Nine Worlds 2015

It’s been nearly two weeks since Nine Worlds 2015 now, so we’re well overdue my review of the event. The short version is that I had a good time!

Running up by Heathrow over the course of a 3-day weekend, Nine Worlds markets itself as a “geek fest” rather than a convention, and deviates from the usual con expectations in a number of respects. Nine Worlds is not about buying things. There was a stand to buy t-shirts, and a small market on Sunday, but otherwise there were no sales stands whatsoever. It’s also not a gaming convention like the ones I usually attend, instead being a broader celebration of geek culture that includes gaming alongside film, television, comics and other literature. The core activity of Nine Worlds is attending its panels, which encompass all three days, with several running at a time. Perversely though, whilst I tend to spend most gaming conventions sitting inside seminars, at least half of Nine Worlds I spent playing board games or roleplaying. Aren’t I the rebel.

Amongst the weekend’s gaming was a Monsterhearts one-shot (in which my ambitions for the amateur dramatics society were cut short by me being dragged under the sea by Poseidon), my first experience of Tokaido courtesy of the event’s board game library, and a few games of Two Rooms and a Boom. I was slightly disappointed the latter game was not better attended – we averaged around a dozen players – but GenCon has set me up with expectations of 25-player games that, in the real world, are rarely logistically feasible.

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Speaking of rarely logistically feasible, here’s me covered in cardboard boxes for the Build-a-Mech competition.

I’m about to say some mean things about Nine Worlds, so let me earn some good karma points first. Despite only being in its third year, the event is generally very well run, with an extremely helpful team of (mostly volunteer) support staff. Nine Worlds also prides itself on its diversity, drawing greater attendance from people of colour, non-binary genders, people with disabilities, and other groups traditionally marginalised by geek culture. I know some people have argued there is room for improvement here, but I think Nine Worlds delivers much better than competing conventions. Whilst I’m privileged enough demographically to rarely worry about this sort of thing, I lost count of the number of times throughout the day where other attendees expressed with relief and joy how safe and welcome they had felt within the grounds of the convention.

But on the note of inclusivity, no review of Nine Worlds can be complete without acknowledging the exorbitant cost of attending – £75 is the very lowest price of a ticket, on the door I believe it’s closer to £100. That is a huge price tag for a three-day con, doubtless due to the absence of a sales area to mitigate the organisers’ costs. And the event venue is in the middle of nowhere, meaning most attendees I spoke to also had to pay for a hotel. The fact that I travelled up on the night of the London Underground strike certainly didn’t help matters, since it meant paying for a taxi too. There is absolutely no doubt that this gigantic expense deters a great many potential customers, and there is also no doubt that it deters socio-economically disadvantaged communities more than others. If there’s one area I hope Nine Worlds improves on in future years, it is this; not just to protect my own wallet, but because the event champions inclusivity in its mission statement, and in this respect it is failing to deliver. Unfortunately, if the tickets currently on sale for next year are any indication, this won’t be changing any time soon.

The other criticism I have is of the panels themselves. Most damningly, event over-subscription is frustratingly common. I lost count of the number of times where the event I wanted to go to turned me away on the door, even on occasions when I turned up five mins early. Of the few seminars I did get into, quality is… variable, which is something I attribute to the less-than-vigorous selection process for speakers. The line between “geek micro-celebrity” and “random member of the public” sounds trivial, but there is often one absolutely crucial difference: whether or not they’ve done something like this before. I didn’t help matters by attending some seminars that were very similar to each other (I went to a lot of diversity stuff), but then again this was mostly because I got turned away from some of the more unique panels. I couldn’t say what the solution is for this. The panels need more space, but for more space they need more money…

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Of course, many of the events I went to were excellent. My favourite panel was one on Weaponised Women in the Whedonverse, a presentation by Eve Bennett that was superb in its analysis, carefully establishing the trope in both its historical background and broad cross-cultural context. Excellent stuff, my favourite bit of the convention. I also had a great time at the performance of Knightmare Live (they were queuing out the door half an hour in advance…), and meeting Grant Howitt in the flesh, having followed his blog for some time. My most pleasant surprise of the convention was the fanvid music video compilation on Friday night, which I almost didn’t attend, but ended up enjoying a lot more than expected. (The entire selection is now catalogued here.)

And I made a roleplaying game! In 75 minutes no less, at the design-an-RPG workshop. I’m actually quite proud of it, so I’ll be sharing it on the blog next week.

Would I go to Nine Worlds again? Well… maybe. I definitely had fun, but I couldn’t say I had more fun than I do at, say, Dragonmeet, for which my costs for travel, food, accommodation and ticketing approximately total a tenner. I think I want to go to GenCon next year, I doubt I’ll have recovered in time for Nine Worlds the week after, and there’s no way I’d choose the latter over the former. But if the opportunity presented itself in a non-logistically challenging context? Sure, I would go again. Hopefully they can iron out some creases in the meantime.

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