September 10, 2:10pm -- I get to Revolution Hall’s field in time for lunch, running into existing friends and making new ones a block before I even arrived. This friendliness, lauded by other attendees, feels very similar to how Portland is to me in general, but I am happy that the spirit of the city infuses people traveling for the event and gets them into the open vibe. I spend lunch sweating at a table and then standing around talking in a shifting circle that migrates to follow a slice of shade. I don't feel like XOXO is “my people” but amongst them are others who I click with -- people saying “I don't like this narrative of the lone creative”, for example.
Multiple friends have reached out throughout the morning to tell me the Andys gave me a shoutout from the stage during opening remarks regarding my comment about being non-binary gender equality. I still have no idea where those guys find the time to read the xoxo hashtag in the midst of running a conference. And as I have told multiple people already, the Andys are the only white guys I have ever known who always respond to my critical feedback with positivity and change.
September 10, 10:30am -- Multiple nights of staying up past midnight are catching up to me and so today is an “I’ll get there when I get there” morning. I checked out the Arcade last night and it was definitely more crowded than last year (a side effect of not having Music programming this year -- which I’m glad to see cut, as it never seemed to quite fit in with the rest of XOXO). I’m curious to see if the “full event” crowd has the same “ah, this is where all the white men with beards are” vibe; but then, it was a videogame event (in Portland no less).
There’s a knack to curating an event like Arcade and I’ve never been satisfied with XOXO’s theme of “here’s stuff that I, Andy Baio, like this year”. Public play for videogames is tricky -- there are always one or two selections that work beautifully with the large screen and noisy crowd, and then the rest suffer, even more so by contrast. This year the clear standout was Multibowl, which is a loving “fuck you” to gamer nostalgia and a puckish commentary on the legacy of shitty multiplayer at the same time. It also had a perpetual “next” line the entire time I was there, people politely queued up like Madelines two-by-two, heads tilted up smiling to keep watching while they waited. The other two delightful crowd pleasers, Headmaster and Bum Rush, were sequestered in the second room with the rest of the Portland Indie Games Showcase -- smaller screens crowded together a bit like a student jobs fair. Meanwhile off in the corner, I struggled to play A Bear’s Phone (a physical phone - shaped like a bear - read tweets from the @a_simple_bear Twitter account to me) with a finger jammed in my other ear so I could block out the room’s noise and get some semblance of the intimate experience.
September 9, 10:30am -- I get to see the Andys do their “we’re staying in this marriage for you kids” patter every week at The Outpost show and tell so I’ve decided to skip the opening keynote. From what I’ve seen on the hashtag so far, I made the right call! I always end up wincing and walking away crankier than I came in, and I don’t need to willingly do that to myself. I’m uncomfortable with white dudes trying to keep some kind of scorecard of diversity, as if every person who doesn’t resemble them is a point won instead of an actual person just like them. 11/16! 11/16! What do we win! Meanwhile I don’t understand why any men are talking...I don’t. I don’t understand why any white people are invited, including me. Once you start to pick apart the thread of “making space” for real, it gets veeeeeery uncomfortable (for some folks), because the reality is there’s no reason for another event that centers any axis of privilege. There just isn’t. I don’t understand why five years in, the Andys haven’t become mentors to other (non white, non cis, non dude) people by now, preparing them to take XOXO over. That’s THE VISION, to me. Build it and then give it away.
September 8, 11:45am -- I’m at the XOXO Outpost and I’m already not excited about XOXO this year. I feel this way most of the year, every year I attend XOXO (this will be my third consecutive). The Andys’ understanding of their own event is markedly different from mine, and this divergence extends to how and to whom they describe and market XOXO. This means that for the run up to the festival, I get hit with a lot of promo language, both from the event runners and other attendees, that misses the mark for me and leaves me going “uuuugh.” The fact that in the past, Andy Baio has publicly derided brand and marketing professionals as not being welcome at XOXO makes this messaging mis-match even more ironic to me.
Stuff I’m already bracing against mentally:
People wearing tshirts from past years to this year, being That Person At The Concert
People wearing tshirts from *this* year to this year, which is like...Next Level That Person
The name badges weighing more than the entire programming guide
Casual unasked touching/hugging
White dude strangers assuming they have a right to enter my conversation
Being too negative for the #badattitude Slack channel for the second year running
The festival’s unofficial slogan, “Lower your expectations”, not getting heckled the way it deserves
I’m rarely in a “let’s all hold hands and sing” mood, but today I’m absolutely not, which means I’m certain I’m not going to fit in with all the cheery yaybombs Tweeting about heading to XOXO right now. The example of the day: A prominent Gamergate harasser was arrested yesterday for assaulting a cop. The responses I’ve seen to this have been...uncritical clapping. And I’m tired.
Why is one of his victims of a previous crime reporting on this? Why is that her job? Support /= a spotlight.
Why do people who claim to protest the carceral state, overpolicing, police brutality, etc, suddenly get happy about the use of said carceral state when it harms people they don’t like? (And I don’t mean victims of Gamergate...I mean you. Us. Why are you happy a man is in jail without bond?)
We need to have a reckoning about how we as people who form an online community let a sick man behave that way toward women. And now it looks like the people around him in his physical community need to have a reckoning about how we/they let a sick man get to a place where he ended up passed out drunk in a hotel lobby. Because folks...that’s the behavior of a sick person. And regardless of past harm done, I believe that sick people deserve healing, not incarceration.
I don’t know where to go to have these kinds of conversations. The no-exclamation-points conversations, where nobody is on the “correct” side, because there aren’t opposite “sides” to be on. But I guess for the next few days, I’m going to XOXO.