Last weekend, I had the good fortune to be invited out to AFK Con 2015 in Guelph, a new convention for adults to share their literary and gaming interests, and I must say, it was a great time! Most conventions are organized around dedicated communities to discuss genre fiction, anime, comics, or whatever, but AFK Con was different, in that it was organized as a “Crowd Con,” with the activities being decided entirely by those attending.
As a result, the array of panels and activities were truly exciting. One panel, “Why Are We Still Struggling,” began a lively discussion about Gamer Gate and how the controversy around sexism and racism in mass media aimed at US markets spills over into all kinds of cultural production. Another panel, “But You’ll Get Great Exposure: The Idea of Giving it Away for Free” was aimed at helping those of us in the arts who often rely on freelance work to protect our own interests and to get better clients. And the panel I spoke at, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Post-Secondary Education” gave us an opportunity to discuss how best to develop strategies for translating school experiences into real-world benefits.
It wasn’t all so serious, though. We also played games like Godzilla SMASH:
As you can, see, it was a lot of fun to attend and participate, and the best part is that even in its first year, the con did well enough that the organizers have decided to bring it back next year! I took the time to sit down with Roberto Collingwood and Angela Keeley to discuss their rationale behind the con, its situation in Guelph, and their goals for the event.
Roberto Collingwood was over the moon about the turnout, especially in a place like Guelph. When asked about why he chose Guelph instead of a bigger city like Toronto, he spoke passionately about how events like these bring communities together.
“Thinking long-term,” Collingwood said, “it’s nice to have something in the community to think about outside of work. It’s like a vacation in your home town…[the event] becomes an anchor point in your year.” “Guelph is very commutable,” Collingwood said, with a smile on his face from his pleasure at the turnout, “and next year we’re going to do it in February, where there’s a lot less going on in people’s calendars.”
Collingwood wasn’t the only organizer who was happy with the turnout and the experience. I spoke with Angela Keeley about the decision to crowd-source the programming.
“It seems to me,” Keeley said, “in fandom, that people are determined to making niche events, which isolate you and put you in an echo chamber…crowd-sourced programming keeps the public open to create a spread of interesting and different programming, and if you want your local community to act like one, you have to re-invest in it.” Keeley couldn’t contain her pleasure at the turnout and atmosphere either, and noted especially the success of the impromptu events room, which provided convention-goers with an open-access space for panels and activities that were not pre-planned.
I’ve been to a few conventions myself, and I’m usually put off by how narrow the programming can be. At AFK, however, it seemed like everybody who came was there not only to share their own passions, but to find out about everybody else, too. Next year’s AFK Con will be held on the weekend of 23 February, and I hope they manage to keep it going for a long time after!