A Congregation of People
I stand in the middle of the large room, an entire spectrum of lights above me illuminating the stage and the crowd gathered before it, leaving the rest of the room engulfed in shadow and darkness. Normally the bass line to the music I listen to is less "thumping" and more "artillery fire." Melodies like the cry of some banshee/siren hybrid combine with a torrent of molten claws of the flame dragon some might call a "rhythm guitar." Yet on this day I stand behind the crowd, nodding my head in time to an 8-bit beat inspired by Carl Sagan's awe and wonder of the cosmos.
"Awesome Force is pretty badass," I think to myself so, so eloquently.
A swirl of neon-light catches my eye, as to the right another patron of the chiptune arts begins swirling what I could only think to call "rave batons." In the darkness of the room, they glow, drawing circles and other smooth, rounded shapes as the bearer twirls and spins them, cutting into the dark. I turn to my left and notice a young male who seems capable of turning his bone to mush, his limbs wavering and flowing about him in a dance I decide is called "Doing the Liquid Snake." Before me, meanwhile, in front of the stage, a mosh pit is forming.
Moshers, ravers, dancers, and me, a simple head-banger whose musical preferences are often inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien and lengthy campaigns of Dungeons and Dragons. A broad spectrum of sex, sexuality, gender, and ethnicity is here assembled to rock out.
I smile to myself and nod, not just to the thumping beat of the music, but to the unification of so many different people, lifestyles, cultures, philosophies and histories in one hotel. At this moment, MAGFest is a testament to just how amazing it is to be a fortunate member of the video gaming community.
I have a chance at the fest to meet with my friend Tim, the personality currently behind D&D Sluggers, and listen as he and a friend described their experiences growing up as African American geeks in the southern United States. I learn about assumptions caucasians might make and the pressures for a person of color to conform to various cultural expectations.
I then join these friends in attending my first live hip hop show. Sure, the crowd isn't that large, and the artists are hardly the most popular, but I got to hear Lucio Baldomero express his love of classic video games with rhyme and rhythm over a remix of familiar tunes.
Saturday evening I carry my intoxicated mass to the main stage, ready to catch the end of the X-Hunters performance. I am hoping to squeeze into a good spot in front of the stage, wanting to get swept up into the zeitgeist of the moment as Those Who Fight and, finally, Machinae Supremacy take to the stage.
I swiftly become distracted on my journey, however. A sudden blue-haired woman walks past, a shark-shaped bazooka over her shoulder and little more than a bikini clad over her torso. What the devil? I think to myself, wondering from what game such a character could come. Mind clouded by whiskey, I step forward, intent to discover just who this character was.
"Jinx," the young woman told me, a smile upon her face. "She's from League of Legends."
The flood gates open. This is not the first scantily clad character concept from the popular MOBA I have been exposed to. In fact, I'm not sure I have seen a female character from the game that isn't in some way showing more flesh than might be prudent for combat. Yet never have I heard or seen complaints about these characters, or criticism leveled at developer Riot Games. Perhaps I'm just looking in the wrong places or in the wrong crowds, but of all the feminism and sexism discussion I've seen, none of it has tackled League of Legends outside of player behavior.
I want to ask this girl what drew her to the game, why this particular character, and what her thoughts on character design in games are, or what are her thoughts on Anita Sarkeesian. I want to know what made League of Legends so different that I had heard no complaints about how the women are designed and clothed.
Yet as drunk as I am, I am not drunk enough to forget my manners, not drunk enough to set this woman up as a spokesperson for womanhood or feminism, or to forget the looming concert I've been longing to see. I stutter and sputter before telling the woman that I do not wish to detain her. A strange interaction for her, I am sure. Yet despite my desires to learn more about her thoughts and perspective, I have my own schedule to keep, as I am sure she has her own.
I listen to Chip Tune, and I listen to rock. I hear a death metal performance over top the 8-bit bleepity bloops of retro music, and I bob my head to the heavy beat of video game inspired hip hop. Every room I go to, sure, you have your typical caucasian white male demographic, but they are certainly not the only folks in the room.
If nothing else, I believe events like MAGFest are important so that we can remind ourselves not only that there are others like us, but how different we all are as well. Maybe we'd speak with each other more kindly if we kept this in mind, that there are marvellously varied individuals on the other end of that social network. Maybe we wouldn't attack someone over something as simple as preference in platform, or even something so important to us as political or social issues and commentary.
Most of all, it should stand as an opportunity to remember how much we can learn from each other.
In my everyday, digitally connected life, I sometimes feel what seems like a constant onslaught of hostile opinions, flooding my Facebook and Twitter feeds, peppered throughout my daily conversation, and even sprinkled about our own forums here. Sometimes it feels like everyone has an agenda of some sort that they're fighting for, all predicting a different kind of doomsday. Everyone wants things to be better, but simply defining what "better" means is bound to end in conflict and disorder.
I've learned to seek out events such as PAX East and MAGFest in order to escape this negativity. The nature of forums and social networks is that what you have to say is valuable or impassioned, otherwise you wouldn't post it. The nature of the interaction is one of thoughts and strong opinions on the subject, providing everyone a soapbox on which to stand. What's left out are less enthusiastic opinions, and off-topic discussion is generally discouraged. Yet when you're mixed into the crowd of people, a collection of individuals, the dynamic changes. You can't just approach a stranger and say you find Call of Duty's fetishization of the military disturbing, or that you don't care if video games only feature white male protagonists. You have to first greet the person and establish a level of camaraderie, which means you must actively learn about the other person.
In order to do that, you must open your mind to listen. With such a congregation, you're bound to learn a thing, or two, or twenty.