Right. So out of deference to a colleague, I’ve backburnered this because I didn’t want to interfere with his ability to attend and speak at this year’s Games for Change Festival. That said, if you’re reading this, then I’ve already watched him give his speech and now all bets are off.
This is the story of some serious mistreatment from the organizers of the Games for Change festival. For a number of reasons I won’t name names about what has gone down, but I feel like this story needs telling… after the break.
So earlier this year, Robert Yang down at Parsons asked if I would like to go in with him on a panel discussion for this year’s G4C festival on issues surrounding adding queer content in games. Now, Robert’s disagreed with and critiqued my work before, but that was part of his motivation — we could have people with diverging ideas and trajectories discussing the subject. I thought that sounded good, so we worked together to create a proposal. We had originally asked for a half hour — enough time for both of us to give a short talk, and then ideally lots of times for questions. Our goal wasn’t to spit info at people; what we wanted was debtate and constructive discussion.
In April we heard back from them: they love our topic, they really wanted an LGBTQ voice there, but there’s just no way we could have a half hour. While that was sort of frustrating to hear, it was understandable; 15 minutes is standard conference presentation timing, in my experience, and while we’d miss out on the discussion aspect, we could at least give a good, interesting talk in 15 minutes. So we agreed. We were to put be in a loose panel about the theme of “possibilities” or something of that sort. I
I want to point out that I was not the point of contact with G4C during this fiasco; Robert was. I occasionally got official mail that was addressed to both of us, but actual negotiations were in Robert’s court. That didn’t really bother me, but I should point out as the story gets worse that I wasn’t the person directly interfacing with the organization. This is part of why I’m not naming names, for example; I don’t have the impression from contact that would make me comfortable talking about motivations or logic.
Anyhow. For a while everything was fine, until in mid-May I went to look at the G4C festival program to find out when and where my panel was. I was surprised to find us in a section called “Rants.” I wasn’t aware we were going to rant. The title of our submission as we sent it to them was “Exploring Contemporary Approaches to LGBTQ-relevant Video Games.” That didn’t seem particularly rant-y to me. Also at no point had the G4C people informed us of our date/time or the name of our panel. I found out by trawling the schedule out of boredom.
This was annoying, but again, not so big a deal. So we were in a “Rants” session. Ah well; as long as I’m on stage to talk, I kinda don’t care what my panel is called in the long run.
Flash forward to May 31. We get an email from the G4C people asking when a good time to speak with us was, because they’d made a change that impacted our talk. Do you know what the changes were?
Well, first off, our 15 minutes was now 5 minutes. No slides, no multimedia. 5 minutes.
To quote from the email, “I feel very strongly that this is a presentation for the mainstage at NYU Skirball (which is livestreamed). So while we are requesting something shorter in format, it will not have any less visibility.” I guess that’s good, that it’d be visible? It’s also five bloody minutes. I want to point out the same thing was being done to all the other people in the “Rants” session, because they were “massaging the Tuesday AM schedule” and needed to “tighten it up.” I’m not even going to pretend I was anything but livid. My entire experience with these people had been a series of compromises highlighted by how “vital” and “important” our topic area was. We asked for 30 minutes and got 15, but I was like “it’s still worth it.” We’re suddenly a “Rant” session, which worries me a bit but I’ll put up with it because I want to talk to the Very Important People who attend Games For Change about this topic that is very close to my work and to me personally. I’d like to point out that according to Robert, he was actually assured that we weren’t going to be put into a “Rant”-style category.
Now we’re down to 5 minutes. What am I supposed to do?
I tried to forbear. I told Robert to talk to them and ask, is it 5 minutes each (5 for him, 5 for me) or is it 5 minutes for BOTH of us to “rant?” If it was the former I’d be really upset, but I’d still go. If it was the latter, then I was washing my hands of the whole affair. Did I mention Robert was in France at the time of this 11th hour schedule change?
He came back and informed me that no, it was 5 minutes for both of us combined.
Needless to say, I pretty much flipped out; you can ask my co-workers at GAMBIT about some of the more creative expletives that I used. But I needed a plan of action, so I told Robert — who lives in NYC, where G4C was — that he should absolutely go, and give as great a talk as he can in 5 minutes, and that I would keep my mouth shut until after he’d been on stage so I didn’t sabotage his chances to present, or burn any unnecessary bridges. For me, it was not worth my time to walk out on the GAMBIT summer program for two days to show up and give a two-and-a-half minute speech.
I’m also noticing that this “Rants” session starts at 12:15pm. Over lunch! As I write this, I’m watching Robert give his rant on the “live” stream (where “live” = event delayed by 15 minutes). I’m glad he’s up there speaking. And he just gave A Closed World a shout out! And for the record, I agree with him entirely.
But honestly, I’m not sure I’m all that sorry I’m not there with him, because it would have meant dealing with this massively unprofessional and, frankly, kind of insulting process. I really have no desire to deal with the organizers of this conference in any way ever again, which is really kind of a shame, because I think people like Robert and myself have something to offer the Games For Change audience.