Tuesday, October 11, 2011

GeekGirlCon Reflections (a guys perspective.)

Actually, that title is misleading. It should really be more of a "GeekDad Perspective".

We just got back from our GeekGirlCon 2011 weekend in Seattle early, early Monday morning. It was a wonderful experience and will probably be the Geek highlight of my year. My kids (ages almost 7, 4.5, and pushing 2) are still talking about it, even my toddler ("We rode the train and SpAAce need!")

I wanted to write this yesterday while the Con was still vividly fresh in my mind, but my brain just couldn't pull itself together out of the mushy state it was in. So what you will get is a slightly more reflective version of the weekend as I have had more time to think about it in a tired reflective kind of way. My wife has already posted three times about the Con, so a lot of this might be familiar.

I'll work backwards a bit. The closing ceremony was a showing of Labyrinth on a big screen with an audience that was almost criminally enthusiastic, cheering and yelling out lines. Seriously, I haven't ever had as much fun watching that movie. Then the Con was over. We chatted for a little while and said goodbyes, then headed up the Space Needle so the kids could see Seattle at night before we left.

By the time we gathered all the bags, stopped for coffee, and navigated Seattle in the proper direction (it was my fault we got it wrong the first time as I had the Google maps app open and was supposed to be giving directions)...it was late. Eventually, with the sun threatening to rise soon, we carried the sleeping kids to their beds and crashed.

Monday felt like a triple fried egg chili chutney sandwich kind of day. I am eating one now as I type this on Tuesday morning just for good measure.

So, GeekGirlCon... I'll give you the "guys perspective" but really that's unfair. The Con was open and welcoming to everyone from the start and while the girl geek demographic was the largest, there were lots of guys there, on their own and with their female friends. Rough unscientific estimate, the Con was probably 25% men and 75% women in attendance. There were maybe 20+ families with young kids. It was "A Celebration of the Female Geek". Having married a geek girl myself, I wasn't daunted by the idea in the least. In fact I am also a father of two fast growing geek girls and any dad raising girls should really be at this Con soaking up ways to inspire the next geek generation. My kids are going to be consumed by many of the issues that were discussed in a few years. The website says, "Free your inner Geek Girl! ...laugh, learn, and connect. All geeks welcome." and I think they hit the proper theme for the event. It wasn't about girl power, or segregating the geek community into guys and girls, it was about remembering that geek girls are just as much a part of the (artificially guy-centric) sci-fi/comic/geek culture as anyone else and giving them a welcoming place to celebrate their geekiness and discuss things that other cons don't have time to focus on. It was centered on women in a good way.

It was also a refreshing change. The "guy geek" culture has its own problems. It is heavily media driven and segregated into geek genre interests and things like sci-fi, anime, games, comics, video games, movies, TV shows, books, and often celebrity worship. The content creators encourage this as it gives them a hardcore demographic to push products and marketing to. It is also arguably "too big" and I get tired of hearing things like, "Hey I play Battlefield a lot, so I am pretty nerdy" or "Dude I am totally a geek, I watched all of the Lord of The Rings and Star Wars Prequel movies" (while those guys are welcome too, and I hate the "geekier than thou" attitudes, well... maybe that's a blog subject for another time). Geek girls are welcome in and part of the broader geek culture of course, but sexism and tokenism still run high, though I like to think it is getting better, in part thanks to events such as this Con. There are cons devoted specifically to each of those subjects I listed and they are great geek gathering places (PAX, ComicCon, GenCon, Sakura-Con, DragonCon, etc.), but I have never really been enticed to spend a lot of time or money going to them. Maybe I am just not hard-core enough in any one specific genre as I enjoy them all.

