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Fox's Otakon 2014 Maid Cafe Review

 Since last year’s Otakon maid cafe was an enjoyable and unforgettable experience, Cat and I made a point to attend again. We braved the long wait in line (about one and a half hours) to see what was new this time around. I was looking forward to any improvements or changes the cafe might have introduced this year.

When we were allowed in, the maids gave their greeting of “Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama!” (This phrase, which translates to “Welcome home, Master!”, is definitely authentic to the traditional Japanese maid cafe.) The fee again this year for entry was $10, with a $5 charge for a dessert choice.

Table at the Maid CafeTable at the Maid Cafe

Honestly, not much changed this year with the maid cafe as far as decor. There were a few adornments added, such as ribbons on the chairs and balloons above the tables. Cards were placed on each table. The table at the door, where we paid to get in, was the most decorated space. Overall, the atmosphere was a bit of an improvement from the previous year, but seemed to be lacking compared to maid cafes in Akihibara, Tokyo.

Upon being seated, we waited a while for our server to take drink and refreshment orders. I did notice a huge decrease in staff, as seen in the pictures of the maids and butlers. This could definitely explain the wait. I will admit, though, that it was a bit awkward waiting, wondering what to do in the meantime.

Dessert , Maid Cafe Style Dessert , Maid Cafe Style

The food items this year were an improvement. I ordered caramel coffee with a parfait, and Cat ordered a lemonade with red velvet mini cupcakes. His main complaint were the portion sizes, which actually would have been bigger at a Japanese maid cafe. Being a press representative for Allgames.com, I was able to peek behind the elusive black current in the back of the room and see… that the refreshments were all provided by the hotel! I loved that the hotel supported the maid cafe in this way. One nice touch would be that when the maid or butler brings out the dessert, she or he draws a picture on the food or plates with some chocolate or strawberry syrup, a norm in the country of origin.

All the maids and butlers performed a dance for us in the front of the room. I want to say I was impressed, but our table’s maid seemed to be the only one in practice. I cringe to say this, because I want to be fully supportive of the maid cafe and what they do, but the dance needed a lot of work. This could have been due to scheduling conflicts with getting the staff together, but I would have skipped the performance altogether in that case.

maid cafe balloons

I truly hope that the maid cafe continues, even though it seemed lackluster for Okakon 2014. In my humble opinion, a few changes could be made to bring the cafe further and ensure it’s success. For instance, some sort of ticket system so that patrons aren’t waiting on the floor for such a long time would be a huge improvement. Another suggestion would be to go all out on the decorations, not holding back. I believe the goal would be to make the environment look as great as the maids and butlers! I know I complained about this the previous year, and realize that nothing can be hung from the walls, but I would have loved to see some shelves with some Gundam mobile suits, anime figures, and plushies around the tables.

I highly suggest Otakon goers attempt a visit to the maid cafe at Otakon 2015! It’s definitely a great entry into the world of maid cafes. Interacting with the maids and butlers are worth the visit.

Interested in becoming a maid or butler? Head over to http://otakon.com/events_maid_cafe.asp for a link to the application!

 Otakon 2014 Maid Cafe StaffOtakon 2014 Maid Cafe Staff

 

Safe Spaces, Inclusion, and PAX

dickwolves-shirt

I've been on the fence numerous times about attending Penny Arcade Expo. I attended this year, thrilled at how many panels were discussing issues of inclusion and diversity in gaming. I had a wonderful time becoming involved in these discussions, networking with enthusiastic panelists, and basically carving my own safe space out of the massively populated convention center. There were small things that kept creeping in, though.


A few panels maybe underestimated their audience, sticking to the very basics, framing arguments for those not impacted by these issues, even going so far as to seem apologetic for our actions as pop and game culture critics. There were the people who attended the Political Correctness Panel who were there to start arguments calling "cis" a slur and defending their right as white men to say the n-word (which they did, more than once.) There was the time my friend heard a guy yell at a woman on the escalator, "SHOW ME YOUR BOOBS!" and then run off before she could grab an enforcer. There was the time one female enforcer was made to feel uncomfortable by a fellow male enforcer. Even though there were ways to anonymously report these things (which is wonderful), there was still that overhanging guilt of "creating a big deal" out of behavior that is widely commonplace and accepted still.


And the nail in the coffin, as it were, was the statement given at closing ceremonies this year. I did not attend, so my friend linked me to this tweet made by Patrick Klepek of Giant Bomb. Mike states he wishes they had never pulled the Dickwolves shirt from their store, followed by loud cheers in the audience. The basic message here being, no, they didn't learn anything from the exchange, and yes, their audience continues to support every action they make even when it involves behavior that goes completely against their proclaimed mission at PAX.

