Recently, these two things happened: Filamena’s post, encouraging women to submit their names as GenCon Industry Insider Guest of Honor; and the strong endorsment by a couple of friends who have been pitching my name to the higher spheres (you know who you are).
The two things coalesce into this giant ball of “go to GenCon, giullina!” which has been sitting in the back of my brain for years, but now it’s jumped to the front. So here’s the thing – I’m a woman gamer from the other side of the ocean, and this creates all kinds of considerations that factor into the final decision.
First off, I’m a passionate gamer. I was happy as a pumpkin the first time I went to Lucca Comics and Games and to Essen Spiel, and GenCon feels to me like the missing element in my convention trifecta. Going to GenCon is something that, as a gamer, I need to do at least once in my life (Gaming Mecca in the US, as Filamena put it, conveys that feeling quite precisely).
Secondly, I live on the other side of the pond1. That means that, well, “one does not simply walk into GenCon”. It’s an expensive trip, which makes better sense if coupled with a longer vacation in the US, something like a full three weeks in August. The direct implication of that, though, is that of course I’d jump at the chance to organize an awesome trip with my spouse, and this is where things get interesting: I’m in a hetero relationship, so my SO is a dude. And he’s a casual gamer2 – I’m the geekier part of the equation.
This is how we walk straight into the third point. I’m a woman considering 15-20 days in the US with my SO, and I’m wondering if it makes sense for us, as a couple, to spend 4 full days in Indianapolis (at the Con, even). So this is the part where I go check the GC website for spouse activities, and here it goes:
Q: What kinds of activities are available for non-gaming spouses?
SPA (SPouse Activities) is a program designed for the significant other, the “gamer widow” or “widower” and is open to gamers and non-gamers alike. We’ve got a variety of events for you to enjoy. From “traditional” crafting activities such as knitting, scrapbooking, and beadwork, to more active programs such as Irish dancing, belly dancing, and self defense. Included as well is a variety of downtown walking tours. We even have an Open Crafting room where you can stop by to finish a craft project you’re working on, start a new craft, or just hang out with fellow crafters. There’s something for everyone in our SPA program!
I’ll admit that the belly dancing class could open interesting perspective on our relationship, but let’s get serious here. I’d like to step away from my personal situation and look at it from a general perspective of a woman considering bringing her SO to GenCon: frankly, these seem to be female activities, and stereotypically so (as was also confirmed by the recent Google advertising fail, where to be categorized as female you had to be interested in crafting). It seems to me that the women = crafting bias that Google showed is present here in the reverse: the Spouse Activities put forward to GenCon appear to be targeted directly at women, thus implying that “gamer widows3” are female. The non-biased activities are, basically, the downtown walking tours – but that seems a bit too little to cover four days of activity.
So here’s the thing. I go to conferences a lot for work, and I’ve organized a few – every time, if possible, I’ve tried to turn my participation into somewhat of a family vacation, and it’s always been a pretty cool experience. Therefore, I’d like to offer some pointers for a better organization of SPAs and in general, to make the event more family-friendly:
- Location is key. The city you choose to organize your event is massively significant for conventions – up to the point where I’ve seen submission guidelines for event organizers requesting them to reduce the touristic information. On the other hand, this is probably the most difficult thing to change, due to the size of the event.
- Full day trips. If you can’t move your event from a generic convention center, you can organize full trips out of town. This is a pretty popular solution here in Europe – buses leave in the morning from the convention center and return in the evening, with participants signing in upon registration.
- City passes. Another thing that rocks is that participants and registered spouses are offered these packages that include public transport cards, maps, and museum tickets. This is a solution often organized in concert with the local tourism office.
- And this is specific for invited speakers (or in GenCon’s case, Guests of Honor): one-day committment. I’ll be brutally honest here and say that the request to participate in “4-6 seminars/panels over the course of the four days” is insanely restrictive. In my experience (personal and shared by my colleagues, regardless of gender), when you have a family and other work obligations, asking someone to stay at your event for the entire duration is impossible. Usually, panelists can participate for one, maybe two days over the course of a 4-day event. Vastly reducing this requirement would greatly reduce the pressure on participants and their families, and would also offer a wider variety of speakers (less panels per person = more people for the same number of panels), which is always interesting4.
So here is what’s going on in my head right now. The baseline is, I still haven’t decided what to do. For now, it seems that it would be too taxing on my family life to consider participating as Guest of Honor, as 1-2 days is probably the most reasonable participation for us (and that would rule me out from the possible candidates).
I guess that my closing question is: GenCon, can you make it easier for me5 to participate? I’m doing my best here, let’s help each other.
- Hello Americans! I’m in the future! ↩
- My SO is involved in game publishing though, as illustrator – but that’s not really related to wanting to spend 4 days at GenCon. ↩
- This is an horrible term, by the way. The word “widow” has such a tragic implication that it feels really awkward to me in this context. ↩
- This is actually what happens in Lucca as well: there are so many panelists that you can speak in one or two at most. ↩
- And everyone like me, which I easily imagine to be a lot of people. ↩