GeekGirlCon benefited from being focused on GeekGirls, but also on the broader geek culture as a whole. It worked very well and there was an amazing amount of content. In addition to the geeky topics I mentioned above, there were panels on ethics, sexism, and gender issues to be sure, but also a refreshing look at academic, science, and STEM careers, geek parenting, working as a coder, game design, and geek crafting (cosplay, craft, and mask making among others). There were often four panels running at once along with signings and craft and game workshops. One person could only see maybe 25% of the Con even if they ran full steam all day long. I was interested in most of the panels myself and only managed to make it to one actual discussion panel, though my wife made it to a lot more.

GeekGirlCon was the first con we have gone to and the first we wanted to take our kids to. There were two main reasons.

1.) It was small enough that we wouldn't be packed in like sardines. The lines were short and wait time low and I didn't have to stand around wrestling tired, hungry, and bored kids all day. I have been told not to bother with ComicCon or PAX if you have younger kids. [GeekGirlCon did end up selling out of passes both days and while I don't have the actual numbers, I believe there were a few thousand people attending. It felt busy and had lots of energy, but never claustrophobic.]

2.) It was a family friendly environment, both the Seattle Center location (for those who don't know that's about a 3/4 square mile park and collection of fun buildings surrounding the Space Needle) and the Con itself. There were costumes, craft activities, and games constantly going on. As I suspected beforehand, the Con attendees and volunteers were very kid friendly as well. My family had a great time going all day long, nonstop for two days. Hardly a quiet, bored moment to be seen. If anything they got tired of walking around and missed naps both days.

and I'll add a third...
3.) I got this impression before the Con just from the website and Facebook page, but this was amazingly well organized and implemented. It was a non-profit volunteer group of mostly geek women who organized it and put it on. I haven't been to a lot of geek cons, but I have been to a lot of events and conventions in general and this one was the smoothest running events I have ever been to. Leading up to the Con, they showed they knew how to properly use social media to inform and grow interest. Which is something a lot of larger organizations could learn a thing or two about. There was also a very useful smartphone app available that I used a lot. The sign-in line was a bit slow the first morning, due to the huge number of people in line, but after that things ran great. It was put on "by geek girls for geek girls" and the enthusiasm and attention to detail of the volunteers showed through. I was greeted by a smile more times than I can remember. There were a few hiccups, but overall it ran great. Maybe geek girls are just really good at organizing events.

A Few of My Personal Highlights:

Standing in Line:
Not really a huge highlight, but the line to get passes early Saturday was fun. It was the first gathering of the Con. I realized that geek women as a group are not morning people (which is a relief), though there were a scattered few. The excitement though started to build and groups started to compare geeky shirts and costumes and make friends while they waited in line.

Game Design: 
My wife let me enter the Mystery Box Game Design Challenge. I am always designing games at home and work customer service part-time for an online game company, so I was very interested. This required me to be in the game room all Saturday morning designing a game under the mentor-ship of more experienced designers. She watched the kids and went to some panels (I volunteered to watch them the rest of the weekend when needed).

It was fun and an interesting learning experience. There were 4 groups of 4 people each designing a game out of random game components from a prepackaged box. We had a few hours to produce a playable game. My group got saddled by feature creep and inability to quickly nail down the initial design (too many ideas), but eventually made a decent (if unpolished) game. We didn't win. Maybe next year :)

Cosplay and Costumes:
We spent a couple of weeks before the Con working on a family Star Wars theme. We were going to do it anyway for Halloween since my two daughters both wanted to be Princess Leia this year. So we sewed, painted, and crafted a white gown ANH Leia with matching doll and a large Stormtrooper rifle, an Endor Moon Leia with blaster and cloak along with an ewok teddy bear, a small toddling Yoda with cane, and two adult Jedi costumes.

