special guests such as Ellen McLain, the voice of GlaDOS and Zach Weinersmith, creator of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic. Electronic Arts, BioWare and Riot Games would also attend.
In less than a week, the campaign hit its $25,000 goal. By the end of the Kickstarter, the event had raised more than $90,000. Other than GaymerCon being renamed to GaymerX to avoid a trademark issue, the creation of the convention and its inauguration went smoothly. Unfortunately, this had the unintended side effect of making a second convention more difficult.
Rocca announced that GaymerX2 would be the final GaymerX convention on April 13, via the organization's Twitter account. Responses were swift and sorrowful; Rocca said she received many messages of consolation and sympathy, of friends and supporters asking if she was okay. Looking back now, Rocca told Joystiq she could have been clearer with the message.
"I realized the day after [tweeting the news] that a lot of people think we ran out of money just now," Rocca said. "I've been trying to let people know that's not it." Instead, Rocca pointed out the difficulty of creating relationships with sponsors and getting attention from press as some of the biggest hurdles GaymerX failed to overcome.
"Nothing bad happened at our con, people enjoyed it, and we got a lot of really good, positive feedback." Unfortunately, Rocca said, a gaming convention going as planned doesn't make for a particularly engaging story for press to pick up and share.
Rocca also noted that video game culture has seen a shift toward LGBT-friendly attitudes and inclusiveness, making the industry a different place now than it was even two years ago, when GaymerCon made its debut on Kickstarter. Rocca herself had just returned from attending the second annual Different Games conference, where students, developers and industry professionals seek new ways to implement themes of diversity and inclusivity. Games like Gone Home
earned critical praise
and sell a quarter of a million
copies. PAX East had a Diversity Lounge.
"By this point, GaymerX is almost passe," Rocca said.
If GaymerX is "passe" in its second year, it begs the question: Was it necessary in the first place? After all, why do we even need a gay-themed con? Can't we just focus on the games? Isn't creating a gay-themed convention just segregating an already alienated group?
Rocca doesn't think so, but understands where people's confusion can come from.
"The easiest analogy that one could use is that it's like a gay bar," she said. "There's bars, and then there's gay bars. A gay bar is a place where gay people can meet one another, they can have fun, they can dance together, they can drink together, and they can do so in a place where they know that they're not going to be harassed by somebody else."
"This is about LGBT issues in gaming, and also celebrating the culture of LGBT intersecting with gaming as an art form. It's like having an LGBT film festival or things like that: It allows people from this culture to express themselves and see people like them expressing themselves, and see people like themselves creating things."
Rocca said those who called the event "segregation" had "stretched the meaning of the word."
"A very important key factor that people miss is that GaymerX is not not for straight people, it's just not specifically made for them." In fact, despite the LGBT focus, Rocca said she estimated roughly 20 percent of the total audience to be straight, and 30 percent of the audience to be female. The only complaint Rocca could recall from heterosexual attendees was that they wanted more talks about a straight person's responsibilities and appropriate behaviors when interacting with LGBT people in gaming. In light of such demands from straight attendees, it's hard to consider GaymerX a segregating event.
On the flip side of the coin, there are those who feel that GaymerX was pushing an agenda, trying to enforce a quota of gay characters in games or gay developers working in development studios. Rocca said that the event was never intended to put LGBT issues in front of a mainstream, mostly-heterosexual audience. "A gay bar isn't a place for gay people to meet straight guys," she said, laughing. "That wasn't the point of GaymerX."
Despite the GaymerX convention closing its doors, GaymerX as a company will continue forward. Rocca said the group is considering smaller events, but also has its hand in bringing other projects to light. The same minds behind the creation of GaymerX are now developing Read-Only Memories
, a cyberpunk adventure game. Gaming In Color
, a documentary film about the LGBT gaming community, was handed off to GaymerX, who will finalize and publish the film.
Rocca said the GaymerX convention has already helped show major companies the audience it stands to gain or lose, and has given LGBT individuals an opportunity to network with those companies and share their thoughts; thoughts Rocca believes will be invaluable as games move forward. "People are getting bored with the homogeny of games. I hear people, even outside the queer games scene or the indie games scene, I hear AAA folks who are groaning when they get another quicktime event or things of the sort. A lot of them want something different," Rocca said, pointing out that LGBT perspectives could be that something. "LGBT people that want to make games, their games have a really good chance of being different and interesting in really special ways because of who they are."
Instead of seeing the GaymerX convention shutdown as a defeat, as the ending of possibilities, Rocca sees all that her company has accomplished and all the ways in which the gaming culture is changing, and she feels optimistic. "This news coming out just makes me excited," Rocca said, her voice bright and enthusiastic."I'm looking forward to the other events, because our audience is dying for another event. Someone's gonna wind up making it, and I don't think it's going to be just one event, I think we're going to see more."
"We're still here," she said.