Post-Mortem: Metatopia 2013

I got back from Metatopia in the wee hours of Monday morning, due to a backup of planes at Newark so awful that the Captain said it was the worst he’d seen in years. We got home, tossed our luggage on the couch, and embraced our cats. I went to bed for a blessed ten hours of sleep, which may rival all the sleep I got at Metatopia.

Top of the RockThis trip was really big for me, in a lot of ways. The farthest I’ve been from home (Washington State) into the EST is GenCon. But this trip I went all the way to New Jersey, and even snuck in a few hours to see Manhattan.Getting to be a tourist somewhere new is a hard to come by (because of finances) experience in my life, and tends to leave a lasting impression on me. Manhattan was gorgeous.

So, the professional new experiences. I’ve been an attending pro at conventions before, but this was my first time as a Special Industry Guest. I did playtests, panels, was interviewed live, and recorded four interviews for the oral history archive. I don’t expect people to know who I am at large events, but perfect strangers introduced themselves to me, telling me about what part of my body of work they’d encountered before then. I didn’t expect people to ask about how I got where I am, and maybe that’s a post of it’s own, later, though I’ve addressed that question from different angles in the past.

Metatopia has a similar sense of calm pacing and environment as BigBadCon in Oakland, and GoPlayNW in Seattle. But because of the emphasis on playtests, focus groups, and panels, it’s also a deeply professional and educational experience. If someone has the opportunity to attend Metatopia to learn more about the hobby, professionally and personally, I can’t fathom why they wouldn’t go.

Still having a hard time disentangling some thoughts I have, post-con.

SampatOne of my friends made sure I made it to a friend’s panel during the con. I often duck out of friend’s convention panels, and I think it’s because I feel like they don’t need my ‘moral support.’ Most of my friends are seasoned pros, and I’ve often been afraid of being the dorky friend who shows up for people’s panels/release parties/events, like some sort of maternal instinct to be supportive gone awry. And after this weekend, I’m pretty sure that inclination may be largely bullshit. I went to a friend’s panel, and I learned a lot. I took pictures of slides. I made notes in an email to myself. You are not the sole intended audience of your friends, and until you remove yourself from the headspace of friend, you might miss out on a ton of useful info your friends can give you.
That previous point was hammered home by interviewing peers/friends for the oral history archive. Did I know some of them before that weekend? Yup. Did I know all the things they’d tell me before, during and after their interview? Fuck no. One of my friends compared to the process/experience to “This American Life,” which was flattering/unexpected. The sense of detailed, spoken bibliography being delivered by a primary resource was mind blowing for me as an interviewer. Women were giving me incredibly contextualized, in-depth looks at their work. I’m fairly confident some of what was relayed doesn’t exist in that detail elsewhere, and I’m humbled to have built the trust to be given incredible access to the lives and work of others.

I saw a few folks in traditional dress at Metatopia (I’d define that as clothes that aren’t necc. Western, is from someone’s religious/cultural/ethnic background) and it made me so damn happy. In my own emotional/ethnic/religious context about this, I can usually spot a few guys wearing kippot at, say, GenCon, but that’s it. I never wear mine at conventions because I don’t want to deal with potential bullshit. Metatopia is clearly a place I could visually convey my religious/ethnic background without worrying about it.

The unisex/gender neutral bathrooms were probably the ones I used the most, and that they were arranged by the con is wonderful. Hoping that becomes a trend in the future at other cons.

Going back to unexpected things, I didn’t anticipate getting thanked for work I’ve done, let alone my Twitter account. But it happened multiple times, and every time I shook hands with a Twitter follower saying they enjoy my feed, I did my best to accept it, and not stumble over my words in a sudden moment of “gaping fish face.” When people say you did great work, the most frequent response you should reach for is accepting it, and thanking them for being a part of the people who enjoy your work. When you fight those who compliment your work, you often devalue their emotional experience and engagement with what you do, which is both a dick move and really chancy if you want to keep those who enjoy your work…well, continuing to enjoy your work. Their compliment is not solely about you.