The reception was awesome. The "professional" Star Wars cosplayers from the 501st and Rebel Legion thought the kids were great and were very nice so there were tons of pictures taken with the Stormtroopers and Jedi. We were also stopped about every 5 feet walking across the courtyard outside the Con so people could take pictures (mostly of the cute kids in Leia costumes). It helped my kids to really open up and enjoy themselves. They were chatting and smiling all day. They ended up wearing the costumes both days and had a great time. My 4 year-old daughter sporting her serious Leia frown and gun was probably the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Cherie Priest:
Steampunk writer Cherie Priest was at the Con briefly on Saturday for a panel and a signing session. I love her work and both me and my wife wanted to meet her. She was pleasant and friendly and more than happy to interact with fans... then my kids shot her with their Star Wars blasters. (*sigh*) At least she was cool about it and thought they were adorable.

Meeting Katie Goldman: 
"Star Wars" Katie and her mom Carrie (who writes the blog A Portrait of an Adoption) were slated to be guests at the Con and we were hoping at some point to be able to meet them as Katie's story of being bullied for liking Star Wars in November 2010 has sparked a number of good discussions with my own kids about related issues.

It turns out that my daughters saw a girl with a lightsaber out in the courtyard during some downtime on Saturday afternoon and wanted to go play with her. They were all fast friends and after the moms started chatting and making introductions we discovered she was Katie, the guest Star Wars celebrity. They played lightsabers and talked about shared interests for a long while. 

I also noticed that, while Katie was strong in The Force, all the other Jedi she has been meeting had not pursued her education in lightsaber training. So I got to give her her first 5 minute lesson in basic techniques. Sometimes The Force works mysteriously that way, a Jedi in homespun robes might fill in where a Master on the Council fails ;)

Really though, her and her mom are very nice and we saw and played with them several times throughout the weekend. It was good for all the kids, I think, to make new friends with other girls equally excited about the geeky things they enjoyed. 

The Game Room:
We spent a lot of time in the game room simply because it was a great place to go in between panels or when waiting for the rest of my family to finish something they were doing elsewhere. As expected, there were not a lot of kids games, but LooneyLabs(.com) had some great kids games and that is usually where mine ended up playing (Seven Dragons or Ice Dice). Jennifer Powers who was hosting the table was great with kids and had a big colorful tablecloth, let my toddler simply play "stack the pieces", and even gave the kids some neat plush flowers. Also notable was the awesome game room coordinator Lani, the D&D guys for giving out some cool monster figures for the kids to play with, and Card Kingdom for letting my kids paint their first miniatures.

Geeks Raising Geeks Panel:
The only panel I actually made it to that involved people speaking about interesting things (aka not an activity) was the Geeks Raising Geeks panel. This one was great and included Katie and her mom Carrie as well as GeekMom blogger Cathe Post among the speakers. It was a great panel and the 501st even came in costume to do a quiet honor guard for Katie and her love of Star Wars. What I could hear of the discussion was great too (I am hard-of-hearing, I'll write more about that and the Con on my other blog). 

I tend toward the GeekMom/GeekDad on Wired kind of geekiness and I am always looking for tips on raising geek kids and other similar issues (such as how to deal with a smart child and keep them from getting bored in school). 

Meeting the Guests and Attendees at random:
One amazing thing about this Con was how many of the guests and speakers acted like regular Con-goers when they were done with their panels and what-not. Everyone had yellow badges, the speakers and "famous people" had ones that simply said "Guest". People were stopping us all day long both days to chat and take pictures. Eventually my 4 year-old had enough pictures and started hiding, but she would still open up and chat with people. Between panels, waiting in the hallways, etc people would often start chatting with our cute little Leia's letting them know that they liked the costumes and supporting them as little geeks. Often the conversations were hilarious ("How do you get those cute buns to stay in your hair?" my child's answer: "lots of hairspray!") and there was often laughter and sometimes tears of hysteria. A large number of those people were "guests" and since I am awful with names and faces, I don't know exactly how many pillars of female geekdom, artists, writers, etc they ended up talking to. It was awesome. 

While waiting for the Monorail to take us back from dinner we ran into Nancy Holder and her daughter. They saw our Con passes and chatted with the kids. Nancy showed off her Captain Hammer necklace (my toddler: "a hammer!") and her "Jayne" style knit hat. She was very sweet.

