This year I've been visiting a couple of conventions, for various reasons. First of all, my health has stabilized so much that I can hold a full-time employment that allows me this kind of luxury. Prior to that, my health problems caused me to live on a rather tight budget that didn't easily allow for visiting conventions and exploring this aspect of geek lifestyle. Secondly, over the last years I have observed a lot of projects and communities that have failed – mostly due to a lack of engagement from their members and difficulties with recruiting active members. This doesn't seem to be a critical issue for the big conventions I've attended, and I'm generally curious about what make certain groups of people endure where other groups fall apart. This inspired me to write the post
in which my conclusion is that particularly those groups succeed that pitch positive visions of society and social interactions. I could have been content with drawing that conclusion, but I am always eager to find out whether there is more to successful communities than that.
The furry fandom didn't strike me as that kind of community. What kind of positive social vision lies behind the fondness for anthropomorphic animals anyway? While there doesn't seen to be a really explicit social vision, there seems to be an implicit social vision of open-mindedness, creativity and acceptance, even if that isn't unique to the furry fandom.
What the Furry?
This review may be a bit more personal than my previous reviews. In any case, it's reccommended that you first read my article
Done? No? come on, just read it, or you'll miss the best parts!
Well, now that you've read that, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that I had a rather specific agenda when going to the Eurofurence 23. I wanted to get in touch with the furry fandom in order to find out whether I can find allies for the project of eventually creating "therianthrope morphs". Why would that even be an important project? Well, it's important for me, because it's one of the few things that can really make me feel motivated. For me it's part of the overall project of becoming who I want to be. More on that later. Let's start with the Eurofurence:
The Eurofurence is the largest furry convention in Europe. With a steadily increasing attendance, it has reached about 2800 visitors this year! That was more than enough to completely book out Europe's largest hotel plus convention center combination at the Estrel Hotel in Berlin. Effectively, the furries had the hotel for themselves. The fraction of fursuiters among the attendance was close to 45%, so there were about 1300 fursuiter around. Of course, they weren't fursuiting all the time, but their sheer number meant that you would almost always see at least some people in fursuits hanging around. And that was pretty awesome!
Warning! Sensory overload detected! No, you aren't hallucinating. You are just experiencing "Disneyland on crack". Well, this is a group photo from 2015. This year was even larger.
I arrived at the convention on Wednesday, the official beginning of the Eurofurence. The line for registration was long, certainly long enough to get a first impression of the venue, and for talking with other people waiting in line.
This kind of view was pretty "normal" for this convention. Trust me, the human brain can adapt to that rather quickly.
With all the fursuiters around hanging up these banners was redundant. Everyone recognizes a furry convention at sight. It's really hard to confuse it with anything else.
Some of the artwork decorating the venue was rather impressive, though. The furry fandom does have its fair share of talented artists.
Since I haven't been very involved in the furry community so far, I knew almost nobody there. So, I got to talk to more or less "random" people, many of them sharing a lot of commonalities with me. Just walking around in the hotel/convention center seeing all the furries and fursuiters was worth the money already, but of course there was also an official programme. Waiting lines for the main events were generally long, stretching up to several hundred people, especially for regular visitors who didn't pay extra for "sponsor" or "supersponsor" status. Waiting in the main hall was fun, since cameras filed the visitors playing around with their phones, which could be quite hilarious at times.
There was a main meme at this Eurofurence, which was "Laden". The background to that meme was that the Estrel Hotel hired a contractor to introduce a new online booking system for the event. While the contractor was confident that it could handle hundreds of furries registering at the same time, the reality turned out to display a persistent "Laden..." ("Loading...") spinner, for most people trying to book a room. Well, by now, Estrel ceased cooperation with that contractor. Anyway, the attendands commented on all waiting times with the "Laden" meme.
Clever business people turned the meme into a button, satisfying a popular demand. #capitalismworks
Hug a fursuiter
On the evening of the first day, I met a couple of shy guys who turned hugging as many fursuiters as possible into a game, in which I participated, too. The abundant availability of alcoholic beverages turned out to be helpful for that purpose. Anyway, it was a fun experience – even though I didn't actually win the game.
It should be noted that there wasn't a lack of interesting panels or events on the main days of the convention. On the contrary, there was rather the problem that you had to choose among up to a dozen events taking place at the same time (and that's no exaggeration)! I have never been on a convention that was as positively overwhelming as Eurofurence 23. Events ranged from meetups for specific species over tutorials for creative writing, drawing, fursuit making, to dance contests, and much more. Perhaps the most impressive event on this day was the fursuit parade, where you could be dazzled by a seemingly never ending stream of fursuiters. The fursuits on display were mostly of high quality. When considering that fact that such fursuits typically cost thousands of Euros, the combined fursuit capital visible of the fursuit parade was in the million Euro range. That kind of money could have been used for ... who cares? Fursuit parade rocks!
The official theme of this year was ancient Egypt. Few furries actually stuck to that. Some of those who did looked impressive. Others found out that there were very budget conscious options.
Other than that, this day the Dealer's Den and the Art Show opened up for convention visitors to spend their money on furry related merchandise and artwork. There was plenty to see and to buy or place your bids on. More on that later (see Friday).
