Insomnia61: a round-up

Monday was a bank holiday here in the UK, which usually means an extended weekend and a long lie-in. But that wasn’t the case for myself, my other-half and stepson: in a burst of unusual spontaneity, we decided to book tickets for Insomnia 61 at the last moment.

This saw us waking up at 06:00 on Sunday and jumping in the car for a three-hour road-trip to the Birmingham NEC to visit ‘the UK’s biggest gaming festival’.

This was our first time at the event and we didn’t really know what to expect, but there was indeed almost a ‘festival’ feel to it: half of the space was dedicated to a huge LAN party and tournament stage, while stalls of various types were located in the other section. We tried out a number of indie games (Nature’s Zombie Apocalypse went down well with the boys); checked out the merchandise (but fortunately didn’t bankrupt ourselves); and saw a show featuring one of Ethan’s favourite YouTubers (more about that later this week).

Although Rezzed remains my favourite UK event, Insomnia 61 was a great experience and we’d consider going again in 2018. It would be great to actually join in with the LAN party and pitch a tent in the hall for four-days straight but unfortunately parenting makes that a little difficult! Take a look at the photo gallery below to see some of the games we played and other what else we got up to.

Insomnia 61 photo gallery

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YouTube and ‘perfect gamer’ pressure

For his tenth birthday, my stepson Ethan asked for a Switch or Xbox he could keep in his bedroom. We decided against it for two reasons: first, he already has a Wii and PS Vita that get overlooked in favour of playing on the PlayStation 4 in the living room. And second, because every console he has ever owned for himself has ended up being a Minecraft-only machine.

Instead, Pete came up with the idea of surprising him with a tablet. It wasn’t something Ethan had asked for but we thought it would go down well as a present; not only would it allow him to play games and watch his Minecraft videos on YouTube, but it could potentially be useful in terms of schoolwork. My stepson was over-the-moon when he unwrapped his gift and has hardly been seen without the device since.

The biggest positive brought about by this present is that Ethan no longer wakes us at 07:00 on a weekend, bored of being alone in his room and wanting to turn on the PlayStation. Lie-ins are very much needed after 04:30 alarms every day of the week so we’re extremely grateful! However, there are also negatives – like how he now prefers to watch someone else play a game in a video rather than playing it himself.

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, Nintendo DS, Mario Kart, Ethan

This worries my other-half and I as parents. Maybe we just don’t understand because we’re not ‘down with the cool kids’ any longer but it feels as though it’s encouraging laziness and impatience. In a recent conversation, we discussed whether this was the same as our own parents being concerned we were watching too much television and not going outside enough in the 90s; and perhaps that’s correct, but it doesn’t stop us worrying about Ethan any less.

We’re therefore trying to pull his head out of his tablet and get him doing other things every time he’s with us, whether it’s climbing a tree in the nearby forest with Pete (while I laugh) or making a cake in the kitchen with me (while the pair of them eat the mix before it’s baked). Although he always asks if he can go back to his room afterwards, you can tell my stepson enjoys these interactions and the affection that goes along with them.

This was why we got him to play a video game with us last weekend, rather than watching somebody else do it on YouTube. We haven’t had much opportunity to game as a family recently due to house renovations and so he was kind of excited by the idea as he squeezed himself between Pete and I on the sofa. He asked if we could put on The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and for the first hour or so, everything was awesome.

But the game’s difficulty increased and Ethan started to become frustrated. There was a certain section he was having difficulty getting past and we could see his anger starting to rise, his cheeks becoming redder and his button presses getting harder. His temper got to the point where we had to pull the controller away from him and tell him he needed to take a breather to calm down – we had to do something to get him to stop for a moment.

The tears were beginning to well up in his eyes as shook his head and repeatedly told us he ‘just couldn’t do it’. When we asked him why he expected to be able to do everything within the game on the first try, he said: “I’ve watched other people play it on YouTube and they always manage to do it.”

Bloody YouTube.