 

tumblr lg2k65ve3q1qfjiioIf you're not familiar with the Dickwolves discussion, here is a very extensive history, and here is a post on why many people feel boycotting PAX is the only way to curb this behavior. And in a way, I agree. But I also realize that PAX has a certain sway that is not going to be undone by those of us who understand how harmful their actions are. GaymerX is brand new, Geek Girl Con is much less reported on, as well as other conventions. So I definitely understand when people who disagree with the actions of the PA owners continue to host panels at PAX which focus on addressing this behavior. We still need a voice. But this year had the highest number of panels focusing on diversity and inclusion and women within gaming. So how could a closing ceremony make such a statement and be PRAISED for it? Because PAX, as much as they claim wanting to be inclusive, does not understand that they are still promoting segregation. You're fine going in this corner and talking about your issues. Sure, have this panel. But if you try to tell US that we are doing something wrong? No, we are telling you that we will ignore you and your concerns. Flat out ignore.


Here is the part where I explain to fellow Americans the difference between censorship and criticism. Bear with me, people who already understand this, I'll keep it brief. First, threats and personal attacks are never okay. You're protected under Freedom of Speech from the government forcing you to stay silent. You are not immune to criticism, as the PA owners seem to believe. In both the case of Dickwolves and of transphobic statements, it would be much easier to dismiss these things as ignorance or being sheltered by privilege. I'd accept this if the response to the criticisms was not to increase disrespect of not only the stance of those who dissented, but those who dared question them, as well. You make art, and that's great, and you're allowed to make statements within that medium. But you are NOT immune to criticism, and you're still expected to realize what sort of social impact you are creating as an artist. You don't get to turn in your social awareness card for an artist card, and if someone has an issue with what you have created, listen to them first maybe before deciding they are only trying to limit you. As a public figure or artist, you're still held to the same standards of respecting others, which includes people who may not agree with your actions or stand to receive harm from what your actions support. People who use the "but it's art" argument remain inconsistent. If they encounter artwork that depicts, say, violence of a sexual nature against men by women, or women debasing men, they certainly will not insist that it shouldn't be criticized due to it being art. They exist within a society that caters to them and their comfort zones, and if you breach those, prepare for everything they've previously told you to be thrown out the window.

 

Image from HyperAllergic.comThe panels I attended discussing inclusivity all mentioned Gone Home, a game that was not at the convention due to the actions of the PA owners making The Fullbright Company feel PAX was not a safe space.  These panels elaborated on why these actions are harmful but did not delve into the recent reason many of us nearly followed The Fullbright Company's example.  Transphobic statements, made of either ignorance, malice, or both, help contribute to a society where misunderstanding trans* people furthers their endangerment. And yet, only two panels briefly mentioned the recent actions, touching on why they almost did not attend, but still wanted to have a voice. And I agree, having a voice is important. But why can't we discuss the impact of what PA does? They certainly feel that they can, why can't we? Everything PA does impacts gaming and game culture in some fashion, so why is it off limits? I feel that as much as we are saying amazing things to help encourage better representation of everyone in gaming, we are still not hitting with everything we have. We are told to hold our tongues when what we do risks to make those in the socially reinforced position uncomfortable. This is regardless of how many things they do that go even further than infringing on our comfort but also serve to contribute to beliefs which cause us harm. When do we stop saying the stuff everyone already knows, framing it for people who don't care to listen to us in the first place?  When do we actually address the silencing tactics of those who claim to want to help us?
Mike went on to say that he has learned things, but only in respect to how he is creating trouble for his employees, not in relation to the toxicity of his statements toward marginalized groups. He even continues to excuse this behavior by saying he "hopes" it doesn't happen again, but it's just "how he is." This is proof that he only cares about the people involved in PA, not the people he might be impacting outside of this by negating their importance. Even in clarifying the statement with Kotaku in the article here, they still try to make the issue about censorship, which it NEVER was. By reframing the issue as "Penny Arcade was being censored" as opposed to, "Penny Arcade unwittingly created triggering content, failed to listen to criticism, and instead generated even more harmful environments by silencing those who respectfully disagreed with them" you are erasing the statements of those who had the courage to speak up against their actions.