There needs to be a lot more dialogue/conversation going on about emotions and politics when it comes to pushing for positive change in gaming. I’d never had the words for why the notion that we must “politely” present our arguments for equality until Elizabeth Sampat gave me the words during a panel. To insist on people approaching a group in power about the inequality between them is to say to the oppressed that they must approach their oppressors from a subservient place. And that is so very not okay.

Playtesting is quite possibly one of the coolest, most essential stages of developing a game. I never clicked on just how important it is till playing in playtests this weekend.

I’ve got other thoughts, probably dozens, but this is what I could get out right now. Hopefully the rest will untangle over time. And if I met you at Metatopia, feel free to say hi on the blog or over Twitter. There’s no sense in falling out of touch between now and next year.

 

 

My Metatopia Schedule

Metatopia is this weekend, and I’ll be on a few panels around my interview recording schedule for Makers, Schemers, and Dreamers. If you’re interested in being interviewed, drop me a line! I’m looking forward to the panels, recording sessions, and meeting a ton of new folks.

Metatopia

Thursday, October 31 – Sunday, November 3, 2013
At the Morristown Hyatt & Conference Center in Morristown, New Jersey

D017: How To Manage Adult Content presented by Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, John Stavropoulos, Ajit George & Shoshana Kessock. Not every game is meant for every audience. If your game involves concepts that might not be for the kiddies, what are your responsibilities (to players, parents, and the marketplace) and what are the best strategies for making sure you do get to the right audience? Friday, 2:00PM – 3:00PM; Serious, 18 & Over ONLY.

D030: Collecting The Oral Histories of Women in Gaming presented by Lillian Cohen Moore. Avonelle Wing sits down with Guest of Honor Lillian Cohen-Moore to discuss her latest project, an oral history of women in tabletop and live action role playing games, called “Makers, Schemers and Dreamers”.Friday, 8:00PM – 9:00PM; Fun, All Ages.

D051: Inclusivity: Inviting Women To The Table presented by Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Elizabeth Sampat & Shoshana Kessock. During last year’s Gaming as Women panel at Metatopia, the conversation turned to how men can be good allies, encouraging women to join their gaming groups and supporting safe, inclusive space in their communities. Join us for more conversation on this topic. Shoshana Kessock will facilitate this round table, populated by our women Guests of Honor and other women from the community. We invite you to join us for a detailed conversation with practical advice on how to foster communities that are inclusive to women rather than alienating. Saturday, 4:00PM – 5:00PM; Very Serious, All Ages.

 

I Played Gone Home and it Kicked My Ass

If you would like to avoid Gone Home spoilers, you should hit X on the blog now. Don’t worry, I’ll post content again soon and bury the spoiler-filled post from your eyes. I’m pretty sure that everyone who has ever played Gone Home has, at this point, posted their spoiler filled feelings about it. Call me one for the crowd, in this case. I finally bought it this week because it was on sale, and $10.00USD was an amount I could let myself part with even with bills to take care.

So.

Gone Home is a game. You arguably have a character you play, but really, Katie isn’t a character. She’s an observer, whose feet and eyes you borrow to walk around in. Katie ran out of money while abroad and hopped the cheapest, fastest flight she could to get home. When she gets home to the house her family has only just started moving into, there is no one to greet her. And there’s a strange, mysterious letter from her younger sister Sam on the door.

The only sounds in the house are the emergency broadcast on the television warning you about the weather, your too-loud footsteps on the floor, and the sound of the storm outside. Bags abandoned on the porch, you wander this new, strange home, looking for answers.

What I knew going in

  • that Gone Home is about going home, exploring a house that isn’t yours, not really, and riot grrl music like my sisters listened to in the 90s that expressed feelings I didn’t understand and that for some secret reason, it was a game that touched people deeply.

