Have you ever been to a convention where the fans are as important (if not more important in some regards) than content creators? Where 50% of the content is created BY attendees and where attendees are part of panels? Where pronouns and accessibility needs are respected? And where children are actively welcomed and can attend for free? I’m going to guess not… unless you’ve already been to Nineworlds (9W’s).
For those of you who haven’t heard of 9W’s before, it is an annual “Geek Convention” which takes place over an August weekend where attendees come together to celebrate, talk and sing about, cosplay, and explore anything and everything to do with Geekdom. Yet, unlike many other conventions which place content creators firmly at the hearts of their conventions (see long lines for expensive autographs and the attendee/creator divide) 9W’s has successfully created a convention in which fans truly are at the heart of everything that they do. It is unlike anything I have experienced before, and so as someone who attended 9W’s for the third year I wanted to share with you why I think 9W’s is truly special and important.
I want to start with access as I think this is one thing that 9W’s does so well and which makes it really stand out from other conventions. As a disabled, trans person, I find convention spaces incredibly overwhelming and inaccessible which always ends up with me being unable to attend them. Whilst no space is ever perfect, 9W’s fights so hard to create a convention which is welcoming, inclusive and which celebrates disabled people. 9W’s is the only convention I’ve been there where there is a FANTASTIC quiet room, priority access seats, stickers and hotel rooms, carers tickets, disabled people on a range of panels, communication overlays, very detailed accessibility information, and a truly amazing access coordinator (who now comes with a great deputy!) to ensure disabled people are always a priority at 9W’s. This really makes all the difference between not just being able to attend a convention but actually feel included and enjoy being there! When I first attended 9W’s, I did find the space very overwhelming and found it really hard to connect with other attendees. But over the 3 years I have attended, 9W’s continues to work hard and I have been able to progress from using a yellow overlay (indicating please don’t talk to me unless I talk to you first) to a blue overlay (actively seeking communication but may not always respond) in response to the adjustments 9W’s have made to make itself more friendly to disabled people.
2017 at 9W’s brought more content than ever to the stage (something like over 200 sessions, I forget the exact amount but it was A LOT) with events ranging from Get Out: The Horror of Whiteness, History’s Forgotten Heroes, BSL for Geeks, Feminist Parenting Meet-Up, Sums of the Undead: The Mathematics of Zombie Epidemics, Bifrost Cabaret and Disco, Inflatable Shark Olympics, Toxicity in Fandoms, Rusty Quill Roleplaying Corner, Depictions of Bisexuality in SFF, Eurovision Panel II: The Wrath of Camp… and honestly, anything and everything in between! Plus, not only is the content absolutely stellar but fans are actively encouraged to both submit ideas for content and participate on panels.
This year, I submitted two ideas of my own which I was very lucky to do as solo talks: Queer Coding in Disney and Cons-ROAR-Vation: Conservation & Animal Rights in Jurassic World. As a marginalized person who comes from a working class background and is currently unemployed, I actually cannot tell you how amazing it is to be provided with an opportunity to speak at such a convention. Both of my sessions went really well and it was incredible to hear from attendees how much they enjoyed my sessions. I was even lucky enough to have an article written about my Queer Coding in Disney session. This is not something I’ve seen any other convention offering.
The atmosphere is another thing which really excites me about 9W’s. At other conventions I have mostly spent my time wandering around looking at stalls, feeling entirely isolated from other attendees especially as I can’t afford to cosplay. Whilst I did really struggle last year to connect with other people, I found a friend in almost every single person I spoke to. 9W’s works hard to create an atmosphere which is welcoming to people regardless of age, gender, dis/ability, race, sexual orientation, to name but a few and this is so important. For the rest of the year, I find life quite hard. I struggle with horrifically low self-esteem, feelings of isolation, chronic depression, and most of the time like I’m largely invisible to most people. But at 9W’s… it literally feels like going home to a place where people are friendly, respectful, inclusive, and open-minded. Not only do I feel like people actually see me, but I feel listened to.
Disclaimer: I am not a parent, so these thoughts come from an observer rather than someone with first-hand experience of the child inclusiveness.
This year more than any other year I felt that children and young people were really included at 9W’s. It made me SO HAPPY to see so many under 18’s around the convention, going to child-friendly sessions and really being included in the space. There were over 20 hours of child-friendly sessions including (but not limited to): Introduction Games, A Wibbley Wobbley Galaxy Far-Far Away, Bug Story Time and Guided Play, and Kaiju Kalvacade 2!
