This is my first-ever guest column. The young lady who wrote it doesn’t have a blog of her own, but expressed her concern regarding GenCon’s off-putting programming for non-gamers, and I agreed to share her thoughts on my little corner of the web. I hope you find it as interesting and thought-provoking as I do.
So I guess I should start by introducing myself. My name is Natalie, I am 20 years old, a child and youth care worker and a nerd. I’ve attended Gen Con once, had an absolute blast and I just bought my badge for this August. There is, however, one thing that still sets me off in a red-faced rage: the “spouse activities” (SPA). Seriously, I’ve screamed in the faces of strangers about this, something I’m not too proud off. What enrages me even more is that in my courtesy Google search I found a few bloggers who were displeased by the issues, frustrated even. But not pissed off. I saw a gap and I plan on filling it.
Gen Con is amazingly diverse in its attendees and from what meager programing I attended out of the 2+ inch activity book it’s clear to me that the organizers did a damn fine job of providing for every kind of nerd. From table top gamers of all breeds to zombie lovers, anime freaks and LARPers; you name it there was a seminar, class, tournament or show about it. There was also a good selection for maturity/age level. Hit up the hentai cafe or chill with your younglings at the training grounds. No matter who you are or what you like, pull-ups to Depends Gen Con has something for you. Unless you’re female. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is good stuff for the nerd ladies, please refer to the 2+ inch program book. I’m referring to the Con Widow, the poor chick that gets dragged along by their boyfriend/husband to the biggest tabletop geekfest in North America. Upon arriving these ladies aren’t directed to Gen Con, instead they are provided with spouse activities. And what do the organizers think a non-nerd lady wants? Knitting.
The section for those, mostly female, who are not at the con for the con is full of activities like scrapbooking, beadwork, belly dancing and self-defense. Oh, and then there is “Crochet for Your Gamer” where you can “learn to crochet… so you can make fun little things for the gamer in your life.” The D 20 Girls project is running this event. They are also running “The Red Light District” and “Killer Bunnies: Quest for the Golden Carrot” among others. But not for the Widows. Rather than learning about a Dr. Who RPG (a free event, no experience required) or playing a Killer Bunnies game (always a recipe for fun times) the Widows get to crochet things for their gamer partners. Some, if not most of these events are things I can see being worked into the regular programming. They may not be inherently nerdy but as a family focused con it makes sense to have non-gamer activities for people to attend. And with some creativity any nerd can integrate their new self-defense knowledge into a RPG experience. But nope! Instead the randoms are labeled For Spouses Only and gifted to the partners of nerds in assurance that there is a space for them. A nice, safe and quite space away from all the hustle and bustle of the unwashed masses, not to mention their partners, where non-nerds can pass the days until they go back home. Which is just dumb.
So, ladies, if you’re at the con with your nerdy lad and you don’t want to game at all, have no fear for there are many other things to do. Into making or watching films? Maybe you could check out a seminar like “Film Budget and Finance” or “Trailer Park Jesus”, one of many featured films. Like anime? Learn with “The Guide to Anime Tropes” or watch with a room full of fellow fans with “Epic Battles of Amine”. Like crafty things? There are classes like “learn to make chainmail” and “21 days to a novel”. Have kids? Take them to the “Peter Pan Dress Parade” or “Create a Game” which as you may have guessed will teach your young geek how to create their very own game. Not to mention a whole butt load of child care giving you the freedom to check out all these events. And then there is the Misfit events section which has “Spot the Geek” a cosplay photo scavenger hunt and “BattleTech: Firestorm Tesla 11 Virtual Reality Cockpits”. That’s right ladies and gents, for 7 minutes you can command a battle mech on a 31st century battlefield. These are all event sections that require no playing of games and many of the events themselves involve less then nerdy things like watching movies or writing a novel. Yet none of them are marketed to Con Widows. So why have a completely different section for Widows full of non-gaming programing when there are already a few non-gaming activity sections?
If SPA was just another non-gaming category I think it would be pretty damn cool. Learning how to make your own yarn, taking a haunted walking tour of the city and learning the Thriller dance are all fun things that nerds and non-nerds can enjoy. The problem is this: the SPA is girlfriend daycare. Not to be left alone in the con to find the many non-gaming options the lowly Con Widow is dropped off at the SPA center to be entertained until the men folk return home. It is an unnecessary segregation of a group who could be having just as much if not more fun without the penned-in safe zone. There is no need for this category. It perpetuates the misconception that women lack ability or interest in gaming, and more annoyingly that they lack interest in peripheral nerdly pursuits. The insistence that women who do not want to game will be soothed by traditionally feminine hobbies is both condescending and rooted in a strange sort of sexism. For a convention that encourages families to attend it should be reaching out to those with less experience or exposure to the world of geekdom not shutting them up with zumba classes. One massively simple way to fix this would be eliminating the SPA.
It’s an easy solution; all they have to do is integrate the programming. Have an icon for non-gaming activities instead of activities for non-gamers, any overflow can go towards filling out the Misfit section. Design the programming so that gamers are invited to take part in knitting just as much as non-gamers are invited to take part in a D&D game. Don’t make it so that a person coming into the scene for the first time is shown the door to their roped in section of the party while their partner is off riding in a mech suite simulator.