Norwescon is a science fiction and fantasy convention held in SeaTac, a Seattle suburb where one can find, in addition to four days of sci-fi and fantasy, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. At the time this article was written, the convention saw more than 3,000 attendees in 2012 and 260 panelists. 34 were on the Games track—of those panelists, 29 directly related to table-top role-playing games as long time fans, freelance writers, company editors, artists, marketing professionals and other occupations or fan-based roles.
Panels I attended included Writing Tie-In Fiction, The Influence of Tabletop Games on Video Games, Ask the Developers, Have Licenses Taken Over the Creativity in Gaming, Women in Gaming, Building a Better Campaign Setting, Future of Gaming, and Monster in 50 Minutes. The panelists across those 8 panels included James Sutter, Monte Cook, Jennifer Brozek, Robert J. Schwalb, Erik Scott de Bie, Jonathan Tweet, Wolfgang Baur, Logan Bonner, Erik Mona, Tim Nightengale, Clinton Boomer, Ryan Macklin, Scott Gable, Joshua Howard, Dustin J Gross, Stan Brown, Julie Haehn, Jessica “GiGi” Blair, and Claire Hummel.
James Sutter and Monte Cooke both bolstered my faith in humanity when they discussed the changes going on in player demographics. Sutter stated his firm belief that bikini chainmail should be a thing of the past, and that women and people of color are not only at the table, but slowly becoming a part of the art as well. There are people in the industry outside our communities, people, and they are watching our backs.
When the Future of D&D panel was suddenly canceled, Tim Nightengale, head of the Games programming track, came to the rescue of con attendees and panel scheduling, providing the con with an impromptu Future of Gaming panel with Wolfgang Baur, Erik Mona, Stan Brown, Jonathan Tweet, and stunt panelist/last second addition Ryan Macklin, who was secured for the panel by Nightengale.
Digital publishing, Kickstarter, tie-in fiction and Nordic LARPs all saw airtime, as well as thoughtful commentary from Macklin on how incredible the games industry in Seattle is. Till he started talking about it, I hadn’t registered a lifetime bias towards thinking our slice of the industry was the norm for everywhere. Of course everyone has major RPG publishers, scores of indie designers, and a fistful of video games studios in their backyard was an internal narrative I hadn’t realized I had. I’m also twice as intrigued by the games industry developments going on in this state as I was before NWC 35.
The Women in Gaming panel is the highlight of the con for me. Julie Haehn, Jennifer Brozek, Jessica “GiGi” Blair, and Claire Hummel managed to make 50 minutes fly by as they discussed their experiences and took audience questions. The attendees were predominantly women, but a number of men were also in attendance. No one trolled the panel. A number of questions from attendees pertained to addressing prejudice against women and coping on the job with its presence. They wanted to know how things they had not experienced impacted others. They were curious and genuine. The one point each panelist returned was that women increasing their visibility is one of the strongest ways available to change the industry.
My only complaint is how short it was. If I could change a single thing about NWC 35, it would be to make that panel two hours long. The variety of jobs the panelists work in the games industry, the different types of jobs they work, made it incredibly well-rounded. This wasn’t about feminine experience from one occupation in one part of the industry, this was a glimpse of the female experience across the industry and team roles.
And it was brilliantly positive. Each panelist has dealt and fought with and against sexism and stereotyping. In spite of those hurtful experiences and the anger that comes from those experiences, they were upbeat and candid. The panelists’ level of honesty and devoted commitment to continuing in their field was inspiring. Outside the Women in Games panel, the women attending panels I was present for were as welcomed and listened to as the men in attendance.
The two bars in the hotel saw their own con activities, as constantly changing sets of professionals would pull up a table (or three) discussing current projects and their own takes on changes in the industry. It was a peers-meeting-with-peers environment, and I think that with the nuance we lack in online spaces, that this is something people need to do more of. Whenever we have the opportunity, especially in games, we need to talk to our peers and to people in the industry that don’t play the same role. The exchanges I was able to sit in on were fluid and dynamic, and harkening back to what I mentioned Macklin talking about: Seattle has an amazing RPG community. A sizable cross-section of roles and people you find in games are here, and those conversations at NWC are a fragment of the conversations that could be conducted, face to face, in this city—or others.