Conference Condensed: XOXO 2019
Why we ❤️ it, and why you will too
At the beginning of this month, Matt and Jillian went to Portland for another year of XOXO, the “experimental festival for independent artists” that we look forward to every year. It was, predictably, fantastic. We could keep this blog post short and tell you to just go, but in case you need some more convincing, we each wrote about some of our favorite parts from this year’s XOXO.
As the Andys reminded us on the first day of the festival, Social started as a happy accident in the first year of the conference and has only grown in importance since then. A day of socializing with other attendees of self-organized meetups all over SE Portland, it’s one of the best parts of the weekend. While Jillian was on her way to the city, I debated between a packed schedule of meetups with thoughtful conscientious nerds. Starting at the #enby meetup at Upper Left Roasters, I met up with a bunch of other well-dressed nonbinary folks who effortlessly used each others pronouns (speaking of which, XOXO’s adorable pronouns pins are now on sale). After that, I headed over to the Glitch Appy Hour where I drank some LaCroix and saw an incredible demo from Christopher Swenson who ported a ’90s multiplayer BBS game to Glitch! At 6 PM I met some more LGBTQ+ tech and art folks at the #queer meetup, held at Crush. The #cocktails nerds came together for a toast at the brand new bar Scotch Lodge. And finally, Jillian found me at the Panic Playdate Party back on the lawn at Revolution Hall where we got to get our hands on the much-anticipated console from our favorite Mac software company.
The meetups I attended as part of XOXO Social just scratched the surface of what the festival has to offer. There were also meetups for fans of #language, #visual-art, #game-making, #zines, and so much more. But, I was so glad I got to meet so many incredible folks and see old friends before jumping into the conference proper. People like Laser Malena-Webber of The Doubleclicks, Isaac Grant (the CEO of Silverorange), my good pal Allen Pike from Steamclock Software, and Neven Mrgan and Cabel Sasser plus more of the team behind Playdate.
As much as I love the conference talks, the live shows, and allllllll the socializing at XOXO, I always find myself gravitating toward the Arcade tent and its live video game demos the most. Maybe because it’s slightly removed from the rest of the action and acts as a nice respite from everything when my energy is a bit low. Maybe because I find it somewhat soothing to be around people who are playing games. Or maybe it’s simply because the games that are showcased are always just really cool and fun. Whatever the reason, Arcade is generally my favorite part of XOXO, and this year was no exception.
A few of the games that especially caught my eye this year were Calico, an extremely cute and cozy cat cafe simulator; The Wild at Heart, a beautiful, magical action-adventure game; and Garden Story, a fruit-themed RPG that I cannot stop thinking about. And, although not technically part of the Arcade showcase, I can’t not mention the Playdate here as well — it’s very good, folks.
I look forward to the Conference section of XOXO all year long. Its presenters are thoughtfully selected from suggestions made by the community and represent a diverse set of perspectives and mediums. This year’s conference was hosted by podcasters Helen Zaltzman and Hrishikesh Hirway and included talks from incredible creators, writers, artists, musicians, and comedians. Here are a few of my favorites and the themes I saw emerge this year. In their talks, Lindsay Ellis, Emily & Amelia Nagoski, and Jenny Odell touched on themes of burn out, empathy, and how we can disconnect from the parts of the internet that are hurting us and connect with communities that support us through hard times online. As the Nagoski sisters said in the summary of their new book: “the cure for burnout is not self care; it’s all of us caring for each other.”
Other speakers like Nat Puff (aka Left at London), Black Belt Eagle Scout, and Soleil Ho asked us to consider different sides of the questions of representation, marginalization, and what happens when you become the representation you’ve been fighting for. Their talks were great reminders that seeing people like you making things on the internet, makes a huge difference to young and up-coming creative people. And that once we have that representation, we must maintain that power and find a way to remain who we are. As Soleil put it: “we are the grease in each other’s engines.”
Video & Story
Every year, XOXO does us the great service of taking some of the best video and podcast creators and putting them on a stage to show us their latest work. Whether that’s a new video they haven’t shared online yet or a live podcast taping, it’s always a blast. Video and Story, to me, really encapsulate what XOXO is all about: engaging with and celebrating the things people make in a friendly, intimate environment — it’s like Twitter, but good.
This year, I particularly enjoyed watching new videos from the Nerdwriter, and Unraveled. The Allusionist did a fantastic live show about gender and the confusion of titles. And Punch Up the Jam stole the show with a hilarious episode about Ghostbusters, Demi’s last episode of the podcast that I’m extremely glad we got to witness.