The LGBT-rights movement has notched victories locally and nationally this year with California's gay marriage ban and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and now one group is bringing the fight to a new arena.
A first-of-its-kind LGBT-oriented video game convention, GaymerX, will hit Japantown in The City on Aug. 3-4, putting the gay-rights movement into the world of "Super Mario" and "Call of Duty."
"Mission No. 1 was trying to get people who were queer, LGBT and gamers to play games together," said Toni Rocca, a spokesperson for the convention. Rocca is gender-queer and prefers the pronoun "they."
Video game popularity has skyrocketed with the advent of mobile gaming, with the industry topping more than $20 billion worldwide in 2012, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Though the technology of gaming is advanced, Rocca said, the culture around it is still in the Stone Age.
Rocca said many multiplayer online gaming spaces are hubs for sexual slurs that drive gay gamers away.
"They have a hard time finding people who won't shout the word 'f**got' into their ear," Rocca said.
A 2006 survey by the University of Illinois found that 87 percent of online gamers have heard their peers use the phrase "that's so gay," and 83 percent have heard the words "gay" and "queer" derogatorily used.
While gamers can be hateful online, others have shown support for the convention, Rocca said.
GaymerX sought funding through Kickstarter, and after asking for $25,000 on the crowdfunding site, more than 1,500 people donated, raising more than $91,000.
Matt Conn, creative director for convention host GaymerConnect, said GaymerX will fight discrimination on two fronts: by offering a safe space for gay gamers to connect with each other and by teaching them to create games for themselves, which will hopefully lead to more diverse characters in gaming.
"Playing games growing up helped me a lot with bullying, growing up in rural Vermont," said Conn, who is gay. "They're an art form. These games could be that much more inclusive."
Character diversity was not an issue in older video games, Rocca said.
"Growing up in the Nintendo era, you'd be really crazy things — you'd be a hamburger running around," Rocca said. "In modern gaming, you're a scruffy, hetero, mid-30s white guy as a rule."
The convention also has the support of major local video game juggernauts such as Electronic Arts, which publishes the multimillion-dollar "Madden Football" series, and Bioware, the creators of "Mass Effect" and "Dragon Age." Those companies are expected to have representatives available at the convention, which Conn hopes will be a conduit for leveraging change.
Independent game developers such as Anna Anthropy, an East Bay-based designer who herself is transgender, also will teach their craft. Ellen McLain, the voice of the killer robot GLaDOS from "Portal 2," also will be at GaymerX.
Heavy subjects aside, said Rocca, it's important to remember the convention also will be about celebrating gaming culture.
There will be a Pokemon Gym where gamers can square off against costumed video game bosses through their Nintendo DS handhelds.
"If you want to have a team of just Pikachus and Snorlaxes, that's fine," Conn said.
IF YOU GOWhat: GaymerX convention
When: Aug. 3-4
Where: Japantown, at Hotel Kabuki and Hotel Tomo
Note: The convention is not open to those under 18
Correction: This story was updated July 25 to correct the spelling of GaymerX spokesperson Toni Rocca's name.