Where could you find a Sexy Batman cosplayer, wizards, academics, and break dancers all in one place? Actually, there could be a few. Anywho, I am referring to the Music and Gaming Festival known as MAGFest. MAGFest 2018 was held in my home state of Maryland at the luxurious Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. MAGFest was a 24/7 carnival of all things anime and nerdy between January 4-7. I heard that this year’s festival had over “20,000” attendees. As an attendee, one can sit and listen to a bevy of informative panels related to anime, videogames, music, etc. among many other events.
This was my first year attending the festival as a spectator and as a panelist for a function such as MAGFest. My first panel started at 10pm that Friday, but I arrived to the center around noon. After being dropped off by my Uber, I headed towards the entrance of the convention center. People outside of the entrance were bundled up, for it was roughly 20 degrees Fahrenheit that afternoon. For a moment, I forgot I was headed towards a music and gaming festival and not a formal attire event. The people outside where well-dressed with scarves and khaki pants, so everything appeared fine; normal. Things changed once I passed through the automated doors. Hypnotic electronic dance music rang in the halls as I surveyed the crowd full of cosplay. Since I had a few moments to spare, I ventured around to see and hear what MAGFest had to offer.
I met up with a few friends near the indoor Gazebo, which was the focal area for cosplayers to potentially be photographed and/or video recorded for montage videos. My friend, Shavontae, cosplayed as Danny Phantom from the very popular Nickelodeon cartoon show by the same name. I had also met up with my other friend, Khaleed, who runs the SecondBestProductions YouTube channel. Check out his video from MAGFest here. After shadowing Khaleed for some time, we parted ways for I had dinner plans with comrades from my panel.
A major component to the festival is the Music and Gaming Education Symposium (MAGES) which focuses on “the intricacies of game design, the relationships between game and gamer, and the culture that emerges from this relationship.” Industry developers, academics, and consultants held several panels ranging from creating empathy in videogames to the appropriation of marginalized identities within videogames.
I was invited by my friend, Joey, to be on two panels. The first panel entitled, “The Psychology of Video Games” was led by myself; Joey Barnet, Psychology Ph.D. student at East Tennessee State University; Reza Mahmud, GEICO Esports Marketing Coordinator; Ann Marie Porter, Ph.D.; and recently retired, Dr. Kent L. Norman, professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Our panel discussed the myriad of ways videogames have been studied through a psychological lens. I spoke about identity, in particular, the gamer identity. I included questions that asked about what it meant to embody the gamer identity and some of the social indicators of being a gamer. It was a productive and enriching conversation for me and hopefully, the audience as well.
On Saturday, my last panel was at 2pm and it would be my last day at MAGFest. I met with my colleagues in a room aka the “Tea Room” where staff and panelists sit, eat, and chill before going back out to the masses. As I entered the room, I saw game developer and consultant, James Portnow, from the YouTube channel, Extra Credits. Dr. Norman and Joey were already present in the room engaged in dialogue with James. James had applauded Joey and I for being graduate students who are critically studying and examining videogames and gaming culture. After a few pics, James had to leave, and so did we for our 2pm panel. This panel was more specific in which we talked at length about the relationships or lack thereof between violence and aggression to video game usage. Reza, Joey, and Dr. Norman conducted a study that sought to see how people reacted in various situations to different media types. Ultimately, they compared the acceptability and unacceptability of certain kinds of violent acts between videogames, movies, and news. For an example, it is okay to kill a deer with an arrow in movie and in news media, but not in a videogame. Interesting indeed!
With no more panels left to do, I sought to take in as much as could at the festival. I walked to the “Dealers room” which is a gigantic marketplace to buy anime and game related goods. Though I did not purchase anything, it always touches my soul to see amazing works of art (posters, figurines, shirts, books, games,etc.) being sold by independent artists and developers. MAGFest made a concerted effort to stock the room full of talented people wanting to sell and share their craft with the world. I have never seen a room filled with so many indie games. It was an amazing sight to see. MAGFest had hundreds of games throughout the convention center for attendees to partake in from classic arcade cabinet games such as Mortal Kombat 2 and Galaga to original Xbox, Playstation, and N64 titles.
I did not know what to expect from MAGFest. I purposely avoided looking at the list of events before the the festival for I wanted to be surprised. There was a concert being held in a large ballroom full of people jumping, dancing, twirling, overall having a good time rocking out to some EDM (electronic dance music). Down that same hallway, the PC bang-esque room was filled with at least 100 high-end PCs that attendees could play games on. As a gamer and researcher, my mind was flooded with excitement both to play and to observe the people at play. The focus on the people is why I believe MAGFest attracts some many event goers, especially because it provides a space for those to express themselves via cosplay and music.
I love it when people speak their truth, figuratively and literally. This was the perfect place to do so. Was this some kind of nerd Valhalla? I’m sure to many, yes. Of course, there are still constant jabs at people of color cosplaying characters who look different in skin tone from. For example, black man cosplaying as Superman may experience microaggression typically in the form of ‘You have a great Black Superman cosplay.” I say, “Do you! Speak your truth! #ClapBack.” In a panel I stated, “#ContextMatters.” This was in relation to speaking about identity, but it applies to this topic as well. If you are clearly dressed as Peter Parker’s spiderman, then you are spiderman. You are not black spiderman or Miles Morales unless you state otherwise. If you are not a person of color, and want to cosplay as character who is a person of color. For the love of anime, don’t do black face or any variation of the sort. Dress who you want to dress as, but be smart, mindful, and sensitive about it.
This was my first MAGFest and it will not be my last. Cannot wait to throw myself in all the chaos once more! Hopefully, my Black Panther or Static Shock cosplay will be ready.