My day bag and nineworlds convention badge

I went into my first Nineworlds with few expectations. Primarily it was an expensive way to see a lot of people I generally only see in fields and scout camps up and down the country while LARPing, secondarily it was a place of interesting information sharing, and thirdly it was investigative, to see how they run and what systems they have in place that I can recommend to other large events I am – or will be – involved with.

I also was planning on doing it as a vidlog thing, and on the journey and up to the convention actually opening shot some footage and monologues towards that end, but once things actually started I didn’t have a lot to say between the sessions, so a vidlog would have been “Aquarion arrives. Aquarion announces intentions. Con happens. Shots of leaving”. So words instead, unpopular as they are.

I am really bad at conventions, it turns out. My major experiences have been Worldcon and early Discworld Cons, and I find them really isolating. Time gets split between talking to my friends and people I know, catching up, swapping stories, hanging out; and going off to see panels or do our own thing, where I find myself surrounded by people I don’t know in a place I’m not familiar with, and my head tends to get eaten by its own demons. My enjoyment of the con, therefore, was only marginally affected by the convention itself, and largely by unrelated or reflected issues and stresses.

Nineworlds is a convention dominated by the liberal edges of the left wing, a place built on personal freedoms of gender, sexuality, social justice, safe spaces and accessibility. It’s a convention where you are encouraged to label your attendance badge with your preferred pronouns, where the cabaret acts declare their hobbies to be smashing the patriarchy and get the expected cheers, and where everyone is generally free to be the best versions of themselves. Anecdotally, it’s also one of the largest gatherings I’ve been in without observable incidents of public exceptional drunkenness (this may be linked to the venue being in a central London hotel, where getting to that level of inebriation would require significant investment). The staff were friendly and helpful (even the hotel staff, who took a lot of weirdness in their stride, and even occasionally joined in), and the ducks appeared to glide through the water, no matter how frantically the invisible paddling was going.

It’s still a fairly hard community to be a part of, personally. Because I look and sound like a large percentage of everything most hated, it’s hard to accept the generalisations as not being aimed, it’s hard to hear the non-optional identities I hold being held to account for the predominant problems of the world. Even if I don’t wish anyone to moderate their language – the words are still broadly true, and I do not need the reassurance of the personal exception every time – it interacts with the least pleasant bits of my subconscious to reduce my calm. Since this is my problem and not anyone elses’, I didn’t end up going to a lot of the panels on social issues, because it didn’t seem comfortable. It led to missing a few sessions I was interested in.

I didn’t have a great experience with the panels, really. A number that didn’t get anywhere need specific issues due to everyone wanting to personally comment on the wider – and generally accepted as bad – more general issues led to an experience of being preached to as a choir. Polemics on institutional issues, rather than discussion around solutions for local instances. Partly, that’s a sign of the current political climate, but it made some panels feel like a series of small audio-visual blog posts rather than a discussion panel.

That said, I enjoyed immensely a lot of the talks and workshops that I attended.

(If you are a content creator and have found this blog post, this isn’t detailed feedback, and I apologise if it reads harsh, it’s 5am as I write)

Friday

Penn’s Access: Larp workshop – Writing Accessible Plot for LARP – kicked off my Nineworlds experience, as a group of us worked through how stories can be told in LARP without sidelining or erasing characters whose players have difficulties with access, movement or comprehension. Not only solving it on a plot by plot basis, but institutionally setting different ways of interacting with the major events of the game into the foundations of how you tell the stories, to allow everyone a chance to have their spotlight time.

I’ll admit that I went into “What is the “Hacker Mindset”? An Illustrated Example Using Watch_Dogs.” with a … hearty level of scepticism, it turned out to be not what I expected, a rapid talk about “Hacker” culture in the 2660 – and movie – sense of accessing data you shouldn’t be allowed to, delivered by an experienced penetration tester (someone employed to find the weaknesses in corporate infrastructure;  technical, architectural and social). Towards the end it lent on its central metaphor a bit hard – becoming less “How Hackers use lateral thinking to find holes in structure” to the more specific “I am awesome at Watch_Dogs because I found a way to clip through this wall”.