What I expected on an emotional level while playing

  • that Gone Home was some sort of horror game. Every dark corner, broken lightbulb and creepy as fuck room did its’ best to convince me that terrible, unspeakable horrors awaited me. When I found the red-spattered bath tub and the bottle of hair dye next to it, I actually cracked up with laughter. Catharsis. And then Sam’s journal plays, and you hear about the intimate vulnerability of helping her best friend Lonnie dye her hair.

As Sam and Lonnie’s love story unfurls in the objects you find and Sam’s journal, I kept expecting things to go bad. Murder. Suicide. Murder-suicide. Super MASSIVE murder-suicide. Maybe some ghosts. Maybe some murder-thirsty ghosts. The folks behind Gone Home know what bullshit we’ve internalized from horror movies and survival horror games. People don’t get happy endings, or even really get to be happy, and cast attrition is expected. Particularly anyone who isn’t white and heterosexual.

Gone Home gives all that internalized genre learning a big ol’ middle finger, and I love it twice as much for that. What do you find instead of murder and ghosts? Your Mom is trying to find herself, and briefly teetering (maybe even giving in?) to an affair with a coworker. Your Dad screws up his gig as a reviewer after his writing career tanks, but his career makes a comeback rally while you’re gone. Your parents off at a couple’s retreat, trying to find their way back to each other.

But your sister’s gone. And among her mix tapes and secret notes, you get to watch her and Lonnie fall in love, even though you weren’t home to see it. The bullshit they put up with at school, the disciplinary letters, the looks from other kids. You fear that the setting is going to crush them, but you’re rooting for them. For something that isn’t heart breaking to happen to them, together, as a couple.

I sobbed when I was done. Because Sam’s queer fantasies, that sense of inseparability from someone you love, the mix tapes and punk girl hair and the feminist zines and her magazine cut out collages, that was my 90′s too, at least a little. Trying to figure myself out, and figure out what being queer meant to me and being afraid it was going to fuck my life and my family up.

Gone Home is not a game where everyone lives Happily Ever After. But when it ends, you have the biggest, brightest hope that two young women in love will at least get their chance to live.

Happily.

Together.

 

Going to Metatopia

This year I’m a special guest at Metatopia! The convention’s in New Jersey, and the slate of panels this year is amazing. If you’re able to get away for a few days, I’d highly recommend going and devouring some sweet games related knowledge.

My panel schedule is fairly light, because I’ll be devoting as much time as I can to recording interviews for the Makers, Schemers and Dreamers oral history archive.

 

Friday

How To Manage Adult Content 2:00-3:00 P.M.

Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, John Stavropoulos, Ajit George.

Not every game is meant for every audience. If your game involves concepts that might not be for the kiddies, what are your responsibilities (to players, parents, and the marketplace) and what are the best strategies for making sure you do get to the right audience? One Session; Serious, 18 & Over ONLY.

 

Collecting The Oral Histories of Women in Gaming 8:00-9:00 P.M.

Avonelle Wing sits down with Guest of Honor Lillian Cohen-Moore to discuss her latest project, an oral history of women in tabletop and live action role playing games, called “Makers, Schemers and Dreamers”. One Session; Fun, All Ages.

 

Saturday


Inclusivity: Inviting Women To The Table 4:00-5:00 P.M.

Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Elizabeth Sampat, Shoshana Kessock.

During last year’s Gaming as Women panel at Metatopia, the conversation turned to how men can be good allies, encouraging women to join their gaming groups and supporting safe, inclusive space in their communities. Join us for more conversation on this topic. Shoshana Kessock will facilitate this round table, populated by our women Guests of Honor and other women from the community. We invite you to join us for a detailed conversation with practical advice on how to foster communities that are inclusive to women rather than alienating. One Session; Very Serious, All Ages.

 

I hope to see (and meet) a lot of folks at Metatopia this year. I’m filling slots for interviews as fast as I can, so if you’d like to volunteer to be added to the archives, let me know soon!

