Scattered thoughts on QGCon 2017

Cross-posted to ReFiG (Refiguring Innovation in Games), who sponsored my writeup as well as my trip to this year’s QGCon.

Early this month, the Queerness and Games Conference took place at the University of Southern California. This was the fourth time the conference was held, and the third for which I was a co-organizer. Aside from my usual organizer duties, I gave a microtalk and had two games on display in the QGCon Arcade: DomPam2 (which is still on sale until the end of the month) and The Truly Terrific Traveling Troubleshooter (which my collaborator, Jess, wrote a lot about here).

Here are some scattered thoughts on this year’s incarnation of QGCon:

This was the first year we held the conference in LA instead of Berkeley. It made sense to move it because most of us organizers are no longer based in or near the San Francisco Bay Area. There was a lot I missed in terms of the change in location — USC is not as centrally located to food and other amenities as Berkeley, and we ended up having an unfortunate issue with campus security that made our Saturday night karaoke party less well attended than usual. We’ve been floating around the idea of moving QGCon to different locations every year (I keep rooting for Montreal, of course, and not just because I live here now) but everything’s still up in the air for the moment. Stay tuned, I guess!

One exciting trend I noticed at this year’s conference was a focus on DIY/hand-made works. We had a zine-making workshop, a talk about Icelandic krĂștt music by Niamh Schönherr, and several games in the arcade that either made use of soft physical interfaces (Like Camping), used physical materials as art assets (Ritual of the Moon), or were distributed as zines (Glitter Pits, Squad Force Heroes, On The Internet Nobody). This focus on crafts, soft materials, and human contact is a very important aspect of queer games right now, in contrast to the commercial game industry’s current obsession with sleekness, photorealism, and especially VR. Jess and I have already been thinking through a lot of this stuff in our collaborative work, and I look forward to discovering what else we come up with in the future.

Another thing I appreciated was the focus on care, both in terms of taking care of oneself, as well as putting emotional labour into caring for others. Compared to talks at other academic and industry-focused game conferences, I felt that developers were much more willing to be candid about mental health, lack of access to resources, and other issues resulting from systemic oppression, and that it gave many of us an environment in which we could start to share potential solutions. Many of the games in the arcade similarly focussed on care — I recall a conversation I had with J.C. Holder in which we noted that multiple games involved playing as a character serving beverages to other characters while talking to them, and that wouldn’t it be a great idea to combine them all into a virtual “pub crawl”?

Somewhat relatedly, I ran the sparse but intimate “Invisible Gender and Sexual Identities in the Queer Community” roundtable, which raised a very important question: we often justify the inclusion of diversity in games, including queerness, with the potential to increase one’s “target audience”. We say, “look at all these people not buying your games, let’s make games for them so you’ll make more money!” And yet, what if you’re part of a marginalized identity that’s not significant or large enough to consist of a marketable demographic? Being a cis white male “gaymer” is one thing, but what if you’re nonbinary, PoC, on the ace spectrum, or some combination of identities that makes you feel like you don’t really fit into just one category? Don’t you deserve representation and inclusion? This is a question I constantly struggle with in as someone working in an artistic field so fundamentally (and unfortunately) tied to capitalism, and it was a relief to feel I wasn’t alone in these concerns.

Yet another ongoing theme I was particularly excited about was the queerness of non-human bodies in games. We showcased several works featuring anthropomorphic animals and robots, and Todd Harper gave an amazing talk on monstrous queer bodies that I regrettably had to miss due to my cursed inability to be in two places at once. As a trans person, and particularly as one who is about to have surgery very soon, thinking about atypical bodies and deviance from an “ideal” is very important to me right now, so I’m really glad to see this discussed.

Overall, I’m quite proud of the lovely temporary space we’ve managed to create together at QGCon these past few years, and it’s been wonderful to see it grow and change. I look forward to whatever we decide to do with it in the future!

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