It’s a brisk Saturday morning at Sydney Olympic Park. Eager early attendees sip their coffee and watch the game developers bring in car loads of monitors, computers, merchandise and rolled up banners. Pink-shirted volunteers prowl the grounds, discussing schedules with the presenters. Nintendo staff in red shirts, the primary sponsors of the event, have a last minute smoke and collect their cases of bottled water and snacks before heading in to occupy their booth.
The first thing you notice is the diversity of the small crowd that has already gathered; people of every age, demographic and hair colour relax on benches as they await the event to open. This isn’t the usual frantic pace you expect at the major conventions; there are no packed lines, or nervous faces. Even the cosplayers are chilling out, without the constant barrage of professional and hobbyist photographers keeping them on their toes.
Nine thirty AM and the doors open. Tickets handed over and the weekend has officially begun. Within minutes the numbers begin to swell as the excitement grows. Here is a convention where the attendees know they will feel safe and welcome, where they can be geeks they are and feel included. It’s time to play games, learn a few things and relax with the community.
Welcome to GX Australia 2017.
Taking pride in its title as the most inclusive geek and gaming convention GX primary audience is the LGBTQIA community, smaller game developers, and those who might not feel comfortable at a larger convention, all the while providing the same great experience of the more well known conventions. Artists and cosplayers fill the venue with colour and laughter, game devs show off their latest projects of passion, the tabletop area is attracting many who can’t resist the call of the board game on International Tabletop weekend, and community groups have their own stalls to provide support and visibility that often goes unacknowledged at larger events.
At ten past ten the main panel room is full to the brim with excited convention goers. The opening ceremony begins. Event organisers Joshua Meadows and Liam Esler introduce the weekend with incredible enthusiasm, announcing the sponsor list and giving everyone a run-down of the weekend, the history of GX and its fate – listing VIP guests and sharing last minute changes, housekeeping news and additional events slipped into the program at the last minute. The main message being that this convention is about the attendees, not just the projects being shown off. “We’re here to have a good time -to make the world a better place just for this weekend.”
The keynote speaker, Katherine Cross, gets up on stage to speak about the diversity inclusiveness, the political state of the world and the importance of art and community in overcoming oppression. Her words strike hard and true that art needs to be created and supported, that the only way to overcome the negative parts of our society is with community and resistance. This is the place where we need as many games about fighting against oppression as we do about utopia to strive for. And this is the place of the indie game developers, to speak out to the world through interactive experience that can be shared as readily in America as they do in Australia.
Liam and Joshua return to the stage to pass on a final message to make the event a great one and, with a final thunderous round of applause, the ceremony comes to a close and the horde makes its way into the show floor, this is when GX really begins.
The expo floor is the perfect layout for a relaxed convention. Stall holders have comfortable amount of room, which is especially necessary for those showing of Virtual Reality experiences, the walkways wide and uncluttered, the only queues in sight are at the cafe and the Nintendo booth, who are proudly showing off the Switch with areas for Zelda, the newly released Mario Kart and multiplayer games within custom gaming booths.
After a pause to take in the atmosphere and grab a drink it was time to explore what GX had to offer.
Panels through the weekend were varied, ranging from the purely geeky (like a debate over the next video-game ever and a live role playing game about cats) to game development (choosing the right platform and getting into the industry) to the more focused on diversity matters (queer representation in games and breaking of stereotypes). The attendees were spoiled for choice with a schedule that was packed from opening till after-party. In the coming weeks each panel will be available to watch on YouTube, just check out the Twitter link below for news.
At heart this convention is about the games. And on show were dozens of great projects, at different stages of development, for attendees to try. Local developers had on show games varying from the top of the line VR games, development teams carefully guiding players through their virtual worlds, to the simplest text-adventures that could capture emotions with their writing styles.
BACKFIRE, a retro arcade shooter with Newtonian physics is like playing Asteroids if the asteroids were intentionally trying to kill you and every shot propels you further off target. A great game where every failure just makes you want to try again. Available from their backfiregame.com
Aura of Worlds, takes dungeon crawling to a new in procedurally generated dungeons where the player gets to choose how they want to get through it; with force, stealth, or agility. Nothing like swinging around on a grappling hook as you attempt to fight off hostile mobs. Available from AuraofWorlds.com
Quantum Suicide is a unique visual novel that combines elements of a dating simulator, Japanese penalty games (batsu) and thrillers where the player is pitted against a homicidal artificial intelligence and their fellow crew members to survive the systematic culling of the crew by said AI, all the while romancing a diverse crew of possible partners who may see you as the weakest link in the crew. More information available at cottoncandycyanide.com
Always a happy sight were the cosplayers who made it to the event. Showing off a range of great costumes from a varied game titles.
April 29th was of course International Tabletop Day; and the Tabletop Zone saw a lot of action over the weekend. With constant roleplaying games in action, casual board games, and even prototype testing of a few games taking place among the friendly attendees.
Not to be the type of people to leave gamers without things to play on Tabletop day GX had a whole library of varied titles to keep even the most hardcore board-gamer occupied.
Artists throughout the venue purveyed a great assortment of sketches, paintings, prints, pins and books. Several of the booths managing to sell out in the first day due to the popularity of their work and their impressive style.
As GX 2017 comes to a close it is sad to know that this will be its final year, at least in the current format. Funding will always be a problem for these smaller events; especially when sponsors are hesitant to back diversity when the status-quo is so much easier. But for a single weekend this hanger-like space was full of happy people from every walk of like, coming together to share in the love and imagination of the community.
And as the final hugs are given and tears are shed everyone knows that the world was a better place, if just for a weekend.