Q-Con XV at Queen's

Annual multi-platform gaming convention celebrates all things diverse with a big, anime smile on its face

In the run-up to summer 2008, and almost unnoticed, self-confessed ‘nerds’ from across Ireland quietly prepared for the biggest event of their year. Fantasy card decks were carefully selected, Warhammer figurines perfectly painted and costumes splendidly stitched.

Individuals from as far away as Cork city finally descended upon Belfast from June 27-29 for Q-Con XV, the annual roleplaying, CCG, miniatures and wargaming convention organised by Queen's University's Dragonslayers Gaming Society and staged in the university's vast student's union.

Q-Con attendeeAfter years of my cousins tutoring me on the art of Grand Theft Auto and other such noble computer games, I thought that I had an understanding of game playing. But as I enter Q-Con XV, I realise that my knowledge is rather limited. Q-Con attendees know their stuff, and they aren't afraid show it in the form of battles, role playing games, quizzes and costume.

The range of displays, competitions and events at Q-Con XV is astonishing, with the latest games being introduced every year. Whether you’re into anime, war, card, or video games, addictions can be satisfied with the likes of Warhammer, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Tekken and Naruto.

The most popular new attraction to the 2008 itinerary is ‘Rockband‘, which involves pseudo-guitars and drum kits played along to a selection of classic rock anthems, the grand prize being tickets to see metal maestros Dragonforce.

With the trophy in sight, wannabe rockstars flock to Mandela Hall to show off their best onstage moves. Bands take to the stage, treating this as the ‘real thing’, as do the crowd, with much head banging and squealing of girls. Lazer Explosion take home the revered title of official Q-Con rockstars and they do so with true grace, throwing ‘the horns’ and roaring their victory.

Outside of the adrenaline-fuelled games, Q-Con is, ultimately, about a group of likeminded people coming together to make new friends. When I ask a Q-Con regular Tori Hawkes why she attends every year, she admits that ‘It’s the good craic with the people, they’re a really accepting bunch who aren’t afraid to be diverse.’

A major composite factor of Q-Con is anime, the Japanese cartoon style (think super-cute animals andCosplayer big eyes, a la Pokemon). Its popularity seems to be growing every year, with a whole wall at Q-Con devoted to manga books, anime DVDs and action figures.

There are also two anime screening rooms, one for Japanese features with English subtitles, and the other (to the great horror of many) containing films dubbed with alarming American accents. I catch a cartoon called Beck (with subtitles of course!) about a shy 14 year old boy named Yukio who creates a rock band.

The artwork in anime movies is remarkable, and as attendee and anime fan Nikki MacRae explains, ‘Western cartoons are rubbish in comparison. Japanese anime just has it all, it’s more exciting, more funny and the art style is amazing’.

I was interested to find out why contemporary Japanese culture is becoming so popular with Belfast youth. I asked Japan-o-phile, Karolyn Hunt, for her opinion.

‘I don’t identify with the stereotypical hoodie-wearing western teenager, and I try to distance myself from that. I think it’s natural that some teenagers feel frustrated and alienated from their own societies, and so they connect with a different one. Japan is so appealing because of its 'culture of kawaii' (cute), where emphasis is put on making things beautiful and pleasant, which we just don’t have here.’

Perhaps the most obvious Japanese influence on show is the Cosplay Masquerade, where fans of anime and gaming dress up as their favourite characters and parade their costumes on stage.

Cosplay originated in the fashion districts of Tokyo and is becoming ever more popular in the west, with competitor numbers at Q-Con double that of last year. Particularly impressive are the handmade costumes, evidence of the amount of time and skill that Cosplayers dedicate to their hobby.

Other Cosplayers prefer to buy their outfits, focusing on their characters - a skill to be tested in the Best Skit Competiton. This involves the cosplayers acting out short pieces in character either alone or in groups.

Seven skits are performed, some taken more seriously than others. The winning act combine five different characters, ranging from a loveable ninja to a talking cat, into a storyline involving the merciless slaughter of the entire cast by the use of an evil notebook. It has to be seen to be believed, and is the clear winner.

Next up is the Cosplay catwalk, where single competitors strike a pose on stage and recite a few lines in character (with one girl making her speech in Japanese). There are bloody schoolgirls, elf queens, Princess Leia from Star Wars, and none other than Snow White, who wins favour with the audience by distributing apples. But the competition is about best costume, and that prize goes to one Princess Zelda, who takes her inspiration from the popular Legend of Zelda video games.

The overall atmosphere at Q-Con XV is of fun, and above all, acceptance. Q-Con attracts and celebrates diversity, embracing friendliness and sociability. If rubbing shoulders with ‘geeks’ isn’t your idea of a great day out, you may just want to attend Q-Con and rethink your stereotypes.

Siobhan Grennan