Insomnia65: a round-up

I‘ve been going to the Insomnia Gaming Festival since 2017 and have never an entirely positive experience at the event. Insomnia61 felt like nothing more than a merch-fest, with YouTubers’ branded items being constantly pushed to an audience of mainly under-tens. And there wasn’t a lot to do at Insomnia63 if you weren’t interested in playing Fortnite.

We drew the line at going to Insomnia64 in April after seeing the organiser’s line-up announcement: all of the special guests were 20-something males and predominantly white British. For an event which promotes itself as ‘diverse and community-led’ and ‘containing content that is relevant to gamers, millennials and fans of popular culture’, this seemed remarkably shortsighted. What a way to enforce the incorrect idea that gaming is a male-dominated community and you have to conform to make it big in the industry.

So why did my other-half and I bother to make the trip to Birmingham for Insomnia65 last month? The main reason why we do anything video-game-related that we’re not completely enthusiastic about: Ethan. My 12-year old stepson loves the event and we wanted to do something to surprise him. As the school summer-holidays this year hadn’t been a great time for him, we wanted to do something to cheer up our kid and knew he’d be excited when we revealed what we’d be doing the following day.

That’s how we found ourselves on the road at an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. I’m sure Ethan spent most of three-hour journey chanting ‘Insomnia, Insomnia, Insomnia’ in between naps in the back of the car. An Overwatch tournament had just started by the time we arrived so after a quick stop by the SpecialEffect to say hello and a visit to the café for a round of tea, we made our way to the eSports area. Pete and I were surprised at just how much my stepson got into it – come back on Monday for more about that.

Next we headed to the indie section where there were some very family-friendly titles and much to catch Ethan’s eye. He picked two as his favourites of the day. The first was RPG Pandora: Chains of Chaos by Party Llama Games because of its art-style and the fact your mount was a pig. Then there was puzzle-platformer Bubbles the Cat by Team Cats & Bears which was surprisingly addictive. The kid did his best to convince developer Johnny Wallbank to employ him as a voice-actor with meows throughout the demo (I’m so proud).

With a trip to the Insomnia merchandise stand, a ride on a jet simulator courtesy, a stop by the Just Dance tournament (not as participants thankfully) and a few more cups of tea, that was our Insomnia65 experience done. And I have to admit that both my other-half and I were pleasantly surprised. The organisers seemed to have paid much more attention to the atmosphere of the event this time and it felt different, not so ‘promotional’ and more enjoyable.

I think this had something to do with its new layout. It had felt somewhat haphazard during our previous visits but now seemed more organised, with similar attractions placed in adjacent sections which certainly helped with the flow of the crowd. There was also the fact that there appeared to be less focus on YouTubers this time. Instead of huge meet-and-greet areas where special guests plugged their tacky merchandise at every opportunity, this was much reduced and the number of people in the queues was far fewer.

Saying that though, Insomnia still has a very long way to go before its crowned top event in my calendar. They really do need to do something about its lack of diversity; having mainly white males YouTubers and female cosplayers just enforce horrible gender stereotypes. I’ve been told in the past that it’s much more fun if you do the whole BYOC thing and spend the weekend playing video games, so it’s something Pete and I are now seriously considering doing. Four-days of The Elder Scrolls Online? Yes please.

Did you go to Insomnia65? If so, what did you think and what was your highlight? Check out our gallery below to see what we got up to.

Insomnia65 photo gallery

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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.

Insomnia63: the trouble with Fortnite

My current obsession is Guns of Icarus Alliance. It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually play as I tend to shy away from anything competitive; but after getting roped into a match at Rezzed, I purchased a copy and have been hooked since.

So does this obsession mean I’d make a beeline for the stand if Guns happened to be on show at the next expo I’m due to attend? As much as I’m enjoying it and look forward to spending a few nights each week as an Engineer, probably not. I might wish to visit the developer at some point to give positive feedback about their project, but it seems strange to spend time queuing up for a ten-minute session on a title I could switch on as soon as I got back home to the comfort of my own sofa.

This hopefully explains my confusion when entering the NEC Birmingham last weekend for Insomnia63. After a short tour around the exhibition hall, we counted five separate areas dedicated to Fortnite: two full rows in the PlayStation zone, a couple of stands from Nintendo, a line of computers in the middle of the show and two merch sections where it was playable on gaming laptops available for purchase. And that’s not to mention the fact it also made several appearances on the BYOC timetable for the weekend.

