• Makers, Schemers and Dreamers – An Interview with Lillian Cohen-Moore

    by  • July 29, 2013 • People & Events • 1 Comment

    Who are you and what are you doing at Gen Con this year?

    I’m Lillian Cohen-Moore. I’m a journalist, and I’m going to Gen Con to start recording interviews for a women in gaming oral history archive. The archival project is called Makers, Schemers and Dreamers.

    Why should an average everygamer care about this project? 

    Because stories are awesome. If you take the time to listen to one of these interviews, you’re taking the same type of time as you do to tune in to a gaming podcast. We listen to gaming podcasts because we love our hobby. You can learn new things about gaming, and the gaming community, by hearing their stories.

    Why do YOU care about this project?

    I love history, and I love interviewing people. Before I had a stroke, I was a triple major in college; History, English and Psychology. The desire to preserve and increase understanding of community histories has been with me my whole life. I was born and raised for most of my childhood in Richland, Washington, which was home to one of the Manhattan Project sites. My childhood was steeped in a number of very blunt, honest conversations with my father about the history of our town, and the role it played in world history. That blunt, clear approach to history is what I carried with me into adulthood, and really underpins my approach to journalism.

    You’re funding the trip to Gen Con using crowd funding.  Tell me a little bit about that.

    Getting to Gen Con from Seattle costs a lot of money. I did the math, and the tiniest budget I could make was $1700. That would have to cover airfare, room, food, taxis to/from airports, and any incidentals, like continuing my trend of not remembering to pack allergy eyedrops. I’m in a scraping-by phase around paying back student loans, so I couldn’t afford the trip in a fiscally responsible way on my own. I admitted to myself that I would need help to do the trip, and decided to do a GoFundMe campaign. GoFundMe hosts campaigns from people trying to raise money for something. Paying off debt, trips, honeymoons, emergency medical expenses, their kids’ camp fees, a lot of things that people could really use an extra helping hand to make happen. I really don’t like asking for help, but by raising the $1700 I won’t be robbing my bill money to do this project, and getting the trip covered meant I’ll be able to travel to the convention and interview women for the project.

    People who donate to the campaign don’t get anything physical in return. Their chipping in helps me go out to Gen Con and do my job as a journalist, and anyone with an internet connection  is going to be able to access the archive when it’s done. I’ve had donations from folks who work in the gaming industry, historians, fellow journalists, gamers who want to chip in, friends who could afford to and want to see me make the trip happen. If I go over the $1700, I’ll put that money towards work expenses, like buying audio equipment so I can choose not to borrow expensive audio equipment (like I am on this trip).

    If someone wants to donate, they can visit the GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/383vz0

    I’ll be posting about the project whenever trips like Gen Con happen, and when transcripts and audio files are going up on the web at my blog, www.lilliancohenmoore.com

    I love the idea of giving the community the chance to pitch in and support projects that have substance and meaning that might not manifest otherwise. It feels very “many hands make light work”.  Makers, Schemers and Dreamers sounds like a vast undertaking.  For those who would love to provide support, but don’t have the ability to chip into the pot financially, are there other ways for people to get involved?

    If people want to tweet, post, link it, in any way signal boost it, that’s as valuable as financial contributions. Projects like this can’t survive if no one knows about them. I’m happy to add people who want to be interviewed to my list of folks to speak to after Gen Con, with the caveat that some of that correspondence may be very slow going on my part while I deal with other work.

    Speaking of work, tell me a little more about the project –  “Makers, Schemers and Dreamers.” Is your Gen Con project one part of a bigger vision? 

    Makers, Schemers and Dreamers is a project that will formally start in August 2013, that I want to wrap next summer. It’s an independent, online oral history of women in gaming, focused on women in tabletop and Live-Action Roleplaying. There will be transcriptions, audio, and a post-project report summarizing my data and experiences while assembling the project. There is a massive amount of academic literature and resources pertaining to video games, including oral history material. I wanted to add to the data available about gaming. It’s important to me to add new material that isn’t easily findable, and oral history material about tabletop and LARP isn’t thick on the ground. That goes double for the history of women in tabletop and LARP. In my original call for respondents, I said I wanted to talk to people who self-identify as women. I want to do my best to include trans* women in the project, because that’s another voice we don’t hear enough, in history and in journalism. I find it an ethical imperative to tell stories from people who don’t get the majority of journalistic or academic attention, and women continue to be a group that is often deprived a voice.

    Whenever I can till between now and next summer, particularly when I’m attending conventions, I want to do on site interviews with women who work with tabletop games and LARPs. And I’m not just interviewing content creators, I’m looking at con organizers, games beat journalists, GMs, public relations reps, anyone who works or volunteers with those two types of games. Gen Con is the first “field trip,” which I wanted to use as a test for interest and feasibility. It may be that the interest simply isn’t there in the community, and it’s all together possible I am biting off way more than I can deal with doing this solo.