For the first time ever at 9W’s, I was approached by an amazing group of young people (11-14 years old) who told me how much they enjoyed my Queer Coding in Disney session and we actually had a great conversation. Later on, they even bought me 2 Disney themed cupcakes they had made at the Geeky Cupcake Decorating session, and in all seriousness that was probably the highlight of my entire weekend. There were babies, young children and young people with their parents in panels, going to kid-friendly sessions and so, so many amazing cosplays. Those aged 17 years and under can get free weekend tickets, and 9W’s creates a space which is welcoming of parents breastfeeding their children.
Now, this is always the section that people wait for with bated breath. Sadly, the price is always one of the drawbacks to attending 9W’s as it can be quite pricey, especially when you throw in the price of the hotels. Weekend tickets at 9W’s start from £85 and increase in price throughout the year. Last year, 9W’s did take on board feedback for this and introduced an option for payment plans (which is what I use) where you can pay £20 up front and continue to pay off the rest throughout the year (how much you have left to pay off obviously depends on how much the original ticket was). This made it much, much easier for me to be able to attend as we are sadly not in a position where we can otherwise afford to pay that. 9W’s have previously also offered a “Con or Bust” ticket for people of colour, which provides PoC with a free ticket to attend, and of course free carers tickets and free children’s tickets.
The next hurdle is then the hotel price which is always the biggest blow. This year, my partner and I made the decision to stay at the hotel in which 9W’s takes place (Novotel West, Hammersmith) as last year I was incredibly sick by the travelling to and from the venue. We paid £210 for 2 adults for 2 nights (inclusive of cooked breakfast buffet), and I must admit that was quite a heavy blow to our finances. However, given the pain that I was put in last year the price of the hotel was offset by how much it transformed by the experience of the convention, but it does understandably put many people off from attending which is a massive shame.
The good news is that 9W’s is listening to feedback about the hotel prices and is trying to work something out, including considering moving to the Birmingham NEC for 2018. Whilst it would add a little extra cost for us to travel to Birmingham, the prices of the hotels are soooo much cheaper that it would be more of a help than a hindrance for us!
Transparency and Accountability
Which leads me onto my next point. 9W’s is the only convention I know of (and in fact the only *institution*) which actively listens to its attendees, invites them to be a part of change at 9W’s, and makes adjustments to improve their experiences of 9W’s. No, 9W’s is not perfect by any means and anyone who has heard me talk about 9W’s over the years will know that I am often the first to complain about panellists conduct, high prices, and inaccessibility. But, much to 9W’s credit, each and every time I have raised issues with them they have listened, they have openly discussed, and they have changed. With each challenge, the amazing staff at 9W’s have really taken on board the responses by attendees and tried to turn every incident or issue into an opportunity for change.
Not only is that impressive in and of itself (and quite frankly is something that everyone should be doing) but each year they organise the ‘Future of Nineworlds‘ panel where the directors of Nineworlds sit on stage, talk about how the weekend went and where they think they could improve, and take questions from the audience. This year, the directors owned up to the fact that they are currently £20,000 in debt from previous years despite making a profit this year. It was a hard discussion to have, but I really respect 9W’s for owning up and speaking out about the situation they are in.
And really… at the end of the day, everything I’ve mentioned here is precisely why Nineworlds is so important.
They own up to their mistakes, they apologise for not doing better, and they commit to doing better in the future. There is no other convention out there that does what 9W’s does. Not in terms of content, accessibility, kid friendliness, atmosphere, accountability, a commitment to its own community… For the first time this year, instead of criticising 9W’s for everything they did wrong I stood up at the ‘Future of Nineworlds’ panel and thanked the staff of 9W’s for everything they do because without them 9W’s wouldn’t exist… and the thought of a world in which 9W’s doesn’t exist would be very, very sad indeed.
If you need any more proof of this, I urge you to go look at the #nineworlds hash tag. Listen to the attendees for whom 9W is the highlight of their year, many of whom feel like they don’t fit in with the rest of society but who find a home with the rest of us at 9W. A place where you can find a home too. We’ve already planned a train pyjama party, an all-weekend pyjama party, and a Queer Disney pyjama night and I know you want to get all up in that.
So what are you waiting for? You can book your Super Early Bird ticket for next year either by paying the full amount now or by setting up a payment plan.
Friday: Re-Reading Mythology // Shut Up and Write // Exploring the Classical World via Fanfiction // Women Write about War // Video Game Burlesque
Saturday: Orkish History 101 // Queer Coding in Disney // Neurodiversity as Superpower // Poor Life Choices: A Live Choose Your Own Adventure // Let’s Roll: Getting Started with Dungeon and Dragons // Biforst Cabaret & Disco
Sunday: The Future of Nine Worlds // Robots, AI and the Labour Market // Cons-ROAR-vation: Conservation & Animal Rights in Jurassic World // End of the Con Quiz (we won!)