Founder's Forum: The Building Blocks of the Future

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Stacy here, y'all. Usually, after Gen Con, we post some sort of follow-up about the convention and a big 'thank you' to all our GMs. That will come, along with some stunning images, but first, we all had to get over what happened at Gen Con. At least four of our GMs were groped, and a handful of them followed for many blocks in downtown Indy while at the convention. 

Yes, Gen Con is aware, the incidents were reported by me. No, the instances didn't happen in our area, it remained a safe space save for a handful of relatively minor incidents, all of which occurred during or were about our first year running Organized Play games. 

Each instance of abuse included a lot of privilege. Mostly white privilege. In the case of the OP games, a handful of people believed their $4 ticket bought them the right to berate and look down upon whoever they felt was in charge of the area. One man I ejected kept looking to my husband in appeal whenever I gave him an answer he didn't like. 

There will be no ConTessa presence at the 2019 Gen Con. To be crystal clear, this was a decision we made before Gen Con in large part due to the large cost associated with having a presence at the convention. It costs multiple thousands of dollars for equipment rental, airfare, housing, food, supplies, and unless we add additional cost to the tickets (which we don't because we don't want you to have to pay a lot to play a game), we get none of that money back. That $4 ticket goes to Gen Con's operating funds, and they charge us for our HQ tables, and power - and it's not cheap. 

For the money we spent on Gen Con this year alone, we can do 10-12 smaller conventions in the US, especially because they are often willing and able to pay for a hotel room and/or our travel expenses. Gen Con doesn't even provide this for their invited guests. With all the money we aren't spending on Gen Con, we can pump into events all over the US that are cheaper, more accessible, and, we hope, safer

I want to make it clear, however, that the harassment we and our guests received this year is, also, part of the reason we won't be returning next year. It was, sadly, predictable on my end after watching the mood of the community shift and become more aggressive the deeper into this presidency we get. There were multiple reports of violence, and new stories keep creeping out. 

This was our fourth year at Gen Con, and the first I worried we'd have problems. It was the first time a player pushed me to yell at him, the first time I had to eject a group, the first time we had GMs report getting groped, and the first time I had to report serious incidents. Gen Con has done a lot of good for us over the years, but there comes a time when it's necessary to step away. This is that time. 

Since making this decision, I've done a lot of thinking. About what responsibilities and obligations I and ConTessa have to the people we invite to conventions to run games. About how a convention sets the tone and the audience based on who they invite as guests. About how useless and ineffective harassment policies and codes of conduct are at preventing bad things from happening. About racism in our industry, and the elitist, white progressives that allow it to continue happening. About betrayals and people taking 'sides', and blacklists, and whisper networks, and relational aggression. 

It's a good time to get back to basics. To remember who we are, and define where we're going. With that in mind, today I want to revisit the building blocks of ConTessa. There were many, many, many good things that also happened at Gen Con, and we'll get to those soon, but while my brain is still chewing on it, I want to explicitly talk about the building blocks of ConTessa.

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The first of the two phrases that first made up my goals with ConTessa is: 

Nothing about us without us.

A phrase the disability community brought into activism. This is why ConTessa has a staff of eight from a broad variety of backgrounds, identities, races, and cultures. I never make a statement about a group I can not personally claim as part of my own experience, and I frequently pass wording through my entire staff to hear a range of opinions. 

And my own phrasing I've been pushing for about 7 years... 

Diverse teams make diverse products.

This simply means if we want to see diverse products in our industry, we need to see people hiring diverse creators. For that to happen, we need diverse creators to hire, and that nearly always starts with getting people into the GM chair, a spot that is still largely dominated by white men. I frequently tell people GMing is a gateway drug to game designing, and it's true. We've had many ConTessans get their feet wet GMing for us, then went on to design their own games or work for publishers in a variety of capacities.

Recent events, shifts in the political winds, and my own gender exploration have led me to add two more. 

No Corps, No Cops.

Capitalism and fascism are the mechanisms that keep systemic bigotry in place. We toyed around with the idea of advertising and sponsorships in our first couple of years, but they always made me uncomfortable. This is why. Now, we partner with companies and publishers rather than allowing them to advertise through us, a much more involved process, and we take care to only promote the small businesses run by the people who GM for us. 

The 'No Cops' part is harder to explain, because we don't do a thing that would often have cops participating or need security, but as at least three entitled nerdbros can attest to from Gen Con, we can, and will, protect ourselves. I am not nice about it, I am not quiet about it, and what's more, I'm done quietly letting these people get away with the harm they cause so I don't appear to be "overreacting". I'm done placating them and patting them on the head so they go away, and I'm not in the business of being gentle with people who have benefited from bucketloads of privilege their entire life and know how Google works. 

This is a long way of saying I'm here to support marginalized people, not here to coddle the feelings of privileged people, and that leads well into the last one...

Pride was a riot. 

It's the one I keep wanting to post every time I encounter white feminism in progressive gaming circles, or the blatant racism that was on display at the Diana Jones Awards this year, or see another gaming convention inviting a guest known for sexual harassment, or see otherwise well-meaning people say things that are shockingly transphobic. 

The first Pride was a riot born out of the frustration inherent in being a class of people constantly arrested and humiliated, ignored and erased, forgotten and left behind, exploited and shamed - for being themselves. It was intersectional. It was full of trans people. It was angry. It was demanding. It was not nice. It was not accommodating. It wasn't the first time this community blew up like this, but it would come to be the most symbolic, and the beginning of Pride. 

It's that scruffy, angry, violent, in-your-face activism that declares it will not be set aside, it will not be told "this is not the time or the place", it will not sit down and shut up. It will not mollify the oppressors. It. Will. Not. Follow. The. Rules. 

Because representation must be loud for it to be heard, must be public for it to be seen, must be intersectional for it to have meaning, and above all else, it must be authentic so it reaches the right people. 

Our voices are unique, our stories are valuable, our experiences define the way we lead, and when we lead, we lend that power to others until they learn to grow their own source of power. They needn't even realize they needed such a thing to benefit from it. 

Nothing about us without us. 
Diverse teams create diverse products. 
No Corps, No Cops. 
Pride was a riot.