Why Australia Needs A Queer Gaming Convention

Every time I see a straight couple holding hands, or kissing, or hugging in public, it’s a little painful.

I'm Liam Esler and I'm gay. I’ve been with my partner for the past eight and a half years, and I don’t feel comfortable doing any of those things. Not necessarily because someone would say something, or do something, but because we become a spectacle for people to react to. I can’t hold hands with my partner walking down the road without being judged for it. And it’s all well and good to say, “Well, just ignore it,” but why should I have to? Shouldn’t it be okay for me and my partner to express even a small amount of affection in public and not be judged for it?

Earlier this year Joshua Meadows and I got together with GaymerX in the United States to organise the first ever queer gaming convention here in Australia. GX Australia is a space where diverse people, women, queer people, trans* people, people of colour and of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds are actively welcome. Where we can talk about the issues that affect us and hang out with people who are like us. And we want you to be there, whoever you are, because we think you’re awesome, that that you deserve to be acknowledged, and we hope that you can support us.

When I was growing up, games were an escape and an outlet: a place I could be myself without fear of ridicule, anger, or disgust. Sometimes it was an adventure, saving the world with Jak & Daxter. Sometimes it was a puzzle, finding solutions in Myst and Riven. Sometimes it was just fun, a place where everyone was equal and we could all just hang out, like with Crash Team Racing.

Games were always a place where I didn’t have to worry about the real world. That was pretty important to me growing up a gay kid in a small country town near Adelaide, South Australia.

I know that I’m not alone in this. For many people gaming is an outlet where they can be themselves in a world they feel doesn’t accept them. Where it’s okay to be a man or a woman or non-binary, and explore what that means to you in a safe space. Where you can love whomever you want to, and not worry about the expectations of society. Where you can explore your identity, who you truly are, without worrying about what others will think of you.

My parents realised pretty early on that I was different, that I wouldn’t fit in at a normal school. They moved out of the city and to the small, close-knit community of Willunga, an hour south of Adelaide, where I went to a Steiner school. The Steiner curriculum is very arts-focused and fit me perfectly, but I was still the only queer kid. This was the right thing to do, but moving me to somewhere with fewer people meant it was harder to find find people like myself who I could relate too. My parents did a wonderful job making me feel accepted within our family and our community at large, but for a long time, I was one of the only queer people I knew.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was different. I was always the weird kid, even at a “weird school.” I never had more than a few friends until high school, when I learned to be funny.

Games and their online communities became my refuge. I met many amazing people: straight, queer, trans*, and everything in between- and slowly began to realise that it was okay to be myself, even though I was different. I learned that different didn’t mean I was bad or unworthy. Different was just that — different — and there were a whole lot of other people like me. I wasn’t alone any more and it felt amazing.

I had found my people and we were all over the world. I often wished I could meet my online friends in person, and some I did, but the tyranny of distance is mighty indeed. Even today I still stay in touch with many of the people I met online when I was a teenager. They watched me grow up and taught me many things I needed to know about acceptance and friendship and how to love people who are different from you. They’re as much a part of me as my genetic family.

This is why fifteen year old me could have really used an event like GX Australia. I know that these spaces are important because of my own experiences and also from having countless conversations with others about how important their communities were to them.

It’s true that we have several fantastic gaming conventions in Australia, particularly PAX Australia, which we mention in the GX Australia Kickstarter video. PAX Australia has done some absolutely brilliant things for diversity, and has worked incredibly hard to ensure their event is welcoming to and accepting of diverse people. I’m constantly in awe of the work they do in this field, in their panels, their support of the Diversity Lounge, the creation of the AFK Room, and many other initiatives.

With all this in mind, you might ask (understandably): Why do we need a queer convention? Why do we need to divide, or otherwise compartmentalise the gaming community?

There are lots of answers to this. For me, the core is this: most gaming events, including PAX, are primarily targeted at people who aren’t me. And that’s totally okay! I’m not in the majority, and I don’t expect all things to be targeted towards me. Gaming events are usually targeted at guys of the heterosexual bent, often considered to be the ‘core’ gaming audience. Events like PAX are doing awesome things to broaden their attendee base and make all people feel welcome, but that doesn’t change the fact that those events aren’t for me specifically. And while that’s totally fine, it would be awesome to have an event that is for me.