    Since I’m based in Seattle, the population of women here who game is sizable. But those are women I can work with easily to get interviews done. Interviewing at Gen Con and other conventions means I get access and time with women who aren’t local to me, which helps widen the scope and diversity of women I can talk to.

    I think by the end of the year all the Gen Con interviews will be online, both audio and transcripts. I’m a reasonably speedy transcriptionist, but I have to do the oral history work around the pays-the-bills work. But I’ve got a lot of coffee and a wrist brace, so I’ll probably be okay.

    Why gaming? why women? That seems a very specific subsection of the histories available to you.  

    Gaming is a meaningful activity. It’s recreational, it’s constantly changing, and it’s something done worldwide. It can be a release, a creative stimulant, a bonding exercise, a community to belong to, gaming does so much for the people who are a part of it.  I want to preserve some of the history of gaming, because it’s constantly in motion. I’m only going to be able to preserve snapshots, but they’ll still be a way to observe and analyze this period in gaming. I think play of all kinds is essential for human survival, and I want to do a little part of showing people how important gaming can be.

    As for the women’s history component, the default setting on history is men who have power. We already know that history and the shape of its narrative. It’s also incomplete, on the micro and macro level, without recording the contributions and experiences of women. We will never understand the world as fully as we can without giving voice to people outside that default setting.

    Crowd funding seems harrowing, because people are unpredictable in their generosity.  I know that you also crowd funded a trip to NASA – have you seen a difference in response to this campaign? I’m a little suspicious that the cool factor of NASA and Science! made that a zippier campaign, whereas the concept behind this one has made for a slower path.  Does your experience or gut agree or disagree? 

    The trip to NASA funded virtually overnight. Science journalism is getting increasingly popular, and with the revival of national interest about NASA, that trip was easy for people to connect with. Subject matter defintly played a huge role. Also, since I was live tweeting the trip, and blogging within days of getting back, it retained a fresh and immediate product for people to follow. They got what they wanted out of donating very quickly. It’s not as easy to do that with this project. Post-trip processing of audio and doing transcripts is going to take me more time than the writing I did post-NASA did. Oral history is equally intense as on-site reporting was, but the product takes longer to appear. History isn’t as glamorous for a lot of people, and I understand that. Since this is a project I’ve wanted to do for years, I think some people know I’ll make it happen however I can, so there isn’t that same “fund or we all miss out” feeling there was with NASA. That funding campaign was whiplash short and very under the gun.

    From the peanut gallery here – What’s your poison? What really gets YOUR gaming blood moving?  

    Epic Spell Wars. Fiasco. LARP. Anything that has the potential to be completely off the rails if the group buys into the experience. And those three game experiences are ones I’ve had where that incredible level of buy in has happened. I had a great game of Epic Spell Wars where everyone used their most epic voices. I’m renting a house because of two games of Fiasco I played, years apart. And I cherish the incredible, terrifying, beautiful experiences I’ve had while LARPing.

    How did you become attached to the broader gaming community/industry?          

    I’ve been gaming since I was a kid. When I moved to Seattle in my early/mid twenties, I joined a LARP troupe and became friends with a wonderful women there, Jennifer Brozek. I ended up working for her as a personal assistant (and now do social media work for her), which is the sole reason I wound up attached to the gaming industry. If I’d never worked for Jennifer, I wouldn’t have had the skills I developed working with her that would lead to me proofing and editing game material, and I wouldn’t have made the friends who would suck me into writing material for games. My work with Jennifer also helped put me on the radar for a number of the writing gigs I’ve had the past few years, including my work as a games journalist.

    So, Jennifer was a huge part of how I got to where I am. But if I hadn’t been blessed with a great, accepting, games loving family, I’d have never been involved with games at all, community or industry.

    Where is your gaming home?       

    If we’re talking the system or world that owns my heart, the old World of Darkness owns some serious real estate in my heart, and it always will. I’ve played so many different games since the weekly game my Uncle ran for me and my friends in junior high, but the WoD games were games where I really built my confidence as a gamer. They’re still very strong touchstones to me, even now.





    At heart, Avonelle is a larp player, designer, writer who happens to run gaming conventions.


    One Response to Makers, Schemers and Dreamers – An Interview with Lillian Cohen-Moore

    1. avatar
      July 31, 2013 at 17:02

      If I weren’t a farmer (in the dictionary, it says “see BROKE”), I’d kick in. As it is, be sure to look up Dawn Sutton with FASA at GenCon. She and her husband James are well worth interviewing.

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