Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Big Bad Con 2018 Summary

Big Bad Con is my favorite convention.

There are any number of reasons why - some are simple, like "I can always get a glass of water" or "There are easy to read pronoun flags" or "The game offerings are amazing," but some are far more complex, and today I want to talk about those more complex reasons. I'll tell you a little about what I did first!

My Big Bad Con 2018 was intense. I was busy as hell, the entire trip. Somehow, though, I still recall distinct moments of calm and chill, even though my schedule was probably the fullest of any convention I've done and I had some of the most stressful events I've ever participated in. But that's Big Bad Con, right? I'd say almost anyone who has gone there would say something similar - hell yes, I was busy! But I had a good time, and I don't feel like my soul's been ripped out at the end.

I love Big Bad Con because Big Bad Con loves me. If you go to Big Bad Con, I expect you'll enjoy it, because Big Bad Con doesn't just care about you, Big Bad Con cares for you.

I attended Big Bad Con last year and it was a remarkable experience. I talked about it in three big posts. I had never felt the way I did at Big Bad Con, not at any other con. This year, I was insistent that John attend with me - John is not huge on conventions, but this one felt so different, I just needed him to try. Plus, he had a game to promote this year. And he did the Tell Me About Your Character booth!

John, a dark haired and bearded man, standing in the Tell Me About Your Character booth at Big Bad Con

Over the course of the convention, I hosted the Soda Pop Social, was on two panels by others (Expanding Fantasy, Other Paths) and one of my own (Beyond the Binary), ran Turn, ran my Leading with Class workshop for non-GMs, and played Roar of Alliance. That's a lot for me at a con - like, GMing alone kills me, I never expect to survive it. But in spite of all of the overwhelmingness, I feel pretty good about the con.

I'm going to summarize each event here, but there may be more detailed posts about them in the future. I just want to give some framing for the core of what I want to talk about.

Soda Pop Social
I arrived and immediately was escorted by the fantastic Jeremy Tidwell to pick up sodas for the Soda Pop Social. We picked them up, then I set up the event for a soda pop tasting that was quite fantastic, I think. We honestly got amazing feedback! Sean Nittner, who is kind of the guy in charge at the con, ensured I had tons of backup regular sodas for the guests and made sure my space was available.

We had such awesome response that Sean's already asked about my hosting the social next year - in a bigger room, so more people can attend! It was awesome because my plan for experienced and new gamers and creators to connect worked (supported by people like Meguey Baker stopping by), and having a welcoming event for sober socializing was a real thing. Special thanks to Ken Davidson for helping me hold the door, because it was a very exciting event and I was a very anxious boy!

Expanding Fantasy
The Expanding Fantasy panel was great, and DC (who did an excellent review of Big Bad Con here) did an awesome job running it. Kelsa Delphi and Lauren Bond were both awesome but I admit I felt a little intimidated. I was, I think, a little harsher and less kind than the rest of the panelists. I ended up getting a compliment on that afterwards, weirdly but nicely. But, it was good to talk about the ways we can approach fantasy that are more inclusive and less tied to the historical faves.

I wish I could remember the panels clearly enough to give a bunch of detail, but the general gist was to not reflect back on traditional media just to copy it - try to break down things and do it differently. I specifically recommended, if you do decide to pull from older media, looking back at old political cartoons from the era and see where the racist and otherwise bigoted stereotypes show up in the character descriptions, then move away from them.

Other Paths
Other Paths was a great panel where we got to talk about alternatives to interpersonal violence in games. Anna Kreider ran it, and I was there alongside Meguey Baker and Katherine Cross. Everyone had really excellent things to say about why we are interested in having media that has alternative options to interpersonal violence (for example, because the world is super violent and if you only offer a hammer, every problem is a nail, and it translates back to the real world), and how we approach it.

I got to talk about Headshots and how I took something violent and changed it into something altogether different. That was cool, and I'm still reeling a little over getting a round of applause!

