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The Dutch SF/F convention Imagicon held its second edition on March 21st. It was a fantastic event with several hundred visitors. We had tons of discussions and I also contributed to a panel. Interested?

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In The Netherlands, we have tons of anime conventions, but literary fans and SF/F fans are often at a loss. Outdoor fantasy fairs and markets tend to draw many of these groups, but there are practically no indoor conventions for these genres. Fans can go to neighbouring countries to attend the Star Trek convention FedCon or the expo F.A.C.T.S., but it’s nice to have an SF event in our own country too.

That’s why I was happy when Imagicon was announced last year. This convention follows the traditional model of Worldcon: lots of panels, a masquerade, a dealer room and a comfortable hotel with enough space to meet other fans. While Imagicon seems to have some international potential, most events are done in Dutch. Fans can contrast this most anime convention in The Netherlands, which are in English, even if they only have a small amount of international guests and visitors.

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Cosplay of the Glow Cloud from WTNV. Photograph by Tichon van den Elzen.

As you might know, I am particularly interested in fan costumes and fashion. I did some observations at Imagicon that gave me the impression that about 30% of the visitors was in full costume, and that a big part of the visitors had dressed up for the occassion by wearing particular geek shirts, props and funny hats. I saw some very good costumes, inspired by a range of media, from the game Guild Wars to fan favorites like Welcome to Nightvale. Our event was during the cosplay masquerade, which drew a number of visitors in beautiful costumes.

How inclusive is fandom really?

I spend the convention with game journalist Tamara – my breakfast buddy at cons and loyal colleague (boss, even) at fan zine Aniway. The first panel that we attended, diversity in SF/F literature, was very inspiring. The discussion was hosted by five female writers of different ethnicities and sexualities. Most of them wrote in English but lived in The Netherlands. For instance, Mara van Ess contributed, the author of Magnetar which features an asexual character. Marieke Nijkamp, part of the foundation We Need Diverse Books, hosted the discussion.

It’s not just hobbits who write Lord of The Rings

The writers told us about the importance of inclusivity in their work, and how they integrated their lived experiences in their work. They were somewhat critical of people from dominant cultures trying to be inclusive, and also recommended that they do their research of they did not belong to a certain group. Those marginalized groups could be queers, but also people with mental or physical disabilities. A nice remark that they mentioned a couple of times was ‘it’s not just hobbits who write LOTR’. Especially SF/F should be a way to explore other cultures and lifestyles. One of the panelists was weary of this though: ‘Inclusivity shouldn’t be an act of metaphore alone, like in Star Trek, where there might be shapeshifters or other alien races that become a farfetched way of being inclusive’.

The panel tackled representation in interesting ways, and the writers also explained their personal effort and concious attempts of being inclusive. They were also quite insistent that not everything needs to be politically correct. Fiction can involve many types of characters, and a strong man can be just as interesting to write about as a disabled woman. Characters should guide the story at all times.

We also attended another panel called ‘fandom: het kritische oog’ or a critical eye on fandom. This panel was hosted by two men from Tolkien fandom and gamer culture who explained their online feuds with other fans. The panel really focussed on how internet culture was often the cause of heated debates among fans, and how critical communication was key to keeping the communities friendly, open and inclusive. The panel steered away from issues of hierarchy and exclusivity a bit, which some of the female audience members were somewhat uncomfortable with. Considering the recent culture wars in gaming (Gamergate) and controversies around female fans and cosplay, we hoped to see a discussion that was broader than technology alone. Inclusivity might have something to do with communication, but it’s also about attitude, social awareness and ethics.

How do games relate to other media?

Our one panel was a diverse group – Tamara as a game journalist, a dev from Wispfire and myself as a scholar. We discussed the future of games as movies of the future (games: films van de toekomst) but primarily discussed how games were not movies at all. By focussing on game play, interactivity and exploration, we stressed that games are simulations that are rule-driven. They might bear resemblances with movies, but lumping these media together would not do justice to either of them. We examined some examples were games draw from movies (e.g., the games by Quantic Dream or TellTales), and also adaptations of games.

For us, interesting questions were if there could be a cinematography in gaming? How can we examine the visuals and shots, if we are dealing with rich and complex spaces/sandboxes? Also, how can we view certain storytelling techniques, like pacing or suspense, in games? We also discussed how games borrow technology from movies, which Tamara explained well by focussing on the discussions around Assassin Creed Unity and fps rate.

Games are unique. They are not the movies of the future, but the games of the future

We concluded that games are definitely not the movies of the future. Both media will probably co-exist for a while, though there are opportunities for movies and television series  to become more interactive. Interactivity might become more of a norm, especially in relation to second screening/social media, but to do it very well in a movie is quite difficult. We’d rather see games – both triple a and indie – develop in  unique and diverse ways! Play and games have been around for a much longer time than movies. Games are not the movies of the future, but the games of the future.

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Indie game Herald by studio Wispfire

All in all, I can really recommend this convention. Volunteers really take their time for visitors and fans are eacher to get to know each other. It was a friendly environment!