 

Moderating at GGC

If you’re going to GeekGirlCon this year, you can find me moderating Crowdfunding Without Losing Your Mind on Saturday, October 19th, in LL2 from 6:00-6:50 p.m. I’ll be joined by Julie Haehn, Nicole Lindroos, and Shanna Germain. If you’re interested in using IndieGoGo, Kickstarter or GoFundMe to get a creative project off the ground, we’ll be there sharing our experiences from our own crowd funding campaigns.

The Possession

I recently watched the 2012 Sam Raimi movie The Possession. The basic plot is that a young girl comes into ownership of a curious carved box via a yardsale, and is quickly besieged by a terrible spirit unleashed from the box, which is bent on her destruction. Why’d I force myself to watch the movie? Because years ago, I tried to bid on a strange box on eBay. While my boyfriend at the time began to argue against doing this, our power went out. I don’t ascribe anything supernatural to that (we lived in a house with terrible wiring) but it did make the box stick in my mind. Great story to get a free drink, but I had no idea what had happened to the box once the auction ended.

Fast forward. In 2011, Truman State University Press publishes a book by a man named Jason Haxton, called The Dibbuk Box. A museum curator, Haxton is the newest owner of the strange box: the dybbuk box. In the book’s opener he tells the reader it’s up to them to decide if they feel the events surrounding the box are true, or fake, or some mixture in between. Haxton isn’t a writer by trade, so the book was rough going at times.

But he does his best to chronicle life with a strange, purportedly Jewish artifact in his house. It’s an outsider’s tale of dealing with an insider’s problem, an artifact created by a people he doesn’t belong to, but one he must learn to deal with. Though the film, based loosely on his books, plays merry Hell with the details and circumstances in the book, that basic theme is retained.  There are, however, events and details that remain identifiable as being from the book, which are a nice nod to the movie’s source material.

 

  • The stroke suffered by a woman who comes into contact with the box triggers one of the sales of the box, putting it into a new owner’s hands.
  • Health problems plague people surrounding the box, particularly the victim of its malevolent attentions.
  • The father in The Possession takes on Haxton’s role as researcher, trying desperately to learn how to keep the box and the entity it contains in check.
  • The box has a Hebrew inscription. In the movie it’s a warning about the dybbuk within, and a caution to not open the box. In real life, the inscription is the opening words of the Sh’ma. There are deliberate changes in the spelling and rendering of Adonai and Eloheinu, which take the box from something that would require a great deal of care and respect due to the holiness of the words carved into it, to a less holy object. This is important, because that ‘loophole’ could be used as an ‘out’ for anyone who had to destroy or bury the box. Had the names of G-d been spelled correctly, such an artifact would be far more difficult to dispose of in a holy and respectful manner.
  • The box’s purpose is to contain something far more frightening and powerful than any human being should attempt to trifle with.
  • The box used during filming is a replica of the box currently in Haxton’s possession.

At the climax of the film, Hannah, the daughter possessed by the spirit within the box, undergoes an exorcism at the hands of an Orthodox Jew willing to help the family, named Tzadok. The name pops up in the Tanakh, and it springs from its root, Tzedek, which you can express in English as justice. That root underpins some interesting concepts within other words, like tzedakah and the Tzadikim.

I think the movie was less scary for me as a Jew because it’s set so firmly in an outsider worldview. Visually I found it a bit similiar to Unborn, and The Ring; very bleached out colours, tight scene shooting, an almost claustrophobic sense of being confined in a small space with the plot and no escape of the characters or viewer. Unlike The Unborn, this is not a Jewish film disguised as a horror movie.

The Unborn, which also revolves around a young women who is possessed, did scare me some. But that was primarily because of its insider themes surrounding faith and the dangers that can come for us when our faith is gone. The Possession was ridiculously weak in scares for me, but that helped make it more of an eye rolling, palatable slog than an untenable chore to watch.