Insomnia63, video games, Fortnite

Let’s get one thing straight before we continue: this post isn’t now going to turn into me ranting about how terrible a game Fortnite is. Yes, I’ve played it and no, I wouldn’t call myself a fan. But I’ve actively defended the title in the past when it has been the subject of outraged news reports and I don’t believe it’s going to bring about the downfall of our children (bad parenting will be able to do that on its own without too much help).

What I feel irked about is it being given so much coverage that it’s then turned into the ‘highlight’ of a show by proxy. I noticed the same thing done with Minecraft at Insomnia61 last year, along with other past events: row after row of monitors displaying the same badly-pixelated pigs. Although there may be a competitive element to these titles which doesn’t appeal to me, it strikes me as discouraging that so much floorspace is devoted to games which are readily available and most attendees likely already own.

Maybe I’m being cynical but it just seems like a cheap and non-creative way to fill empty areas in an exhibition hall. Tickets for myself, my other-half and stepson for Insomnia63 cost around £80 (including booking fee) so to part with that much and then be greeted with so many machines running Fortnite was a disappointment. And it’s not just the cost in terms of money: it’s also that we made a six-hour round trip and spent half of our weekend together at an event which promoted a game we could have stayed at home to play.

Seriously though, I think the worst thing about expos resorting to existing titles like this is the fact that new and unique projects then get overlooked by a good portion of attendees. Indie developers put so much time and effort into the games they’re working on, and those I’ve spoken to previously about the subject have revealed just how much commitment and organisation it takes to appear at a show. I can only imagine how disheartening it is to finally get there and realise you’re competing with 20 instances of the latest fad.

Attendees should be free to discover their own highlight of an expo rather than having something like Fortnite or Minecraft foisted upon them. Let’s hope we get to EGX next month and don’t find more than few machines dedicated to either of them.

Insomnia63: a round-up

Insomnia61 in August was my first time at the event which promotes itself as ‘the UK’s biggest gaming festival’. Having the stepson in tow meant we sadly couldn’t participate in the BYOC and camping part of the weekend because he’s too young, but I certainly felt that festival vibe.

We tried out a number of indie games (with Nature’s Zombie Apocalypse going down well with the boys); checked out the merchandise (and fortunately didn’t bankrupt ourselves); and saw a show featuring one of Ethan’s favourite YouTubers.

The day turned out to be more fun for him than my other-half and I because we don’t watch a lot of YouTube and therefore had no idea who the majority of the ‘special guests’ were. We also saw a few things that made us feel us feel a little uncomfortable in terms of the games these celebrities were playing and how frequently they tried to push branded merchandise to an audience consisting of mostly under-tens. On the positive side though, Ethan finally saw his idol as a real person and a gamer who makes mistakes like the rest of us.

We therefore headed off to Insomnia63 last weekend feeling slightly apprehensive but interested to see whether the atmosphere and behaviour had changed in light of recent controversies. Particularly curious was the fact that Alfie Deyes was there despite him landing in hot water earlier this year, but unfortunately he was only around on the Friday so we didn’t get to see what impact this had. As for the other special guests in attendance… yep, still no clue who they were.

The thing that struck us though was just how young they all were. And I’m not talking about the fact that Pete and I are getting older or are positively ancient compared to a lot of gamers nowadays. The meet-and-greet stands we passed seemed to be manned by kids who were barely into their teens and should probably be sorting out homework ready for a return to school in September. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this; while YouTube has opened a lot of new career paths, I can’t help but worry about its possible negative impact.

Anyway, Ethan wasn’t interested in any of the guests this year and wanted to focus on playing video games. TerraTech by Payload Studios, an open-world design-and-build title which has been doing the rounds at expos for several years now, caught his attention this time and we must have spent at least an hour in total playing it. We also tried Cat Quest II by The Gentlebros, along with Jarheads by Gareth Williams and Yukatan by Hairy Heart Games.

But that was it: other than a quick go on the original The Typing of the Dead (I couldn’t resist), watching a football match played by drones and buying a bit of merch this was all we did for the entire day. The thing we’ve come to realise about Insomnia is that if you’re not interested in the YouTubers and have an under-16 with you so therefore participate in the BYOC and indoor-camping bit of the event – or aren’t interested in playing Fortnite (more about that later this week) – there isn’t an awful lot to do.

