I’ve been going to the Insomnia Gaming Festival since 2017 and in those past two years, have never an entirely positive experience at the event. Insomnia61 felt like nothing more than a merch-fest, with YouTubers’ branded items being constantly pushed to an audience of mainly under-tens. And there wasn’t a lot to do at Insomnia63 if you weren’t interested in playing Fortnite.
We drew the line at going to Insomnia64 in April after seeing the organiser’s line-up announcement: all of the special guests were 20-something males and predominantly white British. For an event which promotes itself as ‘diverse and community-led’ and ‘containing content that is relevant to gamers, millennials and fans of popular culture’, this seemed remarkably shortsighted. What a way to enforce the incorrect idea that gaming is a male-dominated community and you have to conform to make it big in the industry.
So why did my other-half and I bother to make the trip to Birmingham for Insomnia65 last month? The main reason why we do anything video-game-related that we’re not completely enthusiastic about: Ethan. My 12-year old stepson loves the event and we wanted to do something to surprise him. As the school summer-holidays this year hadn’t been a great time for him, we wanted to do something to cheer up our kid and knew he’d be excited when we revealed what we’d be doing the following day.
That’s how we found ourselves on the road at an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. I’m sure Ethan spent most of three-hour journey chanting ‘Insomnia, Insomnia, Insomnia’ in between naps in the back of the car. An Overwatch tournament had just started by the time we arrived so after a quick stop by the SpecialEffect to say hello and a visit to the café for a round of tea, we made our way to the eSports area. Pete and I were surprised at just how much my stepson got into it – come back on Monday for more about that.
Next we headed to the indie section where there were some very family-friendly titles and much to catch Ethan’s eye. He picked two as his favourites of the day. The first was RPG Pandora: Chains of Chaos by Party Llama Games because of its art-style and the fact your mount was a pig. Then there was puzzle-platformer Bubbles the Cat by Team Cats & Bears which was surprisingly addictive. The kid did his best to convince developer Johnny Wallbank to employ him as a voice-actor with meows throughout the demo (I’m so proud).
With a trip to the Insomnia merchandise stand, a ride on a jet simulator courtesy, a stop by the Just Dance tournament (not as participants thankfully) and a few more cups of tea, that was our Insomnia65 experience done. And I have to admit that both my other-half and I were pleasantly surprised. The organisers seemed to have paid much more attention to the atmosphere of the event this time and it felt different, not so ‘promotional’ and more enjoyable.
Later Levels (@LaterLevels) August 25, 2019
I think this had something to do with its new layout. It had felt somewhat haphazard during our previous visits but now seemed more organised, with similar attractions placed in adjacent sections which certainly helped with the flow of the crowd. There was also the fact that there appeared to be less focus on YouTubers this time. Instead of huge meet-and-greet areas where special guests plugged their tacky merchandise at every opportunity, this was much reduced and the number of people in the queues was far fewer.
Saying that though, Insomnia still has a very long way to go before its crowned top event in my calendar. They really do need to do something about its lack of diversity; having mainly white males YouTubers and female cosplayers just enforce horrible gender stereotypes. I’ve been told in the past that it’s much more fun if you do the whole BYOC thing and spend the weekend playing video games, so it’s something Pete and I are now seriously considering doing. Four-days of The Elder Scrolls Online? Yes please.
Did you go to Insomnia65? If so, what did you think and what was your highlight? Check out our gallery below to see what we got up to.
Insomnia65 photo gallery
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.