The Turn town map sheet with the Discovering Turn questions

This will end up with its own post at some point, but I want to especially thank my amazing players for being just the damn best - Jeremy Kostiew, Alex McConnoughey, Vivian Paul, and Karen Twelves. We had a foggy little island town with shifters who all had a lot going on, and in spite of a bunch of interruptions from outside we kept a smooth pace. I hadn't been able to pre-prep the town like I'd planned, but we still got almost a balance of worldbuilding+character building and actual play.

Alex's feedback after that the pacing was just right for em really made me happy - pacing for Turn is unusual and not everyone will like it. I am making a few small adjustments to the current text and process of Turn but it still feels very strong, and ready to go to Kickstarter at the end of the month. Having a private room to run the game made a huge difference - I would never have been able to run on a crowded con floor.

Leading with Class - Leadership in Games: Not Just for GMs
The workshop went unbelievably well. I was assisted by the excellent February Helen, who had just the right of support and positive energy to get me through something very meaningful but very stressful! The workshop attendees were fantastic - thank you to all of you! - and engaged well with the materials. I messed up on my script early on and had to recover, but everyone was patient with me, and when I was back on track it was super smooth.

Helping my attendees build their leadership character sheet was so fun, and the feedback afterwards (including that it was better than scrum sessions and that it was easy to follow and exceptionally well organized!) really boosted my hope for Leading with Class, which is something many people know I have been struggling with lately.

A folder with the Leading with Class materials inside

Beyond the Binary
Beyond the Binary was the only thing I was truly upset about afterwards, and it was entirely my fault. My panelists - DC, Krin Irvine, Venn Wylde, and Jason Tasharski - were all great. The big issue was that the room hadn't been changed to a conference setup when I first arrived, which hadn't been an issue for the previous panel but considering our estimated attendance was going to be an issue for us. What ended up happening is I had a room full of about 20 people trying to get me to fix the room to meet their needs, while trying to get started on the panel that had to start late in the first place. This was my bad planning - I should have asked Sean to change the room orientation before the panel prior, since the setup was originally done for LwC in the first place - and my bad response.

I struggled to respond to so many people at once because I was anxious about the panel and the panelists and about giving a good impression, and I failed. I also physically couldn't help, and while trying to manage all of the things at once, I made myself feel helpless and it completely fucked up how I handled the rest of the panel. We had to skip tons of questions because I'd been too ambitious and I did a bad job. On top of that, at the end of the panel I slipped and said "guys" and I'm still incredibly angry at myself for it. So, my fault, but still hard to deal with. Everyone was very kind about it, and supported me even though I fucked up.

One important thing I want to note is that it was indicated I didn't give equal time to the panelists, and that I gave voice to white panelists over people of color. And I'll be honest: I didn't notice I did it. But, I trust that it's true. It's potentially partially because I mostly had white panelists, which I didn't do on purpose - I sought out the only nonbinary person of color I knew was a guest for the panel, but it's legit that this isn't enough. I'm not happy that I fucked up on this (AND I let nonbinary cred issues prevent me from wrangling time better), but I'm recognizing it as a note for change. I'm not sure how to do it, but I'll do my best.

ETA: Overall the panel was good - the panelists had a lot of great stuff to say and their perspectives were super valuable. A lot of it came down to there being a broad variety of ways we all interact with gender identity and expression and how we should always talk to people first to find their unique perspective. Thank you to the panelists, and I'm sorry for being so negative here - this is my disappointment with my performance, not yours.

Roar of Alliance
I got to play an amazing game of Roar of Alliance with John, Rose (not sure of last name), and S. Tan, all excellent roleplayers and strategists. I was feeling pretty rough due to the panel and some emotional stuff afterward, but everyone was really supportive and the private game room allowed me to recline on the couch briefly when I got a bad headache. That was super valuable. Honestly, it's just such a great game that you can play with varying levels of energy and the players were so fun to play alongside! I had a great time, in spite of how rough I was feeling, and we told a lovely story.


So, now I want to talk about why Big Bad Con matters so much, and what Big Bad Con DOES.

