How an unbiased artwork and know-how pageant captured my coronary heart
Once I informed my buddies and associates I used to be attending the XOXO Pageant in Portland, Oregon, final weekend, I had a troublesome time explaining what it was about. The occasion web site describes it as an “experimental pageant celebrating independently produced artwork and know-how.” However that does not fairly clarify why the occasion, now 4 years within the operating, struck a chord with me. One of many preliminary causes I used to be drawn to XOXO was that it is about embracing know-how not simply as a way to generate profits, but in addition as a way for creativity and independence. This yr, nevertheless, XOXO meant rather more. The central theme of the pageant, greater than some other yr, was about one factor: group.
The thought of XOXO is just this: To deliver unbiased creators collectively. “They’re the people who find themselves utilizing the web in artistic methods to bypass conventional publishers, conventional gatekeepers and retain artistic and monetary management over their very own work,” stated Andy Baio, who co-created XOXO together with good friend and fellow Portland resident, Andy McMillan. “This consists of musicians, filmmakers, online game designers, hardware hackers, writers and designers.” So long as you used the web not directly to carve a path for your self, XOXO is place for you. The talks and the occasions are designed to not solely rejoice unbiased creators — be they app builders or podcasters — but in addition permit individuals to pay attention and study from the struggles that others have confronted.
In consequence, most of the talks at XOXO are emotionally pushed. The presenters typically present their vulnerability onstage as they reveal their trials and tribulations. Loads of those this yr centered across the troublesome problems with being unbiased — Mallory Ortberg from The Toast gave a humorous speech on how she bootstrapped her ladies-run publication; C. Spike Trotman of Iron Circus Comics spoke concerning the challenges of creating a dwelling on indie comics particularly as a black lady; and Heather Armstrong of Dooce advised a heartbreaking story of how she needed to give up running a blog for some time as a result of elevated strain to put in writing sponsored content material and the impact it had on her household.
Zoe Quinn gave a chat on on-line harassment and having empathy.
However it was the periods that centered on group that left an impression on me. Eric Meyer, properly-recognized for his experience on CSS, advised a narrative of how the CSS group campaigned to have the colour worth #663399 formally named “rebeccapurple” in reminiscence of his daughter who died from most cancers. Amit Gupta, the founding father of images retailer Photojojo, defined how his web buddies collaborated on a marketing campaign to seek out him a bone marrow donor after they came upon he had leukemia. (They discovered a donor match three months after they launched the marketing campaign. If none have been discovered, he would not be alive right now.)
After which there have been shows concerning the ugly aspect of on-line communities. Zoe Quinn, an unbiased recreation developer whose ex-boyfriend sparked the GamerGate controversy, talked not simply concerning the on-line harassment she’s endured, but in addition her try at empathizing together with her attackers. She stated that the majority of them consider themselves as the great guys, and a few years in the past, as a teen struggling to slot in, she would’ve possible been on their aspect. Equally, Veronica Belmont, podcaster and host of our very personal Pricey Veronica, advised a story about how an embarrassing GIF of herself went viral and her ensuing endeavor to really feel empathy for the individuals on the web who have been seemingly ganging up towards her. Sympathy just isn’t the identical factor as empathy, Belmont stated.
Andy Baio and Andy McMillan, the 2 founders of XOXO.
Whereas I used to be definitely very moved by these talks — I am going to admit to crying after a couple of of them — they would not have the identical gravitas and which means if XOXO itself wasn’t probably the most group-targeted occasion I’ve ever attended. In fact, the truth that the pageant limits attendees to just one,000 individuals is already sufficient to create an intimate surroundings, however the organizers went above and past simply that. This yr, for instance, they created a pageant-extensive Slack channel the place attendees couldn’t simply chat on-line, but in addition self-arrange into meetups and supply one another help. In reality, most of Friday’s social actions have been Slack channel meetups that weren’t organized by XOXO in any respect. “If we will prolong that and if we ever do the subsequent XOXO, and get individuals to self-arrange all of it, we will take a nap,” joked McMillan through the occasion’s opening remarks.
Together with individuals of all styles and sizes and from all walks of life was additionally a key think about making XOXO really feel extra like a group. For the primary couple of years, the early crowd comprised of predominantly white males. “It was embarrassing,” stated Baio. “We might by no means considered XOXO as a tech convention, however it was inheriting the systemic points that [were] in tech.” This, he stated, could possibly be as a result of the pageant grew by phrase of mouth primarily amongst an early adopter viewers. “It didn’t mirror the group that we cared about. Importantly, it did not mirror the ‘artwork’ a part of the pageant in any respect.”
A “digital actuality lounge” was arrange at XOXO for attendees to check out video games on Venture Morpheus, an Oculus DK 2 and the Samsung Gear VR.
As a way to fight this, they included a variety query in final yr’s survey that merely requested candidates in the event that they recognized with a gaggle that is been underrepresented at XOXO prior to now. That info was primarily factored into admission, and it is undoubtedly had an impression. In 2014, the share of attendees who self-recognized as ladies doubled to round forty %, though solely thirteen % recognized as individuals of shade. In 2015, the numbers rose once more to forty five % for feminine-recognized attendees and 20 % for individuals of shade. There’s nonetheless a variety of work to be finished, stated Baio, however they’re making an attempt.