Minecraft videos are never going to be one of my favourite things to watch, but every so often I make an effort to sit with Ethan while he shows me one and explains what’s happening. Not only does it let him see that we’re interested in the things he likes and what he’s up to, but it allows us to understand what he’s actually watching without making him feel as if he’s being monitored.

DanTDM, boy, manchild

What my stepson doesn’t realise though is just how heavily edited these videos are. I’m not a professional editor in any way but even I can see just how many continuity mistakes there are. There’s one particular YouTuber he’s been watching while staying with his mum and stepdad during the summer holidays and he’s absolutely awful: I can only imagine how many times he fails during a game based on the number of terrible jump-cuts within his footage.

Maybe I’m overreacting but it seems that videos like this – ones which show how ‘leet’ the star is and hide their mistakes – are putting pressure on young kids like my stepson to complete a game without any failures. They turn gaming from a hobby into something which is only fun if you’re succeeding. It then becomes easier to watch someone else complete a title rather than attempt it yourself, and that totally sucks.

I know adults understand these videos are edited and don’t want to watch one where the player’s character dies 20 times in a row. But children don’t get that, and covering up mistakes gives the perception they’re a bad thing when they do happen. Rather than situations to be learned and benefited from, your character falling off a ledge or dying at the hands of a boss evolves into things to be ashamed of and frustrated by.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

We explained to Ethan that video games are difficult, he should expect to fail numerous times, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever finish one without a single character death – but that’s what makes them fun. The majority are designed to challenge the player and that’s what keeps us coming back for more. The videos he watches are fully edited to make their star look good and are nothing more than promotional material.

“And besides,” said Pete, “who’s the better gamer, huh? You, who learns from your mistakes and will get through this section any minute now – or this YouTube dude who’s stupid enough to cover up his mistakes really badly?”

Kitacon 2017: the good, the bad and the anime

My other-half and I may have had to leave Kitacon a day early due to a cat-related disaster but we were there long enough this past weekend for it to have been an eye-opener. This event was our first ‘proper’ residential convention and so we weren’t entirely sure what to expect.

Did we enjoy ourselves? Yes, and it was great catching up with Tim and Joel from GeekOut South-West and others who we haven’t seen in quite a while. Did we learn anything new? Again yes, because we had the chance to find out more about cosplay and play games we’d never tried before. Would we go again? That’s a more difficult question to answer…

The good

Events like Kitacon provide an opportunity for those with ‘geek culture’ interests to come together for an entire weekend and share their love for hobbies such as cosplay and anime. We got the sense that for attendees who didn’t have a circle of friends back home with similar tastes, it was a chance to meet likeminded people; and it was lovely to see conversations between strangers and new friendships sparking up in queues while waiting for panels and outside the venue.

Kitacon, cosplay, masquerade

We were told that the opening ceremony was a pretty big deal and so made a point of heading to the event on our first day at Kitacon. Unfortunately though, we didn’t make it in as a higher-than-expected attendance saw queues going around the building and people being turned away at the door! Everybody remained in good spirits though and those who did make it into the hall said that it was one of the highlights of the convention.

The following day my other-half and I attended panels on Body Confidence in Cosplay and The Science of Zelda, and it was great to see ‘normal’ people get the chance to do something they wouldn’t usually do and volunteer to run events like this. The lovely Joel from GeekOut South-West hosted one himself called DMing 101 – which we unfortunately missed due to the cat-related disaster but seemed to be rather successful.

Tim from GeekOut South-West had told me to prepare myself for the late-night parties because they’re ‘legendary’; and I’ll admit, we did indeed have fun at the Ravers of the Lost Ark on Friday night! Unfortunately we’re a little older than most of Kitacon’s usual attendees and found it difficult to keep up with the young-things, so we were in bed by 01:00.

The bad

Kitacon, cosplay

That atmosphere described above lent itself perfectly to how the convention was laid out – several panels during the day before the bigger events and parties throughout the evening – and there was plenty of time to simply hang out and chat to other attendees. For myself and my other-half though, this was a bit of a culture-shock; we’re used to going to expos where there’s constantly something to see or try out and we weren’t always sure what to do with ourselves. If we were to go again next year, I think we’d need to be more prepared to ‘make our own fun’.