I've studied a little about leadership, you might say, and I've witnessed a bunch of different ways people run conventions in and out of games and how they lead in general. What the leadership team - cuz that's what the staff is - at Big Bad Con does is create a culture change, a community, so influential that it impacts everyone who attends, from what I can tell. I think that some of this might be related to the culture of the key leaders on the teams, but everyone at every level at Big Bad Con is doing big things.

A recent Twitter thread by Alex McConnaughey sheds light a bit onto the mentality at the convention, where ey say "I feel like the folks running BBC never forget that the goodness of the community comes from the work put into it." This is powerful, because it's right - the people at Big Bad Con never seem to be coming at the convention from the perspective that they are good, but instead that they're doing good. In the LwC episode on Values and Perception, I talk about my rule that there are no good people (3:18).

This applies to Big Bad Con well, because the people at Big Bad Con are doing good, they are acting good, but their behavior never comes with the sense of pride and self-distancing that comes with thinking that they are inherently good. Which brings me to another point that I mentioned earlier, in ethics. Big Bad Con practices caring ethics, from the best I can translate to convention organizing.

This sounds super weird, right, because they're a convention! Aren't they supposed to be about unfettered capitalism, productivity, and unbelievably high standards of goal-meeting? That's the vibe I frankly get from a lot of conventions. Cuz they are like that - many of them are simply money-making measures and focused on Doing The Things The Most, and lose track somewhere of the fact that we're all people. Instead, Big Bad Con seems to approach with caring first.

Like, one, check out their community standards. They're explicit, and they are something you have to accept before you can sign up for the con. They also have really serious consequences for doing things that are harmful, and they're posted all over the con and reinforced regularly. They also have an entire page dedicated to safety and calibration tools, which they made into a deck of cards this year! And these things aren't afterthoughts, they're regularly visited throughout the con, accessible, and the yellow bandanas worn by staff constantly remind you that there are people there to help who are friendly and enthusiastic.

Two, every event that I held, Sean and the rest of the staff were there for me. The fact that the panel didn't go perfectly was entirely on me - I know for SURE if I had asked Sean for help, it'd have been resolved. But I didn't. I know that because before the Soda Pop Social, Sean and Jeremy checked in with me and got me a huge ice bucket, a bottle opener, and helped me set up.

I know that, because the night before my workshop, Sean checked in with me specifically to ensure I had the equipment I needed AND supported me as a friend and colleague with kind words AND when he realized I could use an assistant, had it arranged for February to meet with me ahead of the workshop the next morning, fully ensuring I was going to make it through okay. I would have been a disaster without that support, and I hadn't asked for it - Sean saw the need, and made sure it was addressed. And he made sure I had support, not someone to step over me.
Brie in a viking helmet
Sean has also passed on a Viking helmet to me.
Which brings me to

THREE: Everyone I interacted with at Big Bad Con, staff or otherwise, approached basically every situation with How can I help? rather than You should do this. This is a huge problem for me professionally and especially at conventions - tons and tons of people approach every one of my anxieties and stressors with fix-it bandaids, as though I've never had a thought in the world about how to address my issues. I get instructions rather than support. It's not universal, but it's the majority, especially when it comes to running games and events. And...that didn't happen here. Not last year either!

I noticed it especially surrounding things like the Leading with Class workshop, where I routinely feel like people correct me and tell me what to do, and running Turn. Would you believe, not a single person gave me GM advice? They just asked about the game, and asked how they could support me. This, to me, is the difference between caring about and caring for. At a lot of conventions, people care about you, but they don't do the emotional work to care for you. And it's not always the place, but approaching with caring for makes a difference.


Four! The convention has adequate water for attendees, quiet rooms for individual games, events like the Soda Pop Social and the Stitch and Bitch, and there was a low-key dance party on Saturday night. Some of this is thrown by the participants, but I also didn't feel unsafe at the dance party - it speaks to the culture of the con that no one seemed overly intoxicated, that they checked with each other on the volume of the music, and so on. I saw people checking before they touched each other, even! Plus, Sean and me left the remainder of the sodas donated from the social to be accessible to all - and I know that rescued more than one person from discomfort.

