Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Nine Worlds part one

Nine Worlds part one - Thursday to Friday

This week sees me recovering in Dorset after the excellent 2017 Nine Worlds Geekfest in London.

Wheels at the ready for Nine Worlds
The Con ran from Thursday evening (opening with social events such as Cheese and Cheese), the panels, talks, workshops and other sessions running from Friday morning until Sunday evening. It’s a long programme. For those unfamiliar, Nine Worlds focuses on the culture and society of “geekdom and fandom” from sci-fi and fantasy to comics to gaming to the Miss Fisher Fandom, it’s a broad spectrum of interests. But though the net is spread wide there is a common thread – how does it all relate to the people who enjoy it and the world we live in. Alongside technical discussions such as The Mathematics of a Zombie Apocalypse and How to Design a Spaceship (from a real life qualified Naval Engineer) you also find yourself taking part in discussions of how feminism is portrayed in your favourite media, the problems with a lack of diversity in comics or film and, how can we make things more accessible for disabled geeks. There is a trading floor at Nine Worlds and you will see people in cosplay but the emphasis is all on content, talking and thinking about the media we enjoy (and sometimes hate).

This was my second year attending (you can read about my first year experience here) and as well as being an attendee I was also running a workshop in the guise of Access:LARP called “How to write accessible plot for LARP” and, co-GMing a large one of tabletop RPG. Those commitments meant my experience of the event was a little odd, as I was neither wholly Attendee nor Staff.
Since my Access:LARP workshop was on Friday morning I arrived on Thursday evening. As mentioned above, Thursday night is mostly social to allow those early arrivals to settle in and warm up. I didn’t actually attend any of the programmed events but I did enjoy the opportunity to catch up with friends, have some good food and a drink or two in the hotel bar. I choose to stay at a hotel away from the con, as I like having the physical distance from the business and bustle of the con. This is one of the reasons I hired a mobility scooter for the weekend – we tried a manual chair last time but bumped up against London pavements – having to go a bit further to get to and from the Con venue to my hotel takes its toll on my fatigue. I had been a bit nervous about travelling around London with it and also nervous about how I would feel around and me received by other people. Thursday night was my first real test of my social concerns (as I’d already managed to travel to the hotel itself) and I was relieved at how not only my friends but new people at the con just accepted things and treated me no differently. They were helpful when necessary but otherwise my gentle rolling everywhere raised no comment. I was reassured.

The Access:LARP Workshop

The Access:LARP Writing Accessible Plot workshop in full swing

Friday morning I started my day with a leisurely breakfast, packed my scooter and made my way to the Con. Sessions start at 10AM and running one of the first sessions of the con had me nervous – what if people didn’t turn up? What if it was too early on for interested parties (hangovers and travel times can be equally damning)? Plus for some people this would be their first impression of what Nine Worlds had to offer. I was surprised and happy though when, as I set up people began to file n and take their places at the table. By the time 10:00 ticked around I had an almost full house. This was excellent, but oh now the pressure to deliver! I hadn’t run this workshop previously having had to pull out of a “test run” at a smaller event earlier in the year due to, of course, my own chronic illness. I really wasn’t sure how it would go so delivering it at a popular con to a full house was exciting! The group were engaged, got on board with the material and as the plot writing took off, very creative both in their ideas and in their approach to accessibility. I think most people came away having learned something or at least having a better idea of how to approach writing a game with accessibility in mind. As a bonus I think a couple of people came away with games they might actually run.

So that was that hurdle out of the way.

Friday continued with a very good panel on Policing in Urban Fantasy. Though they were using two books I hadn’t read as their main focal point, I found the expertise of the three women on the panel was sufficient to hold my interest. The books were used more as touchstones and examples of various issues and mthods of depiciting police, law and intelligence in urban fantasy (and indeed in other genres) and allowed for a lively discussion from various viewpoints – the police officer, the home office civil servant and the intelligence analyst (each with a number of other hats and specialisations). I’m a big fan of detective stories anyway so hearing their perspective was great for me as a reader giving me common mistakes to look out for and making more appreciative of those things done right. I imagine any authors who have a police or detective thriller in the works would have taken even more from it than me.

Plus, starting my attendeeship with a panel made up of women, and queer women at that who all had expertise, authority and a voice was pretty good going and to be honest just the sort of thing I want and expect from Nine Worlds.

My day was broken up by a long meeting with my fellow GMs finalising the plot and actually how this ridiculous RPG we were going to run would work. It was a good meeting and definitely in the spirit of Nine Worlds – three geeks who get on well crafting a game and playing around with game mechanics – but it was difficult to shake the feeling that it was work. Sadly it also meant I missed out on a couple of interesting panels but, these things happen.

I did manage to catch an interesting talk by a woman called Rafeeat Aliyu who as a historian and blogger, questioned why the stereotypes of African women in speculative fiction tends to fall to “the warrior woman” and “the priestess”. As an argument against and solution to this problem she introduced us to a number of women from African history who had diverse and interesting lives. Princesses, business women, crafters and rulers: real people, ripe for story inspiration and far from obeying the rules of trope. The talk also raised a number of interesting points about the concept of different models of patriarchy, a patriarchy bore of need (for the continuation of legacy), and approaches to gender, in societies where gender was often very performative leading to the creation of female sons and male daughters.

I rounded off day one with (after collecting my partner who had only just arrived) with a talk on wolves in horror and heavy metal music by the excellent academic, Amanda DiGioia. Or at least that’s what I attempted. Due to some reshuffling of rooms and us running a couple of minutes late we actually ended up in “History’s Forgotten Heroes”. After a few minutes of initial confusion when it became clear that these people weren’t talking about wolves at all, it became an interesting panel with all panel members showing obvious enthusiasm as well as knowledge about their chosen heroes. From the real story of Tutankhamun to the extraordinary radical Irene Harand (writer of Sein Kampf a refutation and challenge of Hitler’s infamous book) and Algerian female ruler privateers it was clear there is far more to history that commonly makes school history lessons and TV documentaries. All in all a good way to round off the day.

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