Over 50% of the population are women and we still have a long way to go to reduce discrimination against gender. Australia, as a whole, still has issues. Homophobia and transphobia are still very common, despite the fact that Australia is considered progressive in these areas. We want to create an event that recognises this, where we can talk about the issues that concern queer, trans* and other minorities that might not concern the broader gaming audience. Where we can hang out with people like us, who are different.

I want a place where, even if it’s only for a weekend, I don’t have to worry. Where I can hang out and enjoy the games I love, talk about them from my own perspective, and hear the perspectives of others who are different too. Because everything around me, down to the pop-culture I consume, tells me that who I am isn’t normal, that I don’t fit the mold of societal expectations. And for the most part, I’m okay with that. I know I’m not the norm. I know I’m different, and I’m okay with that. I think I’m pretty rad, actually, but it’s taken me a long time to get to that point. And many people never do.

I don’t want the world to change everything that it does just for me. All I want is a couple of games I can play, people I can talk to, and events I can go to that actively say, “Hey. You’re awesome, you’re welcome here, let’s hang out."


    Let's have a straight only gaming convention then.
    how would the gays like that?

      GX isn't just for queer and diverse people! It's just targeted that way. Just like everyone is welcome at PAX, you're welcome at GX. :)

      That would upset the gay community. A gay convention would be open to straight people, as its intention is to celebrate not to discriminate.

    I majorly disagree.

    I worry about these "queer" conventions, as they do not address the overlying issue... And that is gay acceptance within the main stream community.

    YOU should be able to go to the EB Games Expo and hold hands with your same-sex partner. You should be able to put your arm around them.

    Just like I can with my opposite sex partner.

    I think creating a queer convention will just do more to encourage discrimination. We need to fight to get the mainstream community to accept and tolerate people with a different sexuality to their own.

    For the record though... I don't think anyone should be smooching in public, same sex or opposite sex :P

      So good of you to tell lgbt people how to live their lives, and how to properly fight discrimination! As a straight dude, you definitely know more about their experiences than they do. Also, did you have any extra insights on how they should conduct themselves in public? Perhaps a dress code or the like.

        So good of you to tell others how to do the same. Attack the guy saying you should be equal and feel equal...

        Last edited 23/11/15 6:44 pm

          No. I'm not saying we should all be free and equal. Lgbt people have been in a hugely unequal societal position for centuries. Straight white men have not. We do not get to tell lgbt people about how they should experience their lives. Equality isn't a fucking binary, or some zero-sum bullshit game. Equality means lgbt people being free to have a games convention, and you sucking it up for the first time in your sad, bigoted life.

            Sad? I'm not the one full of self hate.... Bigoted? Only on Kotaku would saying "Hey you don't need to be different, I happily accept you into our community, lets stand side by side at a gaming convention" would be seen as bigoted.

            You idiot.

    Just for the record people who do PDA's with their significant others in public suck. Hard.

    But only because I've been single a while now and miss doing that with a gf :P lol

    I heard about this at a panel Liam was on at PAX and wasn't planning on pledging because I was unconvinced it would get funded, but now that I've read through the comments here I changed my mind and pledged anyway.

    My partner and I will both be in attendance, should the event go ahead.

    You're awesome, Liam. Keep on keeping on. :)

    I really wish there wasnt a need for this, i mean sexual preference is, well who honestly cares?
    i mean anyone homosexual certainly doesnt affect anyone else, theyre generally nicer people too.
    i think the fact we need this for people of those preference to feel 'welcome' is disgusting. shame on you human race

    IMHO a gay convention isn't really the answer to any of your childhood problems or your adult views. You want to be ultimately excepted so your segregating yourself. Seems extremely counter-intuitive and the opposite of what your goals should be? Can I also mention as a straight male your levelling the same disposition of lack-of-acceptance on to me that you yourself dislike by holding a 'gay / trans focused' event? These are my feelings anyway.

    WTF is wrong with you people? Liam, I appreciate what you are trying to do here, the creation of safe spaces for minorities is super important! Please don't let these fools dampen your spirits! As a lesbian, having somewhere to chill where I know I'm not the outsider is like a dream come true. Thanks so much again Liam, I will try to support the Kickstarter. Also, noticing a lot of straight cis people who've clearly never heard of systematic oppression trying to assert their opinion and show disapproval of something which doesn't affect them (a bit like same-sex marriage).

