Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023
Gamers gather at PAX South to protest Trump

It was Saturday night and Trin Garritano was on vacation at PAX South, an annual gathering in San Antonio where thousands had gathered to celebrate all things gaming and the wild and beautiful culture around them.

She should have been happy and relaxed, but she wasn’t. “I was just sitting in my hotel room with my friend Maya and I was getting angrier and angrier watching the news,” she said.

The news was, of course, aimed at President Trump, and especially his recent executive order largely barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Garritano, who described herself as the “businesswoman” for the popular game Cards Against Humanity, said she felt isolated from her home and many of her friends and family in Chicago.

“I watch all my friends coordinate protests in [Chicago’s] O’Hare [airport]”And I’m here in San Antonio on vacation,” she told Ars. ‘I had to do something. Then it dawned on me more and more that I’m really not the only one [at PAX South] from out of town that feeling, who wants to be involved, who very specifically as a gamer is directly affected [by Trump’s actions].”

Thus, the impromptu Nerdwalk protest was born. Within hours on Saturday night, the idea became a rallying cry for PAX visitors to gather on Sunday and march to the offices of Texas Senator John Cornyn, which happened to be less than a mile from the convention center (the event was not officially sanctioned by the convention, which remains apolitical).

A gambling convention may not seem like the most likely place to find politically active supporters willing to take time out of their gaming time to participate in a public protest. I’ve absolutely never seen any kind of organized political action grow out of any of the dozens of gaming conventions I’ve attended over the years. Still, with less than 24 hours notice, dozens of PAX South visitors gathered this weekend to show their solidarity and opposition to the actions of the current government.

Throw it all together

Screengrab of the NerdWalk organization page that appeared Saturday night.  Less than 24 hours later, dozens of PAX South visitors would gather for the event.
enlarge / Screengrab of the NerdWalk organization page that appeared Saturday night. Less than 24 hours later, dozens of PAX South visitors would gather for the event.

While Garritano said she and her fellow organizers were “crazy about literally everything,” they focused the protest on two specific issues of particular concern to the gaming community. The first was the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which she said “very specifically” [affects] independent artists and developers. Could we have had one Stardew Valley– a man just making a game – if health care was not available to him. We don’t consider that if we want a diverse set of voices in the community, we have to nurture it. One of those ways is to nurture the idea that an artist can live on their own and make something.”

The second was the weekend’s immigration order, which Garritano described as “grossly unconstitutional, and it feels painful and embarrassing that it is showing up in the United States even in 2017.” But beyond that, Garritano echoed many others in the game industry by saying that “it’s the diversity of our community that really matters and speaks to us…. We get better the more diverse our voices are.”

Once the idea was up and running, Garritano rushed to organize everything at very short notice, while also working as one of the volunteer Enforcers helping PAX run smoothly. Friends gathered to make signs, take pictures and generally break the news. Cards Against Humanity creator and founder Max Temkin, who previously worked as an intern on the Obama campaign, provided advice and funded the poster board. A tweet from popular fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss helped spread the word quickly and widely among those present.

NerdWalkers react to honking support from passing cars. Credit: Karlyn Meyer

By the time the march was set to begin at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, there had been 25 responses to 40 or 50 taking time off their vacation to make their political voices heard, Garritano said. And yes, many of them were dressed as comic, anime and video game characters.

“In the invitation, I emphasized that I want people in cosplay, I want people to be themselves,” Garritano said. “The costumes definitely catch the eye, [and] some people taking pictures were not only taking pictures of the signs, but probably thinking, ‘Why are they wearing kigurumi in the middle of San Antonio?'”

While the impromptu protest was small, it was large enough to attract the San Antonio police, with four officers coming to flank the protesters and even help them replan their route when traffic became a potential problem, Garritano said. That was a bit of a surprise for someone who comes from a very different political culture. “I’m from Chicago, man, I have a pretty complicated relationship with the police,” she said. “In Chicago, we really don’t take anything. When Trump came here to do a rally, we kicked him out. He had to leave. We’re not playing.”

Perhaps because of the police presence, Garritano said, the protesters did not face any setback from locals while walking the route, save for a lone “I voted for Trump” catcall. “I expected more pushback because it was Texas and I was blown away by how it wasn’t there.”

The gathering also attracted new supporters along the way, including a car that drove next to them and blasted uplifting punk music for a while, she said. Those additions along the way also include an Iranian woman who joined the march and told Garritano she feared Trump’s order would make it difficult for her parents to get to her upcoming wedding. That woman also told the group about another rally, held in the nearby Main Plaza, where hundreds of San Antonio residents had gathered to protest Trump’s immigration order.

After cheering and waving signs in front of Cornyn’s office for a while, much of the NerdWalk group went to the larger rally to show solidarity, Garritano said. “When we got there, 40 of us came up to us and everyone turns around and starts cheering,” Garritano recalls. “‘Oh my god, there are more of us!'”

A movement?

As a hastily convened protest that brought together people from out of town who were relative newcomers to political action, Garritano said she was trying to limit the targets and commotion involved in the NerdWalk.

“We’ve deliberately tried to make this a ‘baby’s first protest’ situation,” she said. “We’re going to be chill, civilized, nice. We barely chanted, because we’re nerds, we’re introverts. We don’t sing, what’s going on there? … None of us were like ‘we’ I’m going to barge into the building and have him sign a bill.” That was never the idea, it was just to show solidarity.”

That said, Garritano opposed any idea that gamers might be less politically aware than any other group of people, or more willing to ignore political reality in favor of escapism.

“Escapism is everyone’s favorite pastime,” she said. “There are people who watch sports, people who watch four hours of TV every night that are a must-see. Video games are just one of those fun entertainment things we do. other, that’s bizarre to me.”

While Garritano hopes there won’t be any immediate cause for a similar march at Boston’s PAX East in March, she said she’s considering organizing a “call your representatives” meeting or similar direct political action for interested gamers there. Even if it doesn’t, Garritano said marching with so many like-minded gamers this weekend gave her hope.

“We have a community here that matters and cares about more than just her insular situations,” she said. “It just made me really proud to be a part of this and it’s rekindled me to be part of the industry.”

“These are gamers who are here to have fun, who are here on vacation, and we can’t even do that because it has become so real. Almost everyone [at the march] came up and said, ‘This was my first protest, I want to do it again.’ That was the thrill of my life, I can’t even express it.”

By akfire1

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