Last week, I and about 40,000 other people attended the 2013 annual Gamer’s Day convention held in the International Convention & Exhibition Centre in Riyadh. The male-only Gamer’s Day is Saudi Arabia’s biggest video games-focused con (why male-only? Long-short is, because Saudi Arabia). The Sony-sponsored convention got its start in 2008 and kept growing steadily year by year. I attended last year’s con on the first day and it was quite the mess. Apparently, it was much better for day 2 & 3 but I didn’t bother to go anyway. This year’s con, however, was much more organized thankfully and made it a much more enjoyable experience.
The convention floor was occupied by a few companies. Sony had the biggest booth in the center area, showing off several PS3, PS4, and PS VITA titles. Namco Bandai, EA, Koei Tecmo, 2K, and Ubisoft attended, though each only brought 1, 2, maybe 3 games max to the show.
But what impressed me more was how much of the floor was occupied due to local efforts. There was an indie games booth, where you can try out locally and regionally developed indie titles and then get to meet their creators. There were a few local institutes advertising educational programs that allow students to get into the games industry. Local games sites Saudi Gamer and NG4A had booths where you can get to meet and talk with the staff. Saudi Gamer even recorded a live podcast panel in front of dozens of their fans who have been listening to the show for close to 5 years now. There were even a few cosplayers.
In this culture, in the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, there are grown men who have seriously decided to pursue a career, to base their future, on either making video games or on covering them, definitely not because they are viably lucrative career choices, but because it’s one they greatly enjoy. And then there are tens of thousands of fans who greatly admire their work and support them by buying their games or going see a live-recording panel of their favorite video game podcast that they listen to week after week. This all should just be surreal to me, but it isn’t and it’s great. It is cool to know there are thousands and thousands of weirdos like me who have wasted their lives and invested so much into the juvenile, frivolous indulgence of video games. And it’s not just Gamer’s Day, GCON is the female-only equivalent which is happening later in October. And there’re a few other cons happening around the country and region. And it’s seemingly growing. I don’t want to talk about what this means to Saudi Arabia in terms of the cultural, social, or political sense, mainly because I’m not interested in such topics, but I feel like learning to let loose a little and have a bit of good clean fun can only be good for everyone…maybe.
I remember back in 2004 when I was thinking about college, my mom half-jokingly suggested I become a game developer. My dad (always the realist) dismissed that, justifiably, not because it’s a silly career to choose, but because it was not a viable (nay, non-existent) career path. I don’t regret my choice, but I feel like my decision-making process would have been totally different today.
Anyway, I had fun. And I also tried some games. I should be posting my impressions in the next blogpost but they’re games you probably already seen or read about months ago by more capable people who played it way longer than I have.