For 2015 particularly, they launched the thought of sponsored passes. In the event you made your case in your software that there was no means you might attend XOXO until you can get a sponsored cross (convention costs are usually $500, whereas the pageant-solely payment is $one hundred twenty five), then you definitely have been free to attend the entire thing for simply $50. In all, 50 individuals attended XOXO this yr with these sponsored passes. Grant Roberts, an unemployed online game designer from Seattle, was a type of individuals. He informed me he was happy to have an opportunity to satisfy like-minded people and get enthusiastic about making issues once more. Jonathan Liu, a keep-at-house dad in Portland who blogs with out pay for GeekDad, additionally obtained a sponsored cross, and relished the chance to study extra about Kickstarter tasks.
The park outdoors Revolution Corridor, the place individuals gathered for meals, drinks, live shows and events.
It wasn’t simply that both. There have been quiet areas all through the convention for many who endure from social nervousness and even introverts who merely wanted a break from the gang. Restrooms have been marked with an indication that requested individuals not be involved with the gender look of others. A particular ADA-compliant taxi was out there free of charge for many who wanted it. Free childcare was obtainable all through the day and there have been free non-alcoholic sodas too, making XOXO an all-ages occasion for the primary time. A code of conduct banning harassment was additionally strictly enforced.
XOXO was created 4 years in the past by Baio and McMillan out of a want for an occasion that targeted on this intersection between artwork and know-how. Baio, who’s maybe higher recognized for his private web site Waxy.org (and different achievements like coining the time period “supercut” and creating the Upcoming.org social calendar), was notably touched by unbiased creators because of his involvement with Kickstarter — he was the corporate’s CTO from 2009 to 2010. “I felt like there was a niche to be crammed to do an occasion that was laser-targeted on this one concept about unbiased artwork and tech.” He began speaking to McMillan over drinks, and McMillan, who already had three years of expertise operating a design pageant in Belfast referred to as Construct, occurred to have the identical concept as nicely.
The 2 then launched a $one hundred twenty five,000 Kickstarter marketing campaign to fund the convention, a objective that was met inside two days and reached $one hundred seventy five,000 by the top. On September thirteenth, 2012, the primary-ever XOXO Pageant was held on the YU Modern in Portland. A complete of four hundred individuals — together with myself — attended the occasion, which on the time consisted of simply two days of talks, a movie night time, a music night time, a online game arcade and an arts and crafts market. Regardless that they by no means deliberate to have a second one, the response to the primary was so overwhelmingly constructive, they determined to do XOXO once more in 2013. This time, they added a second night time of music, a night of tabletop video games, plus cheaper pageant-solely passes with which you possibly can attend the whole lot however the talks. After one other profitable yr, they hosted it once more in 2014, this time with out the market however with a model-new night of storytelling and podcasts referred to as XOXO Story. And, in fact, they did it once more this yr.
A number of indie video video games have been arrange on giant projectors for XOXO Arcade.
“I am not likely positive why, however there’s one thing about XOXO that is repellent to cynical, snarky, indignant individuals,” stated Baio of the group that the pageant attracts. In any case, he stated, it is named after hugs and kisses. “Lots of people like to attract a comparability with SXSW,” he stated of the opposite know-how-targeted pageant in Austin, Texas. “It was too huge and not fulfilling what they have been getting out of it.” Belmont stated that XOXO felt like how SXSW Interactive was 10 years in the past. “It is the place the creatives, the technologists and the large thinkers get collectively and have significant conversations,” she stated.
In some ways, XOXO is a love fest and a nerd con all rolled into one. I loved the stay tapings of fantastic podcasts like Hiya from the Magic Tavern, You Look Good At the moment and Reply All. I liked the private tales advised throughout a reside storytelling occasion referred to as Fray that had me laughing and crying. I used to be moved and educated by the Feminist Frequency movies that Anita Sarkeesian confirmed throughout movie night time. I used to be entertained by a displaying of Home of Cosbys and a Rick and Morty episode by creator Justin Roiland. I had enjoyable enjoying indie video video games and board video games with the friendliest strangers I’ve ever met.
A sketch of the 2 Andys of XOXO, accomplished by illustrator Lucy Bellwood through the occasion.
By the point I left on Monday morning, my coronary heart felt prefer it had grown 10 occasions. I really feel like I’ve made new pals. I really feel impressed to make and do new issues. Extra importantly, I really feel like I’ve found a brand new group the place I belong. Even every week later, I am nonetheless hanging out within the XOXO Slack channel, which Baio and McMillan stated they will maintain operating for so long as they will.
Proper now, Baio has no plans to have one other XOXO subsequent yr. However that is what he says after each pageant. “I do know you possibly can solely say that so many occasions till individuals are like, ‘Yeah proper,'” he stated. “However we do truthfully haven’t any plan to do one other XOXO after this one. … What occurs is, once we wrap up, we take a look at the way it went. Then we determine if we need to do one other one. Whether or not or not we will maintain this fascinating. That is why we hold the phrase ‘experimental’ within the description.”
“If it ceases to be fascinating, then we have now no qualms killing it,” he stated. Contemplating how fantastic this yr’s occasion was, I am betting there shall be one other one. And I am going to attempt my greatest to attend that as nicely.
[Image credit: All photos by the author; illustration by Lucy Bellwood]