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GaymerX Offers a ‘Safe Space’ for L.G.B.T. Gamers
GaymerX Offers a ‘Safe Space’ for L.G.B.T. Gamers
CreditDina Litovsky for The New York Times
Matt Conn didn’t think much of it when he scheduled GaymerX East, a convention celebrating sexuality and gender diversity in gaming, for the weekend after the election. But as the event drew near, he realized that the real world would be inescapable, even in fantasy.
“Depending on how the election went, we knew this would either be a big sigh of relief or a place where people could come together and heal,” said Mr. Conn, the 29-year-old founder of GaymerX, which occupied two floors of the Microsoft Technology Center in Times Square.
The roughly 500 attendees wore badges stating their preferred gender pronouns. Meeting rooms had been converted to arcades, and discussions included “Your Story Doesn’t Need Cis Straight White Dudes” and “Finding & Uprooting Toxic Masculinity and Heteronormativity in Game Design.”
As it happened, toxic masculinity had been having a good week. There was a spike in reported episodes of harassment and vitriol directed at women and minorities in the days after Donald J. Trump was elected. The community that showed up to GaymerX East now felt under imminent threat, not to mention the potential setbacks for gay and transgender rights under the Trump administration.
In a sense, though, the gaming world has seen it before. A pervasive culture of online trolling and hostility, often reinforced by aggressively militaristic games, has made gaming an often unwelcoming place for gays and other minorities. The sprawling harassment campaign known as GamerGate, which targeted female gamers on social media, is an example of the intimidation that has now seemed to spill over into all walks of American life.
“Gaming for a long time has been advertised and marketed to young white men,” Mr. Conn said before echoing a point that has been made about the national mood. “As the marketing and the products are shifting a little bit toward including more women and people of color and queer people, you’re seeing this backlash.”
Out in the lounge, a 32-year-old attendee going by the name Lis, who had come from Harrison, N.Y., and used the gender-neutral pronouns “they” and “them,” said, “This convention, postelection, actually feels more important to me than before.”
Lis was dressed as a nonbinary character from a role-playing game called Undertale: bright blue sweatshirt with pink stripes, heart-shaped locket and brown bob wig. Growing up near Syracuse, Lis obsessed over games like Super Mario Bros. and Star Fox. Lis said, “I didn’t have Jesus, but I had Nintendo.”
Lis’s friend Misha, who also uses gender-neutral pronouns and said the early Final Fantasy role-playing games were “a watershed experience for me,” was planning to slip out to a protest at Trump Tower. “These past few days have been really incredibly depressing,” Misha said. “We’re going to have to fight like nothing before. And I hate that, because what we ought to be doing right now is making awesome queer indie games.”
Down the hall, Mildred Toussaint, a 20-year-old volunteer who identifies as asexual and agender, said: “I wanted to expand my horizons, meet more people, possibly make a friend or two.” Mildred, who lives in Queens and wore a yellow Pokémon sweatshirt, is learning C++ with the goal of designing an original game with L.G.B.T. characters.
“At first, I was scared to come here, because of the election results,” Mildred said. “I was like, ‘What if someone comes here and starts harassing people?’” A few days earlier, Mildred’s friend was on a New York City bus when a stranger told her to “go back to China.” (The friend is Vietnamese.)
Ultimately, Mildred said: “I thought, I can’t skip out. I have to be here, because if other people stop me, then that means they won.”
Upstairs, a Lebanese game developer named Dina Abou Karam, 29, was about to give a talk called “Please Stop Making Me Kill Myself: On Arab Representation in Games.” After 9/11, she said, a wave of jingoistic shooter games typecast Arab characters as terrorists.
She recalled being in Beirut playing Army of Two, in which two “dude-bro” American mercenaries fight terrorists in Afghanistan. When she heard the villains speaking her own dialect, Levantine Arabic, she said she realized: “That’s me. That’s my language.”
Ms. Karam, who is engaged to a woman, had also been the target of misogynist attacks after suggesting on a Kickstarter page for the game Mighty No. 9 that it should feature a playable female character. When she was subsequently hired as the game’s community manager, harassers bombarded her with hateful messages and even posted a photo of her house.
“There’s a subset of gamers that is very regressive, and they overlap a lot with the young Trump-supporter demographic,” she said, adding, “The world in general is bad to women and minorities, and that is reflected in gaming because it has catered to the hypermasculine fantasy.”
In the expo hall, exhibitors showed off cosplay props, game-inspired art and games featuring gay characters, including 2064: Read Only Memories, developed by the same company that produces GaymerX.
Teddy McKay, 15, had been checking out Anthrotari, a text-based game about “growing up as a queer furry in the ’90s.” Teddy, who is transgender and autistic, had just attended a talk called “Exploring Mental Health in Games: Why I Made a Game About My Eating Disorder.”
“I was really interested in coming to a safe space to just talk about gaming in the context of people who are like me,” Teddy said. “Mostly on the internet I have not been able to express that I am anything but a cis, straight white girl.”
Teddy’s mother, Anna McKay, was sitting nearby. They had driven down from Canton, Mass., at 6:30 a.m., along with Teddy’s father and little sister.
“We knew that they would find exactly what they need here,” Ms. McKay said of her children, “especially with the events of this week, which for me were very emotional.”
She began tearing up. “For us, I think, this was perfect timing,” she said. “It’s something we had planned to do beforehand, but I do feel like it’s an important thing to do, to support our family members and to become more active and to not be complacent. We are going to be here, and we are going to continue on. And if I wasn’t active before, I have now been activated.”