The opening ceremony described above started over an hour late and none of the other events we attended began on time. Also, the organisers took the decision to fill the auditorium from the back rather than the front during the cosplay masquerade the following evening but this caused several further problems: attendees who had been queuing the longest were seated in the upper levels and a lot of empty seats were left in the centre of the hall when less people than expected showed up. While I appreciate that making arrangements for over 1,500 heads must be incredibly difficult, it seems as though some parts of the convention weren’t planned as well as they could have been.

Relying on volunteers to host panels provides excellent opportunities but does have its downsides. As mentioned above, every event we went to started late and we heard about a particular panel which was cancelled 20 minutes after its scheduled start due to unforeseen circumstances. There was also the host who admitted to writing part of his presentation the previous evening having spent too many hours on his cosplay over the past couple of weeks – his final piece of advice being not to attempt a costume and a presentation at once.

Kitacon, cosplay, party

With any big event attended by so many people, you’re going to get a small proportion of them who get drunk, behave inappropriately and take things too far. We heard stories about rubbish and broken glass being left outside the venue; somebody who was reported for harassment; and a group of girls who were subjected to ‘some random getting their dick out in front of their hotel window’. That’s not a reflection on the Kitacon organisers themselves but it’s a shame that certain people can’t show a little respect for others.

The anime

Kitacon advertises itself as ‘the UK’s largest, residential, non-profit anime and geek culture convention’ and therefore my other-half and I aren’t really its intended audience. While we’ve both watched various bits of anime over the years, it’s not our cup-of-tea and we’d both rather spend our free time playing video games; so it’s probably not an event we’d usually find ourselves attending.

But it was good to try something different and we’re grateful to Tim for inviting us along. Registration for the next event opens at 19:00 on 03 January 2018 and part of me is tempted to sign up again, seeing as I didn’t get the chance to wear my Eleven and Velma cosplays this year due to having to leave early. But Gamescom takes place in the same month and it’s something I’ve always wanted to go to… so Kitacon may have to wait…

Kitacon 2017: body confidence in cosplay

While my other-half and I were at Kitacon this past weekend, we attended a panel entitled Body Confidence in Cosplay. Neither of us are cosplayers ourselves but after overhearing someone say that ‘cosplay is for skinny girls’, it’s a subject that has resonated with me. We could all do with a little more confidence in ourselves and support from others.

We expected to go to a panel which promoted self-confidence and feeling good about yourself in your costume. We wanted the host to tell us it’s ok to not look like the stick-thin models we see in magazines and on television, and inspire everybody in the audience to feel comfortable in their own skin. We thought we’d leave the room empowered, and believing we could take on any cosplay outfit and absolutely rock it.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. What we got instead was a half-hour session on how to make costumes to hide the bits of your body you don’t like, cover up scars and get skin treatment, and that it’s ok to manipulate your photographs if you feel the need to.

The host deserves respect for being brave enough to step forward when the Kitacon organisers asked for volunteers to host a panel. Public-speaking isn’t something everyone is able to do but he had the balls to stand up in front of a room full of strangers, provide advice and share his personal stories. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were presenters who pulled out at the last moment due to stage-fright so much kudos to him for doing it.

I’m just not convinced the message above was the right one to send, particularly the presentation slide that included the words ‘don’t be afraid to use Photoshop if you want to’. Alterations made through applications like this can have a negative effect on both the person in the photograph and others who see it, setting unrealistic expectations for body-image and making us all feel horrible in our own skin.

I totally get it: in 2017 we should have finally learnt to be more accepting of one another regardless of our size, shape or sex (or anything else for that matter) but sadly that’s still not the case. Unachievable standards put forward by the beauty industry and hostility from others puts us all under pressure to change the way we look and present a ‘better’ version of ourselves online.