Brie in a black shirt
Including me, to be frank.
And there was also stuff like how Jerome Comeau "held court" when injury and discomfort prevented him from participating in the normal events, and in doing so, created this gorgeous social space! John even commented on how nice he found it that he could just go hang out and be quiet or be social, at his own pace (this is the first convention John has not retreated to the room for extended periods!). I often feel free to just sit and be quiet at Big Bad Con, when I'm overwhelmed, and listen to others - I don't get pressured into joining games or into having conversation. My point with this is that body needs and mental health needs are well respected - there's peace, there's sustenance, and different habits are respected.

Five, and this is a big one, is something talked about by DC in their post. When talking about Nathan Black and his exemplary behavior, DC said this:

"That standard became clear to me in many ways. I was on three panels, and I attended a few more. I was surprised to find older cis white men sitting in front of me, taking detailed notes on how to be better about diversity and inclusivity in setting creation. They were in panels on gender fluidity and non-binary players and representation. On working with children. On all sorts of things. They didn’t sling white guilt at me or my co-panelists. They didn’t raise their hands to make statements. They didn’t approach me after with emotionally draining stories. They said thank you, told me how much they appreciated my work and time, and maybe had a question that came from their 3 pages of notes."

And this rings super true to me. Even the standard issue cis white guys that attend Big Bad Con, for the majority, are there to care and learn. DC notes they were often misgendered, and I get that, too, and that there is still bias (including colorism and so on) in the environment, but in my experience, the level of prejudice and enaction of it is so much less than other cons. I didn't feel like people were sexist to me like at other conventions, but maybe that was because there are so many more openly gender nonconforming people at the event that fewer people assumed I was a woman? 

Brie in a black shirt and jeans
I did TRY to look more...not a girl.
I recently started using Beau as an alternate name (I use both Beau and Brie pretty equally), and I had the pleasure of a lot of people I know at the con using it, checking which one I'd like to use, confirming my pronouns, and so on. It was really affirming, and leads to my final note (for now!). 

Six: Big Bad Con includes positive masculinity in its progressive basis of caring. I am going to try to break this down simply, because it's kind of a lot, but we can start with DC's points about Nathan Black. Nathan represents a lot of what I think about with Big Bad Con as a community: relentless positivity, respect, honesty, kindness, generosity, and passion. And DC is right - that's not just Nathan, though he is definitely pinnacle of it. I see that same behavior and energy in every Big Bad Con staffer I met, including ones who operate in masculinity like Nathan. 

Sean, for one, is a man who I see as a brilliant leader. Then there are people like Jeremy Kostiew, who has a particular warmth I truly value. And Alex McConnaughey (who worked on Behind the Masc, writing the Minotaur skin for Monsterhearts), who understands masculinity in a truly fantastic way. And there are women and nonbinary people on staff who can express masculinity just like anybody else, too, so my point here is that these people on staff don't erase that masculinity. They don't label all masculinity as toxic and try to box it out of the events where caring is focused. There were spaces for people who weren't masculine, but also mixed spaces, and an overall environment that said to me so long as you are doing good with yourself, you can be whoever yourself is

I feel like somehow because of who all is involved in the convention - women, men, nonbinary people, trans people - Big Bad Con has made an environment that welcomes people of all different kinds. It's not perfect, but I felt okay being a nonbinary masc person when I was feeling that way, and I felt okay being nonbinary neutral, too. Being nonconforming felt welcomed, even when it wasn't femme. Because the leadership exemplified a variety of expressions, many of which included masculinity, I felt like my expression was safer and more respected. 

And I think this reflects on the caring nature of the con, and why - as DC mentioned - these older cis white men are part of that community in a greater way than they might otherwise be. When you see people like you, even just a little bit, you're more likely to engage. But it only works if they're actually a good example! And I just think that the Big Bad Con community is such a good example. 

I can't wait for next year!

P.S. - I forgot to mention the HUGE amounts of charitable good that comes from the con itself with the food bank, the Wolf Run, and so on - it matters, and is part of the caring perspective!

A possum with the words "DO NO HARM, TAKE NO SHIT, BEG NO MAN PARDON"
Post-con Brie Beau's status.

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