Why Gen Con Presenter Gender Parity “Outrage” is Ridiculous

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He Man Womun Haters ClubIt might come as a surprise to some that last week’s announcement of the Gen Con featured industry presenters being comprised of a female majority – a paltry 52% to be exact if you’re busting out a calculator and taking notes – has lead to overwrought hand ringing and blacklash across the internets. So much so even the Washington Post had an article about the flap on Wednesday. It must have been a slow news day or maybe editors wanted to toss geekdom a tasty bit of clickbait but nonetheless there was the piece.

While the Post was fairly sympathetic, once again the general public gets another dose of how the gaming community must surely be comprised of a lot of cranks, creeps, and woman hating dweebs. I always dig that. Gamers Gate reared its ugly head again but at least the author refrained from mentioning playing D&D in abandoned sewers and steam pipes or costumed devil worshipers.

*Sigh*

Anyhow, regardless of it being a slow news day or not, the Post shared with its readers a virtual maelstrom of descent about the Gen Con presenters. Convention organizers have been accused of reverse discrimination and pandering. A rally cry to boycott the con has been heard. The women chosen as guests have been told they need to pay their dues or informed they’re only unwashed dregs of the “indie” gaming community. They’ve been called talentless hacks, or douchebags, or things I can’t type in good taste. It goes without saying we’re talking about the internet so obviously there’s a whole lot worse these women are hearing…

All because thirteen women, alongside twelve men, are hosting gaming related seminars and taking part in panels? We’re not talking about exhaulted guests of honor here either, simply what Gen Con refers to as Industry Insider Featured Presenters. In layman’s terms? People who felt their professional backgrounds warranted consideration and applied to Gen Con for an opportunity to host a panel or seminar and then given a thumbs up to do so.

Personally none of this “outrage” (false or otherwise) comes as a shock to me but I definitely can’t wrap my head around it. That might be due to the fact my membership card in the He Man Womun Haters Club expired about the time I turned five years old – no worries though since I’m sure Spanky and the rest of those ‘lil rascals were better off without me – but more likely it’s because I believe anyone getting their boxer briefs in a bunch over presenters of any gender makes absolutely no sense. The fact every claim being leveled turning out to be ridiculous doesn’t help in my understanding either.

Honestly, I can’t tell you if this outcry over Gen Con gender parity is really a thing – more likely it’s the same old nonsense from the usual suspects – but it’s a topic of discussion in the hobby at the moment so let’s take time to discuss and debunk.

Paying dues? By my calculations these women have well over a hundred combined years of experience in the industry. Three (Emily Care Boss, Kathryn Hymes, and Marie Poole) either own, co-own, or run gaming companies. For all I know the number might be more than three but I’m only going by what’s included in the online bios at the Gen Con site. Crystal Frasier, Amanda Hamon Kunz, Renee Knipe, Anna Kreider, Jessica Price, Elisa Teague, and Monica Valentinelli have been involved in the design and/or development of quite a few of the most popular games on the market. What’s the beef? I wasn’t aware of any stipulation as far as tenure in the industry to apply as a presenter. Seriously, I’ve never applied so I don’t know but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts the application doesn’t require X number years of being a gaming insider to qualify.

Just what exactly are these rabble rousers complaining about? Should we have the expectation a featured guest needs to have been sitting at the table when Avalon Hill was born? Or TSR? That would be pretty asinine. I did find a few head scratchers, of both genders, in the listing of presenters but more along the lines of someone not having much of a connection with table top gaming than anything else. It’s not as if none of the guys look at first glance to be a bit late to the party but I don’t hear anything about that.

Talentless hacks? I’ve always believed if something gets published with your name on it, and you received payment for that work, you must have some degree of talent. Call me crazy! Even the presenters who are involved in gaming media must be doing something right since people are reading their blogs, watching their videos, and listening to their podcasts all while these women are making money from advertisers and/or crowdfunders. Doesn’t that take a smidgen of talent? Have I somehow misconstrued the definition of talent and talentless all these years?

On the flip side, one doesn’t need to be bursting with talent to post insipid comments or spew a hundred and thirty characters of bile online. Being a prolific tweeter doesn’t display you have talent, just a refined skill in compression.

