4-6th January 2013 I had the pleasure to be a part of the feminist role-playing game convention FemCon, in Umeå Sweden. The event is best described by its tagline: ”By Women, For Everyone”.
The goal of FemCon was to create a gaming space where being a woman was normal, especially being a woman in a leadership position, as well as creating a kickass gaming convention. All of the organizers were women, and so were all the scenario writers, the game masters, the artists doing art exhibits and art workshops, and all the the seminar leaders. The drop in event Indierummet NordNordOst (The Indie-room NorthNorthEast) ran indie games designed by women. (Psi-run, Thou are But a Warrior, Kagematsu, Thousand and One Nights, Cat of Excellence and a bunch of other games.)
Players of all genders were welcome.
This was the first year FemCon was run and it was a small but intense event. There were about 50 participants and the event ran from Friday to Sunday. It was organized by the non-profit gaming club Gaia Projektet, and the main organizers where Johanna (“Jojjon”) Nyberg Hamrén, Jennie Larsson and Ewelina Lundholm. I was there to game master “Sagas of the Icelanders” since it is a kickass game that addresses gender in a interesting way but also because I contributed to the game with the essay “Viking love life ” on viking gender roles, love and sexuality. I had a blast and Sagas was very well received at the event.
I’ve been to a bunch of gaming conventions, but somehow this was the nicest one so far. Cons are usually full of friendly and interesting people, but at FemCon it was super nice. Relaxed, inclusive and with a strong sense of an inviting community. I think that might been partly due to the size of the convention and partly due to the efforts the organizers taken.
All sort of small nice touches saw to create an inclusive and feminist event. The coziest armchairs and sofas were set aside for discussions corner for talking about feminism and gaming. There was free vegetarian food, coffee and cakes for game masters and volunteers. They had a Day Watch and a Night Watch, valiantly staying awake during the night to help out with any issue that might arise and create a safe environment during the night at the convention. Part of the money the Gaia Projektet earned through the event was donated to environmental charities. The scheduling saw to it that a seminar on gender stereotypes in pop culture was placed so that everyone could attend it without missing out on any of the gaming. All debates and discussion about gender and gaming was full of nuance and good listening. It was a very well designed event. Tons of small stuff like that add up to create a great atmosphere.
People came from all over Sweden to be part of this event, including the head of Sweden gaming union1 Rebecka Prentell and people who had twenty hours train rides came out to attend.
For many of us game masters and volunteers it was a powerful event. As one of the game masters expressed it, it was the first gaming convention that she wouldn’t be judged to be a good or bad game master for a girl. It was the first time her performances as a game master would not reflect on her gender, only at her as an individual. Where her failure or success would not be seen as a sign of how good all women are at game mastering. Only how good she was. Women were allowed to first and foremost be judged as an individual and not as a woman.
What of the men then, weren’t they discriminated against? No. Not in my opinion. Umeå has a very active gaming and convention scene. There are a lot of other role-playing events during the year. Those events are usually dominated by male game-masters and scenario writers. In that context, one event where men still are very welcome as participants but not as game masters is not problematic, in my opinion. An event like FemCon is about creating safe space where a underrepresented group get a chance be part of the norm for once.
FemCon rocked, and hopefully next year’s event will be even bigger and more badass.