Next on the calendar is EGX towards the end of September and after a couple of somewhat disappointing expos, I’m looking forward to it. Let me know in the comments below if you’re going to be there on the Thursday so I can keep an eye out for you and say hello.

Insomnia63 photo gallery

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Insomnia61: merchandise, money and mistakes

One of my stepson’s dreams came true when visiting Insomnia 61 at the end of August, where he had the opportunity to see one of his favourite YouTubers in real-life. He has been watching DanTDM’s channel (previously ‘The Diamond Minecart’) for over a year now and it’s the first place he, and 16-million other subscribers, go to for regular Minecraft content.

Unfortunately for myself and my other-half, this means his voice is regularly heard throughout our house and we don’t really understand the fascination. He doesn’t appear to be a particularly good gamer (although that isn’t entirely important); his videos are poorly edited; and the jokes that pepper the gameplay aren’t funny. Some may say there are far worse things for a ten-year old to watch and point out DanTDM’s reputation for being one of the ‘safer’ YouTubers for kids.

That didn’t stop me feeling uncomfortable however as we queued up for his hour-long show at the event, and wondering whether the parents around us knew exactly what their sons and daughters were watching online. Minecraft seemed as though it would be a suitable game for the majority of the young audience at Insomnia 61; but what about titles such as Who’s Your Daddy? and The Escapists, which have featured on DanTDM’s channel since 2016?

Insomnia, video games, DanTDM

I didn’t know the father and excited little girl in the seats in front of me but something told me he wouldn’t consider a game where you can play as a baby who’s determined to take its own life as appropriate for his six-year old daughter. I didn’t think a title consisting of prisoners trying to escape jail while avoiding violence and sexually-suggestive comments from cellmates and guards would be high on his suitability-scale either.

As the show begun and it became apparent neither DanTDM himself nor his interviewer was going to mention these games, I found myself first understanding why they’d made that decision. After all, no parent was going to cough up for the merchandise plugged throughout the hour if they felt this person was showing their children things they shouldn’t see. Instead, we listened to them tell us about the tickets for his tour, his DVD, his book, and his exclusive Insomnia t-shirts and stationery – and just how awesome it all was.

Then as DanTDM started taking questions from the audience, I realised why he has been looking to expand his content outside of Minecraft for the past year. The five- to ten-year olds surrounding him would soon grow up and he’d no longer be relevant; so what better way to capitalise on your limited celebrity shelf-life than expanding your repertoire (and merchandise) as widely and as quickly as possible?

But were games such as Who’s Your Daddy? and The Escapists really the right way to go when his audience is so young? Celebrities make comments about how they never signed up to be role-models but unfortunately it’s not that simple: fame comes with side-effects both good and bad, and excuses aren’t adequate dismissals of responsibility. Children may be drawn to his channel for Minecraft videos but could very easily find other content.

Of course it’s down to the parents to monitor their online activity but, as they grabbed the hands of their kids and pulled them towards the exit, I looked around and wondered how closely they did this. Adults should make a point of knowing what their children are playing but PEGI ratings are often misunderstood or ignored; so it was with dismay that I realised the vetting of YouTube videos probably wouldn’t be much different.

As we managed to battle our way outside the hall I counted myself lucky. I had a stepson who understands that not everything online is suitable; who’s willing to talk to us about what he should and shouldn’t be playing; and who’s aware that not all of DanTDM’s content is suitable despite how much he adores him. I wondered to myself how long this would continue with his teenage years fast approaching, but realised the only thing to do was continue trying to be the best step-parent I could.

Insomnia, video games, DanTDM

There was however the benefit of Ethan now seeing DanTDM as a ‘real person’. Instead of the heavily-edited and exaggerated celebrity in his videos who achieves everything first time, he was a gamer who makes mistakes like the rest of us and died several times while playing a level of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy live on stage. Maybe now my stepson would start to realise there’s no need for him to be a ‘perfect gamer’ and to simply enjoy video games for what they are.

And with that, we forgot about DanTDM and his merchandise for a while. The rest of Insomnia 61 was waiting for us.

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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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