Gen Con pandering? Let’s be clear up front. Gen Con, to my knowledge, has gone far beyond any other major convention out there in regards to making the show as inclusive and welcoming as possible. At most cons you normally see signs or program notes warning “don’t harass the cosplayers” and that’s about it. On occasion you might even encounter a detailed harassment policy but that’s rare. Gen Con threatened to take their show, and the approximate $50 million in revenue the con generates, out of Indiana because of the passage of last year’s religious freedom law. There was bite to that bark and Governor Mike Pence amended SB 101 to ensure Gen Con and other businesses stuck around.

Also keep in mind the folks behind Gen Con select presenters from the applications received. I can’t tell you who did or did not apply but I’m guessing Gen Con picked the best of the bunch to provide as diverse an experience as possible. It isn’t as if Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were going to be resurrected to make appearances this year, from beyond the grave, but ended up getting an application turned down because their zombies were male.

Any claims of reverse discrimination are also laughable. Granted if we were looking at twenty female presenters out of twenty five I would think it odd; perhaps not discriminatory necessarily but certainly mighty odd none the less. In this case there’s been just one more woman than man chosen and that doesn’t count as discrimination as I see it. Equality? Yes. Parity? Yes. Discrimination? Uh, no. Also why is it whining about reverse discrimination always comes from the mouths of those who wouldn’t know discrimination if it smacked them in the face?

If you want to talk about discrimination why not mention how a great many of the presenters have either current or former ties to Pathfinder and Paizo Publishing? Hmmm? Aren’t other publishers outside of Paizo being discriminated against? Hmmm? Paizo is a featured sponsor of Gen Con. A ton of these presenters work/worked for Paizo. It’s all coming into focus and I’m connecting the dots as I type. A black and dire conspiracy I say! Well, not really. There’s tons of content being published for Pathfinder all the time so reasoning would tell you a lot of folks have worked for Paizo at some point.

Let’s move on to the dreaded “indie” label. This is one dog who doesn’t hunt. If your aim is to marginalize anyone, or their contribution within the gaming community, you’d be hard pressed to do it any better than by stamping it as indie. Yet here’s the rub. The entire table top gaming industry is “indie” in the great scheme of things; just peek at Google to learn what percentage of Hasbro’s yearly revenue stream is generated by Wizards of the Coast if you doubt me. Yet you wouldn’t call anyone at WotC an “indie” developer or designer.

You never know what small company could hit the big time either. I was at Gen Con the year Magic: The Gathering appeared. After the show most attendees hadn’t a clue what the game was let alone took the time to stop at the booth for a demo. On the Sunday of that Gen Con M:TG boxes were being sold at nearly cost just so they didn’t have to be packed back up on a truck. The following year? Everybody and their brother had some sort of CCG in development and you couldn’t swing a dead goblin without hitting some Magic clone. Practically all of them sucked and eventually went the way of Brandon Frasier’s career but decades later M:TG still generates millions of dollars for Hasbro. So be careful about poo-pooing anyone or anything “indie” since you may end up looking down your nose at the next industry millionaire or best selling game on the scene.

Weren’t George R. R. Martin, R.A. Salvatore, Daniel Abraham, and Ty Franck “indie” back in the day? Would you call them that now? I suppose some tagged them talentless hacks back then too.

Plus some of my favorite people in the industry, men and women, are involved with small publishers. They are nearly always a joy to talk with and interview as they’re gamers first and business people second. Of course I’m not saying no one at the heavy hitting companies is great and for them it’s all about the ducats; surprisingly companies you’d think are terrors are wonderful and others you believe would be cool turn out to kind of suck big time. There are even a handful of exhibitors I don’t bother covering at all (either at Gen Con or the rest of the year) because of the way I’ve seen their customers treated and/or how they’ve dealt with me over the years. Who needs that sort of grief?

In five years of tackling Gen Con – and covering table top gaming in general with The Gaming Gang – I’ve had a wonderful time getting to meet the folks behind a ton of these supposed small fry companies. By small fry I mean exhibitors who don’t occupy huge swaths of the exhibit hall so that equates just about everyone outside of five or six companies. More times than not these “indies” have fantastic new ideas and designs and, even at their worst, provide gaming content nearly as good as the big names.To marginalize smaller publisher contributions, as well as the talents of those amazing folks behind the scenes, by negatively associating the word “indie” with them is an insult to not only the publishers but to the entire gaming community.