Who’s That Audience? – The Audience and Creator Relationship I went into because I recognised a couple of the names on the panel, and while it did occasionally drift from the topic into the less solvable “Isn’t twitter awful” it was interesting to hear different strategies on how to keep private and public opinions, how to avoid (or encourage) your audience from swinging at targets at your behalf, and that kind of thing.

Then I had lunch and went to the Steven Universe Singalong. Because the songs are good and I like it, so there.

Questing Time is basically live Dungeons and Dragons (a rules-light implementation of D&D 5), in this case an adventure where the party were working at a fantasy convention called DragonCon (not that one), and had to rescue the newly announced 13th Proctor (who was the first female to take the role) from being sacrificed by Tonald Drumph to Baaaaal. There was a bear called Ben. Watching funny people play D&D was more fun than I thought it would be, especially with a light-hearted but heavily referential adventure (it ended with Drumph being killed by with his own hair). Apparently it’s a show they’re also running at Edinburgh Fringe this year. If you get a chance to see it, I’d recommend it.

Doctor Magnethands is apparently a staple of nineworlds, a more improv-based storytelling system where the heroes (the panel) attempt to defeat Doctor Magnethands (the lead) who has summoned minions to defeat them (The audience) who are randomly named by some kind of crazy satirical concept generator (also the audience), who are rewarded for their efforts (the vodka). At its heights, it was like a good episode of the goon show.

Saturday

I went to a panel on Access in entertainment, fandom and LARP. I learnt about access problems in music gigs, front and back stage, for people with mobility issues (and wheelchairs in specific).

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? was a panel by the Tech crew about tech-ing nineworlds. It was funny and informative, but I think the best bit were the Skippy’s List slides, which I got shots of all but one of. Presented below

Then I missed a few things I wanted to go to because they were full, and then instead of going to the thing I was planning on I followed some friends into the Original Poetry Open Mic session, where I proceeded to read a thing I wrote into a microphone in front of live actual people, something I’ve not done in.. possibly a decade. It was terrifying. Nobody killed me. I’m still not good at poetry.

After that I spent the evening hanging out with friends. There was a disco on in the background.

Sunday

Starting my morning with a light and fluffy panel, I went to The Future of Nineworlds, a panel with the director and show-runner about how the convention happens and where it might happen yet. Apparently last year’s expansion was a bit expensive and they didn’t recoup it back, so future cons may be in cheaper places.

To close out my Nineworlds experience, I went to things on the other topic I came for, How To Do The Writing Thing.

AC Macklin‘s talk on Different Techniques of POV and the effect they have on the reader was really interesting, mostly as a light-bulb of doing things deliberately and specifically rather than “what seems right”, which is my usual POV technique. I didn’t take enough notes, so I’m now stalking her blog for the promised copies of the slides…

Last, Edit As You Go v Blast Through to The End: Finishing Your First Novel was probably the best panel I attended all event. Each of the four authors had a different approach to creating and editing, from “Edit as I go” through “Outline the everliving fuck out of it, then write” to “Give yourself permission to be bad, and just write it” and edit later. All of these were for how to write novels in general, but they rounded back often to the specific topic – get to the end of your first novel – with a rough consensus of “Barrel through it to then end”. It made me want to write more things.

The End

The sheer number of my friends that I saw at this event was staggering. People I haven’t seen since I move out of London, or Hackney; people who I basically only ever see while playing someone else; people I’ve met in passing recently and only really got to know this last weekend. The convention items were good, the general ambience and sense of doing things was fun, but the best part of the weekend for me was spending hour on hour talking to people I like and care about, who I don’t see often enough. That alone makes me consider pre-booking my ticket to Nineworlds 2018 next year on spec.

It even makes me tempted to help run things at Nineworlds next year.

So stop me from doing that, I think.