Some queer activists focus on making queer subcultures — drag, for instance — more visible while others focus on entering unfriendly heteronormative spaces. The people behind the video game conference GaymerX fall squarely into that second, often less trumpeted group. The truth is that straight white men have dominated video game culture since Pong. This has made sexism, homophobia, and transphobia commonplace in gamertags and discourse generally. The annual GaymerX, which is about to kick off in Santa Clara, provides a safe space for fans to to be fans however they want. It’s a queer convention, sure, but Matt Conn, the founder and CEO of MidBoss, the company that puts it on, emphasizes that it’s mostly about having fun.
Inverse spoke with Conn about the convention’s evolving agenda, how the event has changed over the years, and how having fun can be a radical act in and of itself.
Could you talk about the inception of MidBoss and GaymerX?
We created GaymerX first. We did a Kickstarter for it about four years ago. We weren’t an official business at the time, but we were doing meet-ups and stuff in San Francisco just for gay geek and gay gamer stuff. I think people really enjoyed being in a place where they could be their true selves and not have to hide their geekiness or their queerness. They could just revel in their truth. We started a Kickstarter for doing a bigger event, and we had no idea what the response was going to be, but it was super successful. We did the event first and from that we realized we wanted to do other things like make a game and a documentary. So we decided to make an actual company to help us expand in that way. We were trying to think of a name that would be interesting and encompass more than just the convention.
Why the name MidBoss?
Midbosses are boss characters you meet in a game that you have to defeat before the big boss. I felt like that had some queer identity to it because the midboss is an underrepresented, overlooked underdog in the game.
What were the problems in the gaming community that you wanted to address by creating GaymerX?
GaymerX is not really made to solve those problems. It’s a place where people can come together and feel safe and welcome around their peers, have fun, and enjoy gaming. We try to keep it light on the politics. With our game Read Only Memories and some of our other work, we are trying to show people that you can make fun and interesting stories and games that feature queer characters in meaningful ways. So there is that. We just want to empower people and communicate to them they can create games and it’s not that hard and there actually is an audience and a world out there that wants them.
Right, but isn’t it inherently political to create a queer space where people feel safe? That’s kind of what queerness is all about.
To an extent, but I feel like basic human needs shouldn’t be political. I don’t really like classifying it like that.
But the safe space for queer gamers is really important in a political way.
I don’t mind being political, but I don’t want GaymerX to be political.
Because you think that turns people off to it?
I think you can get a lot more flies with honey than vinegar and I don’t think people want to have a heavy-handed experience. Too much of life is like that. I’d rather that people come and have a really good time and find a community and build something from that. When it gets to be political people start taking sides and it can get ugly, it’s not really conducive to finding solutions.
The reason I’m asking so much about the politics is that it does seem like part of the agenda. For example, on your website, Toni Rocca’s bio begins by saying she’s a feminist activist.
Well that’s Toni. That’s her whole thing. I have a different philosophy.
So a lot of people on your team have different values? How does that contribute to the overall work ethic?
I think we all want to create the same world, and we all have a shared common vision of the thing we want to see. I think we may not always have the same strategies or tactics or agree on those things, but I think that actually allows us to be stronger and see things from different perspectives. We have a really nice mix of straight and cis and gay and trans and female and male and everything in between. Some are more traditional; some are more radical. But we’re all pretty radical when it comes down to it.
Yeah, the idea itself is quite radical. How is this year’s event going to be evolve that idea?
I would say the biggest difference is that we have a lot bigger companies and people attending. I think that when we first started, it was a smaller community-based thing, but now in our fourth year we have companies like Intel and Microsoft coming that people would never have thought would be involved in this gay environment. Having these larger gaming companies, there is a sign that the industry wants us to be part of the community and I think that’s a really empowering message. We wanna help place queer people in the industry, and these bigger companies are looking to hire some of those people. That’s ultimately how you change things from the ground up.
Do you have any plans for expansion?
The GaymerX convention on Friday is in Santa Clara, California. We’re going to do one in New York City in November and then around May next year we’re gonna do it in Australia. We were originally doing one big event a year and now we’re trying to spread it out more. My goal is to have this main GaymerX decrease a little bit in size and be a bit more community-oriented and then just have more smaller events all over that serve local communities as opposed to being this ultra massive event, which is super hard to produce.
Do you have any specific goals for this year?
I just enjoy getting to meet people who are excited to be at the event and who are inspired to do something because of it. I get a lot of fulfillment out of seeing that reaction. I think it’s really tough because in the past few years there have been so much politics that have entered gaming and it’s become this battle ground and with GaymerX I just want to see people have fun and relax and find their community.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Photos via Getty Images/Sascha Schuermann