The final reason why whatever Gen Con presenter gender “outrage” there may be holds absolutely no water is the convention itself. All of the presenters are taking part in panels and seminars at Gen Con. This isn’t San Diego Comic-Con where people camp outside Hall H for days in the hopes of attending a panel for their favorite movie or tv series – getting into a single, solitary panel becomes the highlight of many attendees’ convention experiences. This is Gen Con. A table top game convention. America’s largest table top gaming convention where people look to A) play games, B) check out the latest hotness and purchase new game releases, C) play more games, D) hang out with friends both old and new, and… wait for it… E) try to squeeze in more time to play games.

Honestly, over the period of thirty-some years I have never once attended a panel at Gen Con. Who does? One percent of attendees? Even less than that? I honestly have no clue since the seminars and panels don’t even register on my radar, although they should since it would save me some serious cash; normally when I take a break from conducting interviews in the exhibit hall I hang out at the Gen Con auction.

In no way am I trying to denigrate anyone involved in conducting panels nor discouraging people to check them out; I’ll bet they’re more than likely quite informative and entertaining to attend as well as involve a good deal of prep and a great deal of guts to present. Yet could someone please explain to me how in the Wide Wide World of Sports having women outnumber men by a factor of one, as featured presenters for panels/seminars very few attendees are even aware of, would conceivably diminish the enjoyment of Gen Con for any but the most cold-hearted troll?

Ah ha! Now we’re getting somewhere!

Allow me to welcome you to the true home of 99.9% of the Gen Con gender parity bitching: the land of trolls.

I’m fully certain a good deal of the negativity is coming from the sort of people who post insane opinions and then get their jollies watching comment threads implode. The rest, sadly enough, is the same nauseatingly sick schtick women have had to endure since the advent of the internet. I’ve railed on against all this before so I won’t start rehashing it again. Once again the vast silent majority has to listen to the miniscule vocal minority of ignorant misogynists.

“Girls? Girls! Here?!?!?! They’ll ruin it. They’ll completely ruin (insert object of geekdom)! Girls ruin EVERYTHING!!!”

There’s a big problem with that line of thinking though… Women don’t ruin anything. They make everything better. Okay, maybe not full contact sports but women tend to make just about everything else better.

More women involved in development and design make for better games and a larger variety of them. More woman owning or overseeing game companies makes for a stronger industry. More women at conventions makes for more exciting and vibrant shows. Welcoming people of all types and stripes and walks of life in our hobby, by its very nature, makes gaming what we all know and love. Practically everyone in gaming understands this fact. Only truly talentless douchebags feel angry or threatened by concepts like inclusion, diversity, or equality.

So if you’re really one of the handful of assclowns who honestly feel thirteen women conducting seminars – which you wouldn’t be caught dead near in the first place – as opposed to twelve men is going to pour misery on your Indy parade let me give you two words of advice:

Don’t go.

It’s as simple as that.

I know 99% of the crybabies undoubtedly never attended Gen Con, nor planned to, but if you did have the show on your agenda why not sit this one out? Think of all the money you’ll save! Plus you’ll enjoy four unfettered days of doing what you do best: Showering the online world with your very own patented brand of piss and vinegar! How great is that? Maybe you can brainstorm a snappy hashtag. Something like #GenConGirlsGetGone or, better yet, #StraightWhiteBoysOnlyGenCon because you know that’s what your dank little troll-y heart really desires. Come on. It’s just you and me here go why not go ahead and admit it? I don’t know. I’m not very good with hashtags but I’m sure if you put your heads together you’ll figure out something repugnantly clever.

Sorry to report the rest of us will be reading less of your bullshit than usual though. Why? You may ask. Obviously because we’re all hanging out at Gen Con, stupid! We’ll be too busy having an awesome time playing games with our friends and meeting cool, new, interesting people. Maybe we’ll even enjoy listening to some of those presenters which have you so pissed off. With so much to see and do, the rest of the Gen Con community certainly can’t be wasting precious minutes following the likes of you and hearing what you think.

You know… Just like we do every day, Pinky.

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