There were also other kids (besides Katie) that my own kids had a lot of fun playing with and a lot of them were also in costume. The Con was small enough that we could see the same people more than once and they really had a blast and made fast friends with the other geek kids there. It was wonderful to watch as a parent. 

Second Technician Arnold J Rimmer:
There was a nice man at the Con dressed as Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf, complete with the H on his head and Mr. Flibble puppet. My wife had a chance to chat with him and share Red Dwarf stories. I smile every time I think of the costume. It was simply great and I am really happy he showed up. 

The Location and Weather:
Yeah, I am talking about the weather, it must be time to wrap this up, but in all honesty it turned out to be a beautiful weekend. It drizzled a little late in the evening, but that isn't a problem when everyone's costume contains a Jedi or Leia hood built in. However, walking half a mile to and from the hotel with cold, miserable kids could have really made the weekend harder. That didn't happen so I am happy. Thanks weather.  

The Seattle Center was a great location, even if it did cost me $80 extra because my kids wanted to go up the Space Needle :P

There were other events going on and people not even involved with GeekGirlCon would stop us to chat and comment on our cute kids, take pictures, ask us what was going on, etc. It was fun. (Also, I never realized how many older Asian ladies know who Princess Leia is.)

When we weren't busy with the Con, there was plenty of room for the kids to run around outside and get some fresh air, or watch the fountains and look at the art. It was a peaceful place and big enough to never seem crowded. Next year that location won't be available, so it will be interesting to see how that effects the Con. I am looking forward to it though. 


I wish I had been able to see more of the Panels. There were just so many interesting people and topics that I didn't make it to. I mean, I missed 95% of the interesting talks!
Part of this was by choice - I opted to watch the kids, or park the car, or pack up the hotel room so my wife could make it to more panels and enjoy the Con.
Part of it was planned - we brought our kids and wanted to let them have fun and be geek girls 
(and boy) too, so we went to several of the art workshops and played some games. 
Part of it was logistics - We missed a few events (like the Steampunk panel!) just juggling things like lunch and other necessities.

We also couldn't do some of the adult rated stuff simply because we opted to make it a family event. They looked like fun though. 

Next year? Things I want to see improve?

They built a real community with the GeekGirlCon. I would love to see some more transcripts or videos of the panels, but not just to watch. I would love to see a forum thread devoted to each to continue the discussions and interaction even after the con is over. Some of those topics really could deserve more than an hour of discussion. 

Geek Craft - Cooking. I am a huge geek chef. How about some Geeky Bento Box making or something? My daughter keeps asking my to make a Bento Totoro like AnnaTheRed does on her blog. I would love to learn some real geeky Bento techniques.  :D

I know my kids would totally love a panel like "Beyond Pocky! How to choose the best Asian junk food and candy" since that is one of their favorite things to do at the Asian Market in Seattle (heh).

I was surprised by the lack of Anime related panels. If anything objectifies women in an unhealthy way, some specific anime comes immediately to mind. Maybe that is best left to Sakura-Con?

Also, something I have been giving a lot of thought to and deserves a blog post... "LEGO and the lack of anything appealing to girls". You can hardly even find a female Minifig. My daughter loves LEGO though and the Creator sets specifically, but... well anyway, its an issue. We need to put pressure on the company to change. I could almost host that panel myself.

I don't do much celebrity worship, but the one person I would stand in line to meet and introduce my daughters to is Amanda Tapping, the GeekGirl Goddess of scifi TV. She is also like the busiest woman in television, nut she only lives a few hours from Seattle in Vancouver, BC... so yeah, I can dream right?

Well that wraps it up. I enjoyed the Con and plan to go next year. Maybe I'll see some of the same people again next year as well. Regardless, the volunteers did a great job and I can't thank them enough. If you didn't go this year, whether you are a guy or girl, make plans to attend next year.

Update: You can also see more pictures of the action here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...