Kitacon, cosplay, masquerade

But diversity is a thing that should be celebrated, not something that’s ridiculed or used for ammunition. Instead of using material, makeup and image-manipulation to cover up our flaws, shouldn’t we learn to embrace our imperfections and reject the standards that push us to edit ourselves? If we begin to do this and encourage those around us to do the same, unachievable definitions of ‘beauty’ will slowly transform into something more positive.

It would have been good to see a panel at Kitacon that promoted diversity and an uplifting message. That’s not to say the host didn’t offer some good advice though and some of his ‘final thoughts’ are definitely worth highlighting here. As said on one of his slides, cosplay is all about having fun and you don’t have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with; and at the end of the day, we’re all amazing just the way we are.

Kitacon 2017: a round-up

2017’s Kitacon event took place this weekend at the University of Warwick and it was the first time my other-half and I had been to the convention. I sit here writing this on Sunday evening feeling totally exhausted… but it has nothing to do with cosplay and too much alcohol.

Things didn’t go according to plan and we returned home a day early after receiving a call to let us know that one of our cats was missing. The cat-sitter had been looking for Zelda for 12 hours and was pretty distraught so the best thing for us to do was to head back – and I’m relieved to say that Pete and I managed to track her down. She was covered in dust and cobwebs after getting herself stuck in our old garage, but other than that she’s completely fine; thank you so much to everyone for all the kind tweets.

That little disaster sadly meant we didn’t get to see as much of Kitacon as we’d planned, I didn’t get the chance to wear my Eleven and Velma costumes, and I didn’t take as many photographs as I’d hoped. But we managed to fit in a couple of panels along with the cosplay masquerade and there are plenty of photos of that in the gallery below. There are some things I’d like to write about so there’ll be a few posts dedicated to the convention this week but for now, I’m getting my head down and catching up on some sleep.

Kitacon 2017 photo gallery

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Kitacon 2017: it’s here!

I’ll hopefully be on my way to Kitacon – the UK’s largest, residential, non-profit anime and geek culture convention – when this post is published. This year it’s taking place in its new home at the University of Warwickshire so my other-half and I will be on the road for around three hours before we start a weekend of panels, parties and general pandemonium.

More likely however, I’ll still be running around like a loon doing last-minute packing. Or cleaning in a panic before the mother-in-law arrives to look after the cats. Or asking Pete to turn the car around because I’ve left a part of my cosplay at home.

Cosplay, costume, outfit, Velma, Scooby-Doo, glasses, magnifying glass

I’ve got two costumes ready for the convention and first up is Eleven from Stranger Things. Unfortunately I’ve decided to forgo the blonde wig because it didn’t look great and felt thoroughly annoying to wear; it means the overall look won’t be exactly right but at least I’ll be comfortable. The only thing left to do now is to mess up my Converse so I’ll find a muddy puddle to jump in once I arrive. The other outfit is Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo so I’ll have an excuse to annoy people by saying ‘Jinkies!’ all weekend. Unfortunately April O’Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t make it due to an issue with her boots… maybe next time.

It’s not all about the cosplay however and I’ve been told there’s plenty more to see and do at Kitacon. For starters, we’ll have the pleasure of hanging out with Tim and Joel from GeekOut South-West who are taking part in the anime music video (AMV) competition and running a DMing 101 panel respectively.

It seems like it’s going to be a busy few days according to the Events Guide, and the fact that the majority of what’s going on is centred on cosplay and anime leaves me a little daunted. While I’ve enjoyed putting together my costumes above, I don’t have the time or ability to become skilled in the former and the latter really isn’t my cup-of-tea. I guess this weekend is going to be a bit of a learning curve and a chance to expand my horizons.

However, there are a couple of panels on video games so I’ll be more in my element with those. The Science of Zelda: Respiration of the Untamed is a ‘tongue-in-cheek and off-the-cuff look at some of the wonders of The Legend of Zelda game series brought into the 21st century world of chemicals and equations’. And the Body Confidence in Cosplay discussion ties into some of my posts this year, so it could be interesting.

I’ll bring you a photo gallery next week if I make it through Kitacon and live to tell the tale. I’m not sure how likely it is though, what with letting my other-half loose at the rock party on Saturday night…