GenCon 2013 has come and gone, and there is so much I could say about the experience. I’ve already done a little bit of talking about some of the more unsavory parts of the convention that went down (UnderwearGate 2013 and the Nazi cosplayers), but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that the only things that went on that weekend are unfortunate. Quite the opposite actually! Most of the time the convention was a pleasure, and I want to give a shout-out to all the amazing things I got a chance to participate in this year.

  1. Getting Started In the Industry Panel: I had the opportunity to speak on the Getting Started panel, talking to a full audience about what it’s like getting into freelance work in gaming as well as self-publishing. Brian Liberge, Tracy Barnett, Eloy LeSanta, and Matt Parker were wonderful to speak with and the audience was exceptionally receptive to our information dump. It was a wonder to sit back and be able to tell folks honestly that five years previously, I had been sitting in their seats with the exact same hopes to get into the industry. Now, I have this information I could share with them about how to get going!
  2. Religion in Gaming and Mental Health Panels: I’m lumping these two together because frankly, both of these panels were amazing and went by entirely too fast. The Religion in Gaming panel covered appropriation with Jaym Gates and Lillian Cohen-Moore and we went right after the topics about appropriating icons, legends and practices without context. The Mental Health panel was also way too short, but John Adamus and I really dug into how to work on taking care of one’s self while still working and being part of the gaming world. I felt nervous going into both panels too for different reasons – one is that I always get nervous being a moderator (for religious appropriation) and the other because speaking about dealing with my illness is still hot button for me. Nevertheless, both panels put me in a place to share information I had and discuss topics important to me.
  3. Mental Health And Game Design: This was the panel I was the most concerned about being a part of, and maybe rightly so. There’s still a lot of folks who don’t feel comfortable with hearing people talk earnestly about their mental health and the challenges it presents when you’re trying to be a professional. Still, John Adamus and I did a decent job for a short panel – there could have been a lot more to talk about.

The best parts of GenCon however came from the people I got to spend time with over the weekend. I was able to sit and talk about upcoming projects with a number of folks including Josh Jordan (author of Heroine), Tracy Barnett (author of School Daze), Brian Engard (author of Becoming), and many others. Needless to say its been a joy because I got the opportunity to plan some great work with amazing people AND just spend time with folks I don’t get to see very often. 

Now I’m just recovering from this adventure and getting ready for the next few – PaxPrime, WyrdCon and the return to graduate school. Tune in next time for more!

21805945Welcome back from GenCon, fellow gamers! To all those who attended as part of the nearly 50,000 gamers who hit the Indianapolis area… are you as tired as I am? Good lord, it was a heck of a convention. I will talk more about it in my next post. First, however, I’m going to riff on a different problem. Let’s talk together, shall we, about Nazis.

Nazis are the bad guys in so many games its hard to make a list. They serve as the ultimate expression of evil given form. Nazis represent the boogeyman of human devastation, of dehumanizing monsters in uniform who have no consideration for their fellow man. They are the perfect example of a person divorced from their empathy for the ‘other’ in the world, willing to destroy lives based on their rhetoric. It’s hard not to see a Nazi in a piece of work and not say ‘that is purely evil.’ That is, in fact, what most game designers count on when they add Nazis into their work. Need a villain that everyone can rally around kicking around? Make it Nazis! Want people to feel comfortable with walloping the crap out of a person in a game with, say, a rocket launcher? Make the villain a Nazi and suddenly people don’t feel anything anymore because, well, it’s the personification of evil. That’s what Nazis have become in games – the shorthand for a villainy so vile there is no explanation needed. It is #evil with a capitol hashtag. And for some people, that’s all Nazis are.

For other people, they are the nightmare of our grandparents’ childhood. They are the stories we heard growing up about relatives we’ll never meet. They’re the reason our relatives never felt safe all the remaining days of their lives, and named their daughters and sons after children that were no longer alive. They were real boogeymen that crawled out of history and into our lives. And to some, they’ve become a media punchline.

I won’t go into how difficult that can be for me. After seeing my third product in the dealer’s hall at GenCon, I may have exclaimed loudly that I could use a moratorium on Nazis for a little while. I could go one year without seeing Nazis used haphazardly in a game. Then I considered that thought and moved beyond it. Nazis being used in games might bother me, but they’re contextualized in those games as the villains they are and ought to be in media. I even saw games that treated the material well, such as Ken Hite’s book Nazi Occult and realized that not all Nazi representations were created equal. The content might be difficult for me but that is me. I can avoid those games, or choose to appreciate them from afar.

Then, I encountered the Nazi cosplayer.

I wish I had a picture of this person, walking down the street past the noodle shop in downtown Indianapolis. I was sitting with a friend, talking about how wonderful the convention had been so far, but not five minutes before I had been discussing how tired I was of seeing Nazi EVERYTHING lately. Then, no sooner had we moved on to another topic but BAM. Here comes a Nazi down the street. I got a good look at the whole outfit and even as I tried to place what he might be cosplaying from (was it a video game? an anime? a film?) my brain came up with the only answer that counted: NOT OKAY.

Context is a very important consideration when looking at difficult content in media. If there is, say, racist content in a piece of media, is it contextualized to represent that racism as acceptable or unacceptable? Is it historically placed? What does the piece of work say about racism through the events going on around it? All of these things provide context. However, cosplay is one of those mediums that offers very little context. Unless someone is crystal clear what that person is costuming as, there is no context between a cosplayer in a Nazi outfit and, say, just someone wearing Nazi regalia and walking through a convention. And left without the context, I couldn’t tell what the hell this cosplayer was intending. Was he intending to just represent the villain of some piece of fiction, or was he glamorizing Nazis through his pristine costuming? I had no idea. All I saw was a Nazi walking down the street past where I was eating and I couldn’t drive that image out of my mind.