Conventions 2013: Remaining Appearences

I only have three conventions left in 2013.

October 4th-6th

  • Big Bad Con: Oakland, CA (Attending)

October 19-20

  • GeekGirlCon, Seattle, WA (Panelist)

October 31st-November 3rd

  • Metatopia: Morristown, NJ (Industry Guest)

I’ll be doing interviews for the Makers, Schemers and Dreamers oral history archive during Metatopia around panels, and I’m seeing what I can do about making time available to take interviews for the archive during my time in Oakland. I’m also looking into the possibility of scrounging recording space to facilitate interviews with women in games who are in Seattle from out of town during GeekGirlCon. If you’re interested in being interviewed during any of those conventions, get in touch via my contact form, and I’ll see what I can do about getting you set up with a time slot. If you’re attending any of those cons, I look forward to meeting you!

 

CROOKED and Other Oddities

This is a great Kickstarter of fiction from local (Seattle) small press Broken Eye Books. It’s closing in on its final day to fund, and some amazing books will hit publication if it does.

  • Crooked, by Richard Pett
  • A second printing for The Hole Behind Midnight (and an audiobook!), by Clinton Boomer
  • By Faerie Light, an anthology that includes fiction from Jennifer Brozek, James L. Sutter, Elaine Cunningham, Erin Hoffman, Shanna Germain, Cat Rambo, Jeffrey Scott Petersen, Christie Yant, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Torah Cottrill, Erik Scott de Bie, Andrew Romine, Ed Greenwood, Amber E. Scott, Jaym Gates, Nathan Crowder, Julia Ellingboe, Minerva Zimmerman, and Dave Gross.
  • Soapscum Unlimited, by Clinton Boomer
  • Questions, by Clinton Boomer and Stephen Norton

These books cover Victorian horror, wicked faerie tales, cyberpunk, mysteries, superhero noir, and a whole lot of weird in between. Check it out if you like some creepy fun with your early mornings (or late nights).

Why I’m Quitting PAX

2013 was my third PAX. And it’s going to be my last, unless things drastically change for the better.

I’ve given PAX multiple chances to stop being an unwelcoming and hostile space to women. I’ve volunteered at PAX, and spent countless hours offline and online discussing how to make the space welcome the actual diverse array of gamers and fans present in the real world. But I cannot in good conscience go to PAX any longer. The visible leadership of PAX doesn’t want to change the status quo, and refuses to learn the decency and empathy required to help PAX change.

The “change from within” movement I’ve encountered from multiple attendees is admirable. But the battle they’re fighting is and will be long, uphill, and slow. PAX is home to a great deal of institutionalized sexism, much like our shared and overarching culture. And I am tired of fighting that battle at PAX, because I don’t think that battle will ever triumph there.

PAX will never change unless it unseats its leadership, or its leadership changes at the very top. And changes does not mean “stops saying horrible things.” It means that the leadership has to listen and change in response to what people say to them.

Am I hurt and angry that people will continue to give money, energy and airtime to PAX?

Yes.

Because so many people ‘know better.’ They’re voices for social change and often staunch supporters of women and minorities of all kinds in other spaces and their daily lives. But when it comes to PAX, they fall down on the job. When you support social change, you have one job: to resist the status quo that oppresses and attacks so many people. Making an exception for PAX is sending a message that you will only go so far for change, that you will only care so much about those who are oppressed and demeaned among you. That your fun or career trajectory will come at a cost to others that reinforces the cycles of oppression.

My energy, time, money and airtime will go to other cons. It will be invested in other spaces. My struggle to fight institutionalized sexism and prejudice will continue, within larger culture and the multitudes of co-cultures contained within it. But all of what I am or could ever offer will no longer go to PAX. I will no longer be a part of a space where I have been viciously sexually harassed, challenged to prove my “geek cred.” I will not give more of myself to a space that shouts women down, online and offline, when we have asked to be treated with basic decency and respect in PAX space.