      Straight, white dudes. We're the fucking worst. No sarcasm at all.

    The reason why so many gamers are upset is, by creating this convention for minorities and using loaded terms like "safe space", you're implying gamers are so intolerant and dangerous that it requires a need for this separate convention.

    Can you see why gamers would be so upset at this? Every gamer I met at PAX was tolerant and friendly, and not once did my sexuality ever become an issue. They've worked so hard to prove what is said about them and their tolerance is total bollocks. Yet gamers are still being vilified after many years of vilification for various other unjustified reasons.

    Why is there a need for this convention? If the idea is to be inclusive, then we want to minimise our differences, not emphasise them. You may insist to the moon and back that straight gamers are welcome at GX, that doesn't stop the idea of this convention from being incredibly tone-deaf.

    I think it is extremely unwise to rip away the veils and introduce identity politics to the hobby where your identity mattered the least of all.

      Did you happen to miss GamerGate? What part of that made you feel like "gamers" were an inclusive lot?

        That's a poor argument, Gamergaters are a vocal minority of gamers, just like ISIS is a vocal minority of muslims. Don't judge the majority by the actions of a few.

        Last edited 23/11/15 10:07 pm

    Well I'm all for it and a bunch of the comments here show just why it's a great idea. And now I'm thinking of going.

    As an American pastor once said there is more power in unity than division.

    Personally, I have mixed feelings. Both sides of the argument have valid points and concerns. Ultimately though, I do like the idea of a convention celebrating LGBT people and games, In theory at least.

    That said, I find most of Liam's reasoning in the article... unconvincing. Most of the article is his life story and why HE wants a gaymer convention. As touching as it is, it's ultimately anecdotal and specific to him. I'm also deeply uncomfortable with the line he draws to divide himself and gamers 'of the heterosexual bent'. It's cynical and does a disservice to all gamers as well as PAX which puts a large amount of effort into being for all gamers.

    Additionally I feel only focusing on LGBT issues and discrimination is unnecessarily narrow, especially since sexism and racism in games are still big issues and worthy of discussion. I don't see why the focus shouldn't be equality in general.

    Last edited 26/01/16 11:37 pm

    Firstly, love the fact you guys are trying to get another gaming convention off the ground and i'll be there for sure.

    I was initially taken aback by the title of the article "Why Australia Needs A Queer Gaming Convention". . Singling out Australians as homophobic and needing of some education? As a seasoned world traveler, i was under the impression that us aussies are one of - if not the most - open minded and inclusive nation on the planet.

    Reminds me somewhat of the Adam Goodes saga from earlier in the year.. Numerous football goers boo'd ol' Adam for numerous reasons weather that be racism / dislike for his untoward playing tactics or whatever every individuals reason was. Adam decided the booing was racially motivated and pretty soon everyone who boo'd the man was tarnished with the racist brush. No matter how loudly people begged to differ.
    Bringing this back to our gaming convention discussion, Those claiming the organisers are segregating the LGBTI from the straight are the Adam Goodes' in this argument. No matter how loudly others beg to differ.. That overriding sentiment will stick.

    Last edited 24/11/15 12:54 am

    Full support. $50 pledge.
    Good luck with the next 3 days.
    All these people saying the LGBT community has no issues and no need for a space like this have no idea what they're talking about. Yes, activism is required for change, but shelter is required for sanity.

    When I was with my ex-girlfriend, while I was not afraid of being bashed, it was impossible to hold hands, kiss, or do anything with her in public without being leered at, cat called, and otherwise harassed. It got old very fast. It doesn't help that I'm a very physically affectionate individual and I generally love holding hands and cuddling and all that.

    People who say that these problems don't exist need to open their eyes. Just because you've never personally seen it in your every day lives, doesn't mean it doesn't happen constantly and consistently to the people affected.

    Last edited 24/11/15 8:14 am

    You know what we don't need? This shit.
    Gaming is not gender biased. Some games might be pandered more to a certain group of people (like Call of Duty is focused toward 12 year old boys) as that's how marketing works, but that does not mean it is gender biased.

    A "Queer Gaming Con" would just create a bigger rift in the already torn gaming community.
    Leave Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation out of gaming (events at least) and just go back to the fun...

