November 24, 2011; the mainstream media caught wind of Saudi Arabia’s first gaming expo which ran in Riyadh for three days. All things considered, TGXPO was a success, yet the media highlighted and ridiculed a setback — it was male-only. That doesn’t sit well with everyone, obviously. Jokes were put forth, but that wasn’t the problem I had with the negative response. After all, nobody can run away from jokes and ‘gamer humor’ in the Internet…gotta have your healthy dose of funny bones. It’s assuming things out no experience which struck a nerve with me. As a Saudi native, this con was supposed to be a positive story since it was the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia. It begged for attention as our country has constantly been ignored when it comes to gaming culture and publishing support. Sadly, the tone of the stories which ran and the constant hate and ridicule from gamers turned a positive message into a negative one. I read all types of comments: from people blaming Islam to assuming that Saudi is a country that discriminates females, the gaming community simply did not understand the big deal about this, nor did they research the true reasons behind the male-only decision. I’ve known them far before TGXPO put an official response in their Facebook page. It was a first of its kind, and taking a rough tumble isn’t uncommon for a fresh experience. While we still do have cultural sensitivities (with over-reliance on male/female segregation) as no country is perfect, it’s not impossible nor forbidden to organize inter-gender events and areas…it just takes a bit more work to approve the concept and go through the paperwork with varies parties like the authorities for security, permit approval, etc. Like I said, it’s a mixture of cultural hurdles and actual capabilities that are needed to run said event. Even though gaming is a fast-growing trend in Saudi Arabia, it’s still not seen as a big enough entertainment phenomena by the likes of the people responsible to grant event permits specialized for gaming. I’ve attended a stand-up comedy show in my hometown of Jeddah which had no problem with both males and females under one roof. TGXPO simply didn’t have the means to do so as organizing and running the event was an experimental process. The majority of gamers in Saudi Arabia are male, so they logically prioritized the event for that demographic. Furthermore, the venue was very small so it couldn’t accommodate females and families…yet due to the success of last year, they promised to get a bigger venue and have special attendance days for females and families alike.
But female gamers aren’t going to wait a full year for TGXPO to get its act together. Instead, they’ve taken initiative and organized Saudi Arabia’s first female-only gaming convention. GCON ran in Riyadh for two days; April 11th and 12th, 2012. I thought Saudi female gamers were too small of a demographic to begin with, so the fact that this con exists and ended successfully proved me wrong. It also proved to the many doubters that women do have a say in Saudi Arabia. The fact of the matter is that there have been many cons and events which involved males, females, and even had them together under one roof…but GCON is a first for Saudi female gamers and it will surely open doors for the next logical step; an event which will have all Saudi gamers under one roof.
From the looks of its website, GCON seems to be a much better-organized event than TGXPO. The attendance on the first day was low considering the demographic, but it spiked up a bit in day 2 and generally everyone was happy about it, according to NG4A’s coverage. They had a lot of sponsors, tournaments, strict schedules, and professional speakers. While they didn’t have any big names like TGXPO’s notable participation of Akira Yamaoka, the schedule in their website looked great as it leaned towards promoting games as art. Notable YouTube videos should be popping up eventually, but as of now it looks like a promising start for female gamers in Saudi Arabia to voice their love for the medium. I can’t wait to see videos of the tournaments, venue, and speakers in the near future. I also can’t wait for these people to bring these cons to my hometown of Jeddah! Why can’t Riyadh share all the fun with us?
Sources: Official GCON Website, N4GA, special thanks to Sara Oulddaddah for highlighting it for me.