Drag queen Scarlett Letter performs on stage during the GX4 Kitty Powers Drag Show.  Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED
Drag queen Scarlett Letter performs on stage during the GX4 Kitty Powers Drag Show.  (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

At LGBTQ-Focused Convention, Gaming Is for Everyone

At LGBTQ-Focused Convention, Gaming Is for Everyone

From comic books to video games, nearly every character you can imagine turned up in Santa Clara over the weekend for the GaymerX GX4 convention.

The LGBTQ-focused event is in its fourth year, and drew about 2,400 people who came for the series of panels, tabletop games, vendors and live shows.

GaymerX is unique among gaming conventions, because it focuses on creating a safe and inclusive environment for gamers of all identities. LGBTQ gamers say they often experience harassment and discrimination within online chat rooms and at physical gaming spaces like conventions and tournaments.

Chakka Corn and her back up dancers perform “Final Fantasy 7.5” during the GX4 Drag Show
Chakka Corn and her backup dancers perform "Final Fantasy 7.5" during the GX4 Drag Show (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

New this year was the option for attendees to choose from more than just two genders during registration or when picking up their passes.

“It’s really helping increase dialogue between all of us,” says Victor Phang, who came to GaymerX for the first time.

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Phang, along with two of his friends, all cosplayed as gender-bent versions of "Final Fantasy" characters: Nguyen as Rinoa Heartily from "Final Fantasy VIII," Phang as Beatrix from "Final Fantasy IX," and Yu as Fang from "Final Fantasy XIII."

Tuan Nguyen (left), Victor Phang and Sherman Yu all attended GX4 together for the first time this year. All three of them cosplayed as gender-bent version of Final Fantasy characters; Nguyen as Rinoa Heartily from Final Fantasy 8, Phang as Beatrix from Final Fantasy 9, and Yu as Fang from Final Fantasy 13.
Tuan Nguyen (left), Victor Phang and Sherman Yu all attended GX4 together for the first time this year. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

“I feel that there are a lot more new people this year. It’s good to see the community coming out and having more safe spaces to be themselves,” says Michael Todd, who has been to the convention once before.

Michael Todd, cosplaying as Electabuzz, poses for a photo at GX4
Michael Todd, cosplaying as Electabuzz, poses for a photo at GX4. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Gil Goldstein (right), Nikki Allamanno and Starla Zamora pose for a photo in their cosplay costumes.
Gil Goldstein (right), Nikki Allamanno and Starla Zamora pose for a photo in their cosplay costumes. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Gil Goldstein (right), Nikki Allamanno and Starla Zamora all attended GX4 in full cosplay attire. Goldstein dressed as Link from "Legend of Zelda" while Allamanno and Zamora are dressed as Fenris and Isavela from "Dragon Age 2."

“It’s probably the best Con that we go to,” says Allamanno. “It’s so inclusive.”

Body painting artist Brandon McGill paints the hand of model Ty Monzingo at GaymerX’s GX4 convention.
Body-painting artist Brandon McGill paints the hand of model Ty Monzingo at GaymerX’s GX4 convention. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Among the many attractions at GX4 was the expo hall and indie space where larger gaming companies such as Microsoft and Ubisoft sat alongside up-and-coming indie designers and game developers. Many artists were there as well, including body-painting artist Brandon McGill.

Brandon McGill begins painting the hand of model Ty Monzingo.
Brandon McGill begins painting the hand of model Ty Monzingo. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Video games like "Super Mario Smash Brothers" and "Legend of Zelda" were available to play in the Magfest Arcade.

Jennifer Unkle (left) and Colin Dettmar play Mario Kart Double Dash in the Magfest Arcade at the GX4 convention.
Jennifer Unkle (left) and Colin Dettmar play Mario Kart Double Dash in the Magfest Arcade at the GX4 convention. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)
Sam (center) watches as two of her friends play video games in the Magfest Arcade.
Sam (center) watches as two of her friends play video games in the Magfest Arcade. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

For those gamers who preferred analog to digital, a giant Jenga tower was a delightful throwback to childhood. There was also a tabletop gaming room featuring multiple role-playing and board games.

Greg Gadwood (right) plays a game of Giant Jenga with Alex Meza at the GaymerX GX4 Convention.
Greg Gadwood (right) plays a game of Giant Jenga with Alex Meza at the GaymerX GX4 Convention. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Beyond the physical gaming, however, GaymerX offered panel discussions on a wide variety of topics. Several discussed the best practices for developing new indie games and how to use current video programming software. A few also took a deep look at how games can help build a sense of self.

During one panel, game critic Katherine Cross and game designer Crystal Frasier discussed how people can discover their identity through the use of games.

Widely published game critic Katherine Cross and writer, game developer, and graphic designer Crystal Frasier speak at a panel on finding identity through gaming.
Widely published game critic Katherine Cross and writer, game developer and graphic designer Crystal Frasier speak at a panel on finding identity through gaming. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Both Cross and Frasier spoke about the idea that by playing games as children, players are allowed to investigate and experiment with things they may not have a term for or understanding of yet. When it comes to gender and how they perceive themselves in the world, being able to act ideas out in a video game can allow players to "try on" different personas as they develop in life.

Two cosplayers costumed as Janey Spring (left) and Athena the Gladiator (right) from Borderlands the Presequel hold hands and kiss on stage during the GX4 Cosplay Pageant at the GaymerX Convention.
Two cosplayers costumed as Janey Spring (left) and Athena the Gladiator (right) from "Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel" hold hands and kiss on stage during the GX4 Cosplay Pageant at the GaymerX Convention. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

The two biggest events of the convention were the Cosplay Pageant and the Kitty Powers Drag Show.

Drag queens and kings graced the stage during the Kitty Powers Drag Show Saturday night, offering renditions of Lady Gaga's "Applause" and many popular video game theme songs.

To cap off the weekend's convention, over 30 contestants danced, catwalked and crawled across the stage during the GX4 Cosplay Pageant on Sunday.

Mettaton, from the indie role playing video game Undertale, cosplayed on stage during the GX4 Cosplay Pageant.
Mettaton, from the indie role playing video game "Undertale," cosplayed on stage during the GX4 Cosplay Pageant. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

A wide variety of cosplay characters and costumes competed for prizes during the pageant. From sewing, gluing and taping costumes to shading, highlighting and outlining makeup, each one of the cosplayers brought their own personal style to their characters.

Cosplay character Handsome Jack, from the video game Borderlands: The Presequel, winks and waves on stage during the GX 4 Cosplay Pageant
Cosplay character Handsome Jack, from the video game "Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel," winks and waves on stage during the GX 4 Cosplay Pageant (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

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Gil Goldstein says, “It’s nice that they have a place that people can come and be themselves -- or someone else.”

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