 

feedbackHow do we let people know this erasure of entire segments of the community needs to stop? As far as I can tell, we need to start letting the media and game companies know how we feel. They only thing that PA responds to is the threat of vendors and exhibitors not attending, so this is the best place to be heard. Let the game companies know what they are supporting and representing by attending. Tell them how it harms us, and we don't agree with it. Let media know that there is another aspect to game culture that impacts a very large portion of the gaming population.  Tell them we are marginalized due to bullying and a lack of voice and coverage. And let Penny Arcade know, as well. Tell them that just saying they want to create a safe space for inclusion doesn't DO anything if what they are promoting as artists works to undermine that very cause.


I'm not saying everyone should boycott.  We all have varying positions of ability to do so.  I'm telling everyone to speak up! SPEAK. UP. Really. Even if you're an ally and not directly impacted by these things. DO IT. Because the more we call out this behavior and refuse to accept it, the less acceptable it becomes on a much larger scale. My goal, along with many others who feel this way, is not to bankrupt PA for a few mistakes or even for those at the top who consistently disregard the safety of others. The goal is for people to LEARN from this and to move past the allowance of these detrimental behaviors by not accepting them. PA is not the perfect model for inclusive communities, but they can be made an example.  They can show how refusing to understand those impacted by damaging beliefs has consequences, is not acceptable, and can be addressed without creating further harm. We can make PAX a safe space, but only if everyone, including those at the top, is consistent with this cause.

Fox's Review of the Otakon 2013 Maid Cafe

Otakon13MaidCafe main

When I heard about the maid cafe at Otakon 2012, I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t able to attend. This year, Cat, my husband, and I made it a point to wait in line for the maid cafe’s second year at Otakon. I have to admit that it was certainly worth the wait!

Otakon13MaidCafe DSC01943

 


Upon entry into the maid cafe, we were greeted by the maids, who said “Welcome home, Master and Mistress!” in Japanese! This was definitely a delightful surprise. After paying only $10 (maid cafes in Japan are typically more expensive), we were shown to our seats by one of the cute maids. The area only consisted of about five or six tables, which seated eight. This created a more intimate environment for patrons, which I consider important mission of any maid cafe.


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After everyone was seated, the maids and butlers (male version of the maid) all gathered in the front to give their introductions. I really enjoyed hearing them give their name and random facts about themselves, each in turn causing the crowd to laugh. Every cast member performed amazingly while taking on a new persona for the benefit of the maid cafe customers.


Next, the maid that was assigned to our table, Umi, took our drink and food orders. While the drink was on the house, we could make a $5 donation to receive a dessert. Honestly, I expected more filling items on the menu. From my experience visiting maid cafes in Japan, the menu was short but more filling. Popular items included omurice, tonkatsu, and one-of-a-kind sundae creations. Instead, I had instant hot chocolate and strawberry shortcake. I would have graciously paid more for a small portion of omurice with a drawing in ketchup on it! Imagine an incredibly cute maid asking what you’d like her to drawn on your meal!

 

The maids and butlers also created such a comfortable setting that allowed for interaction with the entire table. We were introduced to a game where we could write anything on a sticky note and then paste it on the forehead of the person sitting in the next chair. Each individual then had to guess what that mystery item on their forehead was. Every now and then, a maid or butler would join us to help with the guessing. Unfortunately, our game was interrupted. Well, not too unfortunate, as the suspension was caused by the maids’ captivating performance.Otakon13MaidCafe DSC01934



Not only were they dressed perfectly from head to toe, but these maids had energy that went beyond expectations! I loved watching them perform to the songs. Everyone was in perfect sync while dancing. I could tell that they were well practiced and truly enjoyed performing for their masters and mistresses. This was the second showing of the day, but I suspect that the girls kept up this intensity throughout the day.

 

With the addition of a more cafe-ish menu and cutesy decorations, the maid cafe could truly emulate the maid cafes of Japan. In the originating country, the environment of these cafes creates an illusion of an otaku’s personal tearoom. The feeling one gets stepping into a Japanese maid cafe is almost as if walking into an entirely new dimension where pink frills and anime loving is the norm. In contrast, the Otakon’s walls were, to say the least, bland. My opinion is that even without the maids present, I should have felt as though I was in a maid cafe. I hope that this is taken into consideration for future presentations.Otakon13MaidCafe DSC01936


Even with lack of decor and menu items, I’m really ecstatic that I went to the maid cafe at Otakon 2013. The incredibly spirited performances by the maids, fully clad in their skirts, petticoats, and stockings, were definitely worth the wait in line! I sincerely urge a visit to the maid cafe if you plan to attend Otakon 2014.

 

 

 

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