Say what you want about freedom of expression. Say what you please about being able to wear what you want. But when you put on a swastika or the whole regalia, death’s head and all, you are taking on the symbology around that and the context that comes with wearing the uniform of one of the most reviled groups in the 20th century. And you carry that around with you into other people’s lives. Is that what you want to bring to a convention of 50,000 people who are there to have fun? Is that what you want people to see?

Now let’s talk about retail. There’s been a lot of talk about what I like to call UnderwearGate 2013. A booth called Belle and Blade (adorable name) put up some underwear that was some of the most ridiculously offensive merch I’ve ever seen at a con. One of the undies actually said “I could use some Sexual Harassment.” Gareth Skarka pointed it out and I got a photo of it out on Twitter, which got folks talking, and there were complaints about it. It’s all chronicled here on Skarka’s blog. But here’s the other part: did you know this booth, which makes its bones selling military movies and gear, also has tons of Nazi stuff?

Previous to seeing what kind of awfulness was available, I went to buy a ‘zombie killer’ patch from this booth for some LARP costuming. It was only after I paid that I turned around in my half-exhausted state and saw boxes with Nazi symbols on it, Nazi signs, and even Nazi pin-up posters on the inside of the booth. That is ALONG with the underwear. So in one shot, Belle and Blade became one of the most egregious examples of what not to represent at a convention by repping sexual harassment AND Nazis in one cash grab.

“But Shoshana,” you might ask, “isn’t it freedom of expression? Isn’t that his right?”

Actually, not entirely. See, the sexual harassment stuff is straight up against the terms of GenCon’s policies on convention harassment and reports were made. But the Nazi paraphernalia is more of a grey area, just like Nazi cosplay. The policies say something about not being able to costume anything that resembles a uniform from the 20th century, but that certainly didn’t stop Nazi cosplayers that I saw. That didn’t stop the stuff from being sold in a booth.

Freedom of expression is the backbone of so many conversations about offensive content. However just as it might be someone’s right to go out and walk the streets of a convention wearing Nazi gear (barring any rules at that event that says you can’t), it’s my right to feel that is unacceptable. It’s my right to question what that person is trying to represent or express. And it’s my right to say that maybe you ought to consider the time and energy you’re putting into so meticulously glamorizing such a symbol of human evil.


Note: In my consideration of the situation, I want to make clear that I don’t blame GenCon for the situation. GenCon is a wonderful convention that I enjoy very much and that puts on a hell of a show every year. Take that as a disclaimer.


That time is almost here: when gaming geeks of all kinds extricate ourselves from the rest of the world and head to Indianapolis for that mecha of nerd fun, GenCon! GenCon stands as my favorite of the big conventions. It is huge, noisy and full of people, all of whom are coming together to bask in the glow of the gaming things we love. If you’ve never been, it’s a jam-packed experience full of panels, demos, games to play, merch to buy, and people to meet. There are parties, awards ceremonies, and after-hours fun to be had too, then you get up in the morning bright and early to do it again!

This will be my fifth year attending GenCon but it is my privilege to be going this year not as an attendee but as a speaker. On top of attending great events like the Diana Jones Awards and the Ennies (go Night’s Black Agent! Win!) I’ll be behind a microphone at the following:

Thursday August 15 @ 2PM – Getting Started In The Industry – Crowne Plaza Ballroom C – Have questions about how to get started in the industry? Want to know how freelancers got their beginnings? What about self-publishing, is that really for you? Come and ask questions and listen to people who have gone through the process answer you back. I’m pleased as hell to be on this panel with the likes of Brian A Liberge (Beer Star Games), Tracy Hurley (Sand and Steam Productions), Eloy Lastana (Third Eye Games), and Matt James (Vorpal Games) and can’t wait to speak to folks about my experiences thus far.

Thursday August 15 @ 4PM – Depression, Anxiety, Treatment and the Gamer – Crown Plaza Victoria Station C/D – John Adamus will be leading more of a conversation about how to be a game developer (or just a gamer) when facing issues of mental illness. It’s my privilege to be involved in this discussion, as this topic is near and dear to my heart and my experience as a designer struggling with bi-polar disorder. This talk is meant to be a supportive environment to discuss how to keep creating and working in the industry while still dealing with the monsters you have to face. Come to share if you feel comfortable, or just listen.

Friday August 16 @ 5PM – Religious Representation In Role-Playing GamesCrown Plaza Victoria Station A/B – Come join me as I sit down with Lillian Cohen-Moore and Jaym Gates to discuss how religions are represented in role-playing games. How are real-world religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism treated by mainstream gaming? What are the tropes, trends and territories explored by gaming when it comes to religious characters? And what about the issue of religious appropriation of icons, traditions and mythologies integrated into gaming works? Can it be and has it been done respectfully? We’ll pick apart this difficult question together.

So that’s my schedule! In between I’ll be attending lots of other panels, getting down with the awesome D20 Burlesque crew as they show off their best to the GenCon crowd, and celebrating the awards at the Ennies. I’m also super excited to hear Patrick Rothfuss speak – he is one of my favorite fantasy authors! It’s going to be a busy GenCon. To those who will be attending, I look forward to seeing you there!

Interested in getting together with me at the convention to talk shop? Hit me up @ShoshanaKessock on Twitter and we can see about setting up a time.