We came away from HavenCon feeling even more excited that events like these are becoming more friendly and welcome to the wider gaming community. Want to know what all goes on at a convention of LGBTQIA gamers? Here’s our introduction to the inaugural HavenCon event in Austin:
Celebrating Diversity in the Game Industry
While HavenCon supports those whom identify as “Gay”, the event also caters to the entire LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual) community. It also reaches deep into the professional game industry across with many prominent developers attending, not surprisingly a few from Bioware. Events For Gamers also attended to show support, as our site’s very existence depends upon a diverse viewership, not to mention it’s just the right thing to do.
HavenCon is a convention not about the business side of the game industry, but more about the friendly and diverse LGBTQIA community. Everyone was excited to be amongst their friends and peers in an environment that felt safe. In their own ways, everyone represented the need for support and acceptance in an industry that still has a long ways to go to be as inclusive as other groups have achieved, even when comparing to women in games.
Equality in diversity is the key phrase that hits at the core of what events like HavenCon are all about. Think about when you sit down at a computer and fire up a game. Have you ever created a character of the opposite gender? What about adding a touch of pink or green to their hair, longer eye lashes, a change in skin tone, or voice inflection? Does it really matter to others in the game who is behind that avatar? It usually never crosses their mind, as it’s simply not a concern.
Having a safe haven to understand yourself and place in the game community is what HavenCon is about in our view. The event is a great resource for gaymers to express and celebrate their natural preferences and diversity together. In many ways it’s much like any other convention with cosplay, games, and other activities, except with HavenCon attendees have a space to pull back that game cloak without being afraid of supposed friends shaming them for being different.
The Hotel and Vendor Hall
All of the planning that went into HavenCon was worth it, starting with the coordinator’s choosing a hotel that had a layout that didn’t make you walk for hours to find the bathroom, or wonder if the next person around the corner was friend or foe. The convenience was welcomed by all. Nearly all con space was on one floor, which made it nice to both access a panel in a hurry, as well as impossible not to bump into an existing friend or meet someone new.
While we definitely have to give props to all involved in making HavenCon a truly safe haven, including many volunteers and guests, the hotel staff were also instrumental in supporting the event. Without a place for the guests to stay and gather under one roof, a HavenCon type of event of this scale wouldn’t be possible at all. We thank the Holiday Inn for hosting the event!
In addition to the standard event expectations of a panel hall, snack lounge, and meeting rooms, there was also the main stage room filled with vendors from across the country. I enjoyed visiting this space regularly to talk with the vendors presenting everything from plushies to board games. If you wanted to hang out in a central area just to randomly meet new people, this was the place to do it.
Sessions, Roundtables, and Panels
While conventions are mostly about celebrating the fun in games and dressing up in cosplay, there are also a series of panels and roundtable sessions. HavenCon had these across several rooms fully equipped with projectors and recording equipment. It was just as well setup as any other events we’ve ever attended. I had panels on both Saturday and Sunday mornings with a full audience that asked a surprising breadth of questions. We even went overtime on talking about their own topics!
A speaker highlight was Dr. Rebecca Housel, Pop Culture Professor and writer of many articles and books, as well as a very talented speaker. Her first panel on Saturday talked about Joss Whedon, an actor and screenwriter that wrote the story behind the famous Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, Angel, and of course Firefly. He’s been a major proponent of equality both in and outside of the game industry, sharing much of this ideal in his writings.
To follow Dr. Housel’s work, visit her website at: http://www.rebeccahousel.com/
There were also panels discussing the furry community. What is a furry? As with any hobby, most furries are normal people just like anyone you’ll meet at work or anywhere else. The furry costume is simply a way to express yourself in a way that you may not normally be comfortable or able to by your everyday persona. We all have our spirit animals or inner guides throughout life. Being a furry is just one way of expressing that part of themselves.
For developers that have seen this level of diversity, they should be designing games with diversity as a natural selective process that makes sense for their games, not as something that’s added because it is expected. Every game has the opportunity to include gay characters, but it doesn’t have to look like they are included just to appease the lawyers. Once straight gamers don’t think twice about that gay character they’ve selected, then true acceptance and diversity will have been achieved.
Expression of Diversity Through Cosplay
One of the highlights of the event was of course the Cosplay Contest. No convention of gamers and geeks is complete without contests that show off the amazing talent in attendee creativity. Every convention we have ever attended has a strong presence of super heroes, anime characters, or furries.
Sound strange? Just think about all those times you played a Ratonga in EverQuest, transformed into a bear in World of Warcraft, or as an Aurin in WildStar. Just because events like HavenCon present characters in the real world and not just in a fictional pixelated setting, doesn’t make them suddenly too close to reality to accept as an important emotional attachment.
The Cosplay Contest went beyond furries and characters in role-playing games. There were Pokemon and DC Universe characters, such as Pikachu (my costume) and Batman respectively. A Maleficent from last year’s movie also made an appearance. No one thought twice about whether someone was male or female, gay or straight. This blending of one’s identity is also a strong component of the furry community, where it doesn’t matter who’s presumed sexy body might be under the hood. It only matters that there’s a human with feelings under there.
Expectations for Attending HavenCon 2016
We came away with a very positive view for the future of the event and those whom attended. There’s little doubt that we plan to attend and support next year’s event!
What we didn’t see at HavenCon were the stereotypical ‘showing off’ of the gay community, or of pushing a supposed ‘agenda’ onto others. These are unfounded ideas some in the mainstream media still assume LGBTQIA folk are somehow after. These kind of events are inclusive in all the ways that matter. I challenge and strongly encourage straight folk to attend to better understand why these events exist.
What if HavenCon was in your city next year? Would you attend, even if you identified as straight or as some other diverse group like furies or as a character in your favorite MMO? We think you should then attend any convention like HavenCon where you’re brought together with like-minded gamers that share common interests. It’s almost guaranteed that usually allies, not enemies, are made along the way.
Keep watch at havencontx.com and here on Events For Gamers for the latest updates on HavenCon 2016 and all game industry events related to the LGBTQIA community. If there are groups out there that want to game with others in a safe and friendly environment, you can’t go wrong with HavenCon and its supporters.
We support you!
You can also read our interview with the HavenCon team.