The Conditional Tense

Nine Worlds 2017: prologue

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So much happened over the 3rd-6th August Nine Worlds convention that I want to break it into days. Whilst Nine Worlds (9W) 2017 officially started on Thursday 3rd August, we were unable to get there for the very start due to work commitments, so I’ll only be talking about the Friday programme onwards. However, before I get into the actual content of 9W, including the panels, workshops, discussion groups, entertainment, and obligatory No-Face, I want to do a little introduction to explain why I love this convention more than any other event I’ve attended in the past (insert sound of fanfare and hopefully unironic cheers)! 

Nine Worlds is a convention/geekfest celebrating and covering topics ranging from anime, movies, comics, race, gender, neurodiversity, literature, books, history, gaming, disability, sexuality, LGBTQAI, and much more. It is unlike all others. It’s also relatively young, having started in 2013. My then fiancé and I heard about 9W too late that year, just missing out on attending. Nonetheless, I was hooked: I had heard about 9W’s focus upon not just all things geeky, but also inclusion, regardless of gender, race, or disability. I wanted to know more about this convention that stood out from the corporate comic cons and trade fairs. 

We’re both geeks (we met on a geek dating site, ffs) so we wanted to try and attend as soon as financially possible. When we finally managed to go in 2015 (a mini-honeymoon before our full honeymoon in Tokyo the year after), we were impressed at the level of organisation and commitment to creating a space everyone could enjoy. 

An example of how the organisers listen to the attendees: in 2015, there were some reported issues about how that venue’s staff were dealing with the convention guests. Along with other considerations, such as accessibility of location, Nine Worlds decided to move to a more central London site, with a hotel chain that was a bit more on board with the ethos of the convention. 

The organisers also started to offer a payment plan option, breaking the cost of tickets into a small upfront fee with the rest divided into monthly chunks. This is one adjustment I’m personally very happy to see as gathering together £85 x 2 in one go (and that’s the early bird rate) is a massive hit to finances when you’re already on a tight budget. Did I mention that kids and carers can attend for free? It’s just another example of how committed 9W is to ensuring access for all. 

The thing I love most about 9W, however, is knowing it’s a space I can enjoy being myself in, despite my own barriers. And I can put up a lot of barriers. You see, I was already in a mild state of anxiety even before travelling to London; when I had booked the cheapo hotel a few months back, the reviews had said it was average, basic but OK. 9W has a deal with Novotel West, the convention site, where you can get a discount on accommodation. I had instead tried to save a bit more cash, and gone with an option that was about £40 cheaper in total. 

Turned out to be a bit of false economy on my part. 

The problem was that, 2 days before we were due to travel to London for 9W, I had made the mistake of looking at reviews again. Within the last month, there had been 5 scathing reviews from guests dissatisfied with the cleanliness, the space, and the amount of damp in the showers. 

This set my anxiety off as I started to imagine sleeping in a filthy bed, and I developed a nice bout of insomnia. By the time we actually travelled to London, I was in a zombie-like state, increasingly worried about all the things that might possibly go wrong. 

The cheapo hotel was, well, let’s just say that should you ever want to spend the night in a room which stinks of cigarettes and is practically a corridor, I can recommend you a place to stay. 

It was not as horrifying as I thought it might be, and the staff were extremely friendly. However, it’s likely that next year I’ll stay in the convention hotel and write off the slightly higher room rate as the price I’ll pay for preserving my own mental wellbeing. 

We wandered down to the convention early to register and found it to be a stress-free affair. The registration staff member complimented my dinosaur dress, and I explained I was a fan of all things historical. They recommended me an author whose name I sadly forgot, but who was writing a book about time-travelling dinosaurs. 

I also discovered the location of the Quiet Room, where overwhelmed guests can hang out and escape until they’re ready to return. That’s when I started to relax, because, coupled with my nice little dino chat, I felt welcomed, like I belonged. 

It’s not always easy being a geek, especially being seen as a misfit. The world is changing, of course: in modern culture, things once considered the purview of nerdy outcasts alone are now mainstream entertainment *cough Marvel cough*. However, we do speak a different language. The night before, I had been at a workmate’s leaving do. I was chatting with a fellow geek colleague about the wonders of Rick & Morty, Steven Universe, and Hearthstone. Our other workmates remained politely bemused and let us get on with it, despite attempts by us to broaden the topics for the less geeky inclined. It was a strange reminder that I and my interests are, for the most part, still considered an oddity by the general public. And that’s fair, not everyone has to like the same things. However, what confuses me is the relative ease with which the things I care about can be labelled irrelevant to anyone else. 

That’s why it feels like coming home when I go to 9W; I’m suddenly surrounded by people who understand what I’m talking about, who have a frame of reference that matches mine, and it’s refreshing to not feel like I have to explain or, worse, justify my interests. 

Generally, inclusion and accessibility is a huge focus of 9W, including having a committed Access Coordinator. Besides installing a Quiet Room for people like me (who need that little safety valve at busy events), one of the other ways they promote inclusion is by having pronoun badges available. This is so you can tell the rest of the con how you would like to be addressed. It’s a small thing, to have a little sticker on your con badge, but it makes a massive difference for those often misgendered in society. It’s a way for the 9W organisers to empower the attendees, to show support, and to ensure others do too. 

Besides this, panellists and moderators are given strict guidelines about addressing attendees and not assuming gender. For example, instead of taking a question from “the lady at the back”, the moderator might instead say “the person with the red jacket, at the back”. It takes such little effort that it makes you realise how easily these changes could be made outside of the convention, and makes you question why it doesn’t. 

Another approach is the use of coloured lanyards to communicate a person’s feelings on photography. Blue was the standard colour, but the 9W photography policy is clear: if someone is wearing a yellow lanyard (available at registration), it means that they do not want their photo taken, and other attendees need to respect that. It’s a marked difference in attitude from other cons where permission to take photos is automatically assumed. There are many reasons a person might not want their photo taken, but all another attendee needs to know is that they don’t have a right to take that photo. Again, you have to wonder why this can’t be enacted at other cons; it would certainly help challenge some of the more troubling attitudes people can have over their rights to another person’s image or body. 

The other nice touch is the communication overlays. You could choose from one of three different types, to be worn on con badges. The purpose is to communicate to others whether the attendee is happy to be approached for conversation or not. For those with anxiety or social communication differences, it’s a way of allowing people to choose the level of engagement they are comfortable with. As someone who’s had anxiety throughout their life, knowing I had that option (and one that would be respected) instantly removed some of my social anxiety.

There are many, many other examples of inclusion and accessibility good practice, and hopefully I’ll cover all of them as I talk about the content of Nine Worlds 2017. Over the next three days, I saw many examples of attempts to include everyone. I saw a lot of things go right, and some not so much, but what struck me was how quickly the organisers, crew, volunteers and tech staff all sought to address and fix these problems. Yes, I was also at *that* panel, and I’ll get to that soon.

If you want more info on Nine Worlds, you can find it here. Early bird tickets are already on sale, by the way. Part 1 will focus more on what I did and saw on Friday, and I’ll throw in a link below for that ASAP 😄

Part 1 now here! 

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