    Here's some equality for y'all - everyone here was equally trolled with this awesome piece of Kotaku clickbait. Bravo!

    I don't see how going from "heterosexual couples kissing in public, in the way" to "queer couple kissing in public, in the way" is any better to be honest.

    Honestly the whole HASSLE kinda makes me keen to move into the Robot age, no complications, simple :-). I intend to have no kids so it's the best of both worlds, (yes I'm against breeding!).

    Last edited 24/11/15 11:58 am

    There are way too many useless points being made in the comment section.

    Bottom line, there is a group of people within the gaming community who would want to be apart of something where they aren't going to feel discriminated. It's really not a big ask.

    You really don't know what real discrimination feels like, it's not just an insult or a slap on the wrists. It's a gut feeling, that can drag you down and make you feel usless. People should have a real think about the matter before they open their mouths, especially considering most of the negative comments on here are coming from middle classed white kids, who have never had to/nor will ever, experience persecution.

    In addition, I'm almost 100% certain you would be welcome at GX Australia! You would be.

    @markserrels i think gaymers are misinterpreting who the real minority really are, cause its not the gaymers. You say we non-gaymers would be welcome to GX? Awesome, I'd love to! But lets not be mistaken here, ALL GAYMERS ARE WELCOME TO PAX! I didnt go in with any intention of judging gaymers, i went there to immerse myself in gaming culture with gamers and gaymers alike, who share the same passion for our hobby as we do. And so did 99% of us that attended.

    The real minority mark, are the people that have an issue with gaymers. THEY are the 1%. So if GX, is about bringing a smaller community together, for them to meet other gaymers and alike, then im all for it, and is support you guys 100%.

    and yeah i agree, gaymers lead hard lives. I see their point of view. but you cant honestly tell me that any gaymer has been made to feel that they wouldnt feel at home at pax. and the 1% minority doesnt count, because at the end of the day, that same 1% is going to hate one person for having long hair, another for wearing thongs, and another for having braces.

    I am of mixed minds.
    Why do we need to seperate the groups even further? For so long the LBGT community has fought to be a part of everything and to be treated equally. Once upon a time, the queer a d the different were treated poorly. But nowadays, I have met so many straight people that were brought up and taught to believe that the gays (and the rest) were of a bad cloth and to be avoided at all cost have at last gotten to know the people they so lonf avoided and changed their minds - the gays are actually incredible people and they can't believe they were tricked into thinking different. It's a vastly changing world. Our children will grow to see all in equal light. But why do we continue to seperate ourselves? It seems so hypocritical, we who have so long demanded to be allow to walk in the same light as others now in turn do the exact same thing the straight once did to us. The gays now turn their backs on the straight and exclude them just as they did once. The LBGT community and label themselves that screams I am different and you'll never understand me and yet demand equality. No. No more labels, no more names. You are human as am I, our hearts beat the same. We don't have to like each other. Move on. It isn't a perfect world. There will always be those who scorn. Not just in the gay community, but in all aspects of life. Work. School. Family. Races. Countries. We accept it is a not a perfect world, but don't let it give us a label and push us further from the community!
    Perhaps if the article had been written as such - the discussion of a gaming convention aimed for the queer because, hey, it would be fun, and all (including straight, bi, the list goes on) are welcome to check it out, I might have seen it in more of a positive light. Entertainment is usually targeted at an audience (e.g 12 year olds, women), and the queer is certainly a target audience! Others are welcome to inspect to see if it appeals to them too. It's a great idea! While it may be open to everyone, you have ever so subtly put down the straight community, and thus seperated yourselves from them. You are here and they are there.
    I do not say I am right. Nor am I wrong. This is just my view, and I adore a educational debate. If anyone would like to give me more of an insight, please enlighten me! While I have my opinions, I am open to learning and upon new facts, may change my mind. Or I may change yours. It is how a good healthy debate should go. :-)
    I should also point out that I have been in a same sex relationship for 8 years, should anyone accuse me of being straight given my opinion above.

    Point & Clickbait says it all really. I'm a white, straight, religious male, and I think it's a good idea. When so many gamers love to use homophobic slurs, and far too many people feel they have to hide who they are so they don't get attacked for it, it is a good idea to have a gaming convention where people can be comfortable with who they are, whether they are straight or gay. I think the only ones who are against it might not be totally comfortable with who they are.

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