I comissioned the following badgefrom Serena Jewel. If you remember my Amphi Festival review, you may recognize the inspiration behind the clothing.Hello, I'm a horse. Your objection is irrelevant!
In the evening there were lots of opportunities to dance with fursuiters. Music and video clips were pretty nice. They also had large fans, so that fursuiters could cool down.Better than hallucinating!
By Friday the convention almost already felt like "business as usual" – in wonderland. There was still an overwhelming number of panels and events for all kinds of interests. I went to panels about Egyptian hieroglyphs ...
Because the Egyptians had to words for "donation" you were asked to offer a sacrifice for this year's animal charity. No kidding!
... novel writing, the Fursuit Gameshow in which teams of fursuiters played kinda creative games, participated in an ancient Egyptian magic ritual, and finally listened to the panel on Fursonas: Types and Stereotypes by Jonathan Vair. The last one was definitely one of the more or less secret highlights of the whole convention. While it started out with some lighthearted humorous charaterization of the people behind different fursona species, it went on to weird places like discussing porn in the Bible, drawing erotic furry art for Jesus, and discussing unusual topics such as sex addition and baby furs. That was definitely quite informative, and surprisingly wasn't particularly cringeworthy, because the brilliant host was disarmingly open, passionate, and humorous about all of that. To top it off, the panel was later joined by the data scientist who presented some impressive visualized network analysis based on the tags of the furry "art" platform e621 – partially shedding light on the frequency of SFW vs NSFW artwork. This combined qualitative and quantitative analysis of the more "hidden" parts of the furry fandom was absolutely fascinating. So, even though the panel was supposed to last an hour, people were staying there for five hours!
Friday was also the day where it was time to place the last bids for the items at the art show, before it closed down. Having the opportunity to play connoisseur of furry art sure felt nice. There was some really good artwork on display. Most of that was actually quite affordable, but of course there were also exceptions to that rule. Placing bids was easy. Everyone who went to the art show got a sheet of stickers with various different amounts of money. On some stickers you could write down the bid on your own. Then you just placed a sticker with a higher amount than everyone else on a sheet besides the item you wanted to bid upon. If the rare case that the bid sheet of the item got full (10 bids), it got to the Art & Charity Auction that happened on Saturday. At the closing of the Art Show there was a last chance to place last bids on items (that weren't already forwarded to the Auction on Saturday). I initially bid on 3 items, and finally got one of them, because nobody else has placed a bid on it.
On Saturday the number of panels was already quite reduced, compared the the previous days. The main reason for that is that nobody wanted to be placed in competition to the two main events of the day: The Art & Charity Auction and the Pawpet Show: "Skies of Astar". Yes, there was a huge professional-looking puppet show that even featured a kind of big animatronic feathered dragon creature called Ortha.
Ortha is on top. The stage ninjas and their puppets attracted a lot of attention even after the show. Not an easy feat on a furry convention.
Despire a few endearing mishaps, the puppet show was pretty impressive and well-made. The story wasn't actually superb, but it was pretty close to that. Buy hey, this was a huge puppet show with its own great soundtrack, great artwork, and whatnot, all for free for the regular Eurofurence visitor to enjoy. It's not easy to trump that.
Actually, the closing ceremony of the Eurofurence happened directly prior to the Pawpet show, which didn't stop some panels from happening later on anyway.
Sunday was the day for those who had the opportunity to stay a bit longer, because they didn't have to travel through half of Europe to get home again. So, there was plenty of time to talk with those who remained there.
Like people who were in the process of combining con badges to a full badge suit.
For me, it was a day on which my mind had to recover from the shock of being immersed into such an intense furry convention. I had been witnessing more than I could compute.
After one last furry dance party in the evening it was time for me to depart.
While there were a few restaurants within the hotel, they didn't agree with my preferences, so I mostly travelled to the closeby McDonalds, which had some nice terminals on which you could order your menu without formulaic interaction with human beings – thank you automation, welcome to Germany! Occasionally, I also tested some vegan burgers and pizzas at locations that were surprisingly close to the hotel.
Yes, there was a vegan burger restaurant called "Let it be" in the same area in Berlin. How rad is that? The food was also actually very tasty!
There were bars in the hotel and convention center that were open almost all day and night. Drinks weren't exactly cheap, with the exception of a coke-wine mixture drink. People still weren't obnoxously drunk. There was an overall very nice atmosphere quite conducive to talking.
There were lots of opportunities for harmless miscellaneous fun. For example one corner in which there were dozens of colourful blocks that were used to build walls, pyramids, and thrones.Sometimes fursuiters were on top of the blocks, and sometimes burried beneath them. Sometimes they would destroy the block constructs. After the convention there was the rumor that the blocks were supposed to be chairs. Who in their right mind, knowing about the existence of Minecraft, would expect that these blocks would actually be used as chairs by furries?
Seeing all the adorable fursuiters was also pretty fun. Sometimes almost too much fun.I'm sorry. You have been exposed to a lethal dose of cuteness. Please stay calm and take your