It is time for me to stop being part of the problem.

It is time I stop falling down on the job.

 

Post Con Report: Oral History Trip 1

The first in-the-field trip for Makers, Schemers, and Dreamers is done. Last weekend (August 14-19) I was in Indianapolis for Gen Con, interviewing women who work with, play, and make games happen. My initial number of women who contacted me for the Gen Con interviews numbered somewhere in the higher 30s. Of those, 16 responded to follow up emails. 8 confirmed their interviews.

Of those, 5 interviews were completed.

  • One was canceled by me, after recording for roughly 4 1/2 hour straight. I didn’t feel I could perform an adequate interview, and didn’t want to record a low quality session.
  • One was missed because the event was programmed into their phone in a different time zone. Since a number of interviews in the future will likely have people from multiple time zones, I’m going to add a reminder to the interview emails to list the event in calendars in the time zone where the interview is taking place. If I hadn’t been reminded of this the night before con, I’d have likely missed all of my interviews.
  • One was canceled by the interviewee, who had become double booked.

 

Things I Learned On Site

 

  • I’d originally intended to record audio inside the convention hall. This was eventually abandoned as a possibility on day one; I recorded all of the interviews in the hotel room I was sharing. The room still presented challenges to keeping the environmental sounds at a minimum, but wasn’t nearly as high a hurdle as recording in the convention center represented. From now on, I’ll likely do all recording from my room. After briefing room mates and hanging a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. (One session was interrupted by Housekeeping.)
  • Recorder location: I haven’t sorted through all the audio yet, but it seemed like the audio recorder was in an okay place on the table between us. Not amazing, but okay. Next time I think I’ll want to use a tripod or stand, in part to prevent any noise from the flat surface being as easily picked up (water bottles being set down, people drumming their fingers).
  • I’ll collect a more detailed sense of biography before the interview, to better customize my questions. Most people do better than they’d expect at being interviewed, but the interviews would have been more sharply focused if I’d been more detailed in my pre-interview research.
  • Two hours was a good recording slot. It gave people a chance to be late, and it gave me a chance to help them warm up before hitting record.
  • Providing water bottles was a hit. Spendy, but worth it.
  • I really need to buy more SD disks so I can start archiving full ones as well as their audio content.
  • Freezing up happens, and I need to account for that. Both on my part and theirs! The farther I got into the interviews, the more on the ball I was about hitting pause when one of us would struggle with what to say (or ask) next. That seemed to reduce anxiety for all involved, and allowed for long silences to gather and organize thoughts when needed. Also necessary when emotional content came up; the pause gave a safe space to experience and deal with intense moments.
  • Scheduling back to back interviews was frankly a mistake on my part. I need to codify breaks between recordings, both for my mental/physical health, and to ensure the interviews I conduct are of acceptable quality.
  • Eat/drink more. I lived off power bars, coffee, and solid meals at dinner. This was not my smartest dietary gambit. I managed to drink a bottle of water every interview, but I didn’t stay as on top of hydration outside interviews. Sleeping more would have been helpful as well.
  • Bring things to help with sore throat.  It still hurts, and I haven’t recorded since Saturday.
  • I had enough batteries, but I’ll be bringing way more than a spare set next time.
  • Find time to emotionally debrief. There was some debriefing post interview, but I tried to keep that focused on the women I was interviewing. Which is fine, but I didn’t do much to debrief myself after they’d left. I also need to not beat myself up for something so normal in terms of an emotional need.

It’s all stuff I’ll be thinking about a lot before the next rip, because interviewing only gets better when you consider and constantly refine your process. Audio will be up once I listen to all the files and determine which ones can or can’t be used, have done cleanup on the audio, etc. Transcripts are going to take me longer, because most of my wrist time needs to go to my various freelance jobs/wrapping projects.

In the end: the trip was work. This project is more than worth it. And I look forward to the work to come.

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