Insomnia: male and pale

My first time at the Insomnia Gaming Festival was I61 in August 2017. My stepson had an excellent time as he had the chance to see one of his favourite YouTubers back then, but my other-half and I were left feeling slightly uncomfortable.

The entire hour that DanTDM was on stage was nothing but a merch-fest, with the constant plugs for tickets for his tour, his DVD, his book, his exclusive Insomnia t-shirts and stationery – and just how awesome all this stuff was – becoming draining.

Insomnia63, video games, Fortnite

Ethan wanted to go again because he’d enjoyed himself so much, so it was with some apprehension that we returned for I63 in August 2018. The thing that struck us this time was just how young all the ‘special guests’ were; the meet-and-greet stands we passed seemed to be manned by kids who were barely into their teens and should probably have been sorting out homework ready for a return to school the following month. There was also the fact that if you weren’t interested in playing Fortnite, there wasn’t an awful lot to do.

Despite not liking battle-royale games, not being interested in any of the YouTubers there, and not particularly enjoying the six-hour round-trip to the NEC in Birmingham, it’s highly likely my stepkid would say yes when asked if he wanted to go to the next event in April. But I think we’ll be giving the upcoming I64 a miss after seeing Insomnia’s announcement about their lineup earlier this month, and I’m not sure we’ll be going back for at least a few years.

On 03 February 2019, the following message appeared on the Facebook page: “FINAL YOUTUBER ANNOUNCEMENT! We are thrilled to announce our final YouTuber to appear at Insomnia this April will be DAGames! Are you just as excited as we are to welcome all these amazing YouTubers to the festival?!” In case you haven’t already seen the stars that make up the headline, let’s take a quick look at their stats and see if we can see any similarities.

Name Age Sex Ethnic origin Subscribers
Pyrocynical 21 Male White British 2.9M
Syndicate 24 Male White British 9.9M
NerdOut! Music Unable to confirm Male Unable to confirm 2.3M
Dangthatsalongname 23 Male White British 505K
ImAllexx 20 Male White British 1.2M
James Marriott 21 Male White British 532K
SeaPeeKay 26 Male White British 558K
8-BitGaming 24 and 25 Male White British 1M
DAGames 26 Male White American 1.3M

All men and, for those I could confirm, all in their 20s and almost all white British. So the answer to Insomnia’s question above about whether I’m ‘excited to welcome all these amazing YouTubers to the festival’ is a definite no. Not only do I have no idea who any of these people are except for one (and that’s because he was involved in the CSGO Lotto scandal a couple of years back), there seems to be a distinct lack of stars who aren’t male or pale – and that’s just stale and one big fail.

Right, enough of the bad rhymes and time to wonder if Insomnia has always had such a diversity issue. I can’t say I noticed this at the two events we attended, but we went to I61 solely for DanTDM and didn’t pay attention to any of the stars at I63. I tried to check past years’ lineups for a comparison but couldn’t find a definitive record; however, from the information available online, it does seem as if a lot of the headliners were young white males who had appeared at the event at least once previously.

I know there will be some who read this post and think: “Yeah, but the most popular YouTubers are white men.” Firstly ‘no’, and secondly ‘so?’ Not that I watch any of them myself, but a quick Google search reveals a number of other creators with more followers than some of the stars included in that table above. And even if that wasn’t the case, Insomnia has a huge public presence and voice; it’s the perfect platform for promoting diversity within gaming and offering attendees the chance to see stars from all different backgrounds.

Insomnia, video games, DanTDM

There’ll also be some who read this post and think: “You don’t even go to Insomnia for the headliners so why are you bothering to write this?” I care because I have an 11-year old stepson who’s all about YouTube and has recently started coming to expos with us, as is the case for many other children of a similar age. Taking them to events where they only see young white men up on stage reinforces the incorrect idea that gaming is a male-dominated community and that you have to conform to make it big in the industry.

As mentioned above, we’ve taken the decision to not attend I64 in April and it’s possible we won’t go back for several years. I’ve heard that the event can be fun if you get yourself a BYOC ticket and join in with the LAN party and camping, and it’s something my other-half is keen on doing at some point. However, as you have to be over 16 it’s not possible to bring Ethan right now; and it seems pretty mean to hand him over to one of the grandparents for the weekend while we go and have all the gaming fun without him.

(He probably won’t want to come with us when he reaches age however, because what teenager wants to be seen dead with their parents? But considering the weekend would cost over £400 for the three of us – and that’s without travel or food – that might be a very good thing.)

I’ll leave you now with a quote from the event’s website: “Insomnia Gaming Festival is a diverse and community-led event containing content that is relevant to gamers, millennials and fans of popular culture.” Yeah.

15 thoughts on “Insomnia: male and pale

  1. I know nothing about this event and little about the young YouTube fandom. But you raise an incredibly important issue and the amount of hypocrisy in that closing quote is off the chart when looking at their lineup. I feel quite angry about it to be honest…


  2. This is kind of frustrating, as Birmingham is one of the most diverse cities in the country. Seems that Insomnia is much like a lot of festivals these days – all merch and big name games and little else!


  3. An excellent writeup, Kim. I certainly notice the abundance of materialism and insanely young white male gaming idols/celebs while at or reading about events like this, but your article really helps to put it into perspective! “Diverse and community-led”, haha.


    • Thanks Andria!

      I volunteered at an event last year which was more for people working in the industry, and was surprised at how many I talked to who said they don’t actually have an interest in playing video games. I know businesses exist to make money and need to make a profit to stay alive; but when the people in charge don’t enjoy the thing they’re promoting, I can’t help but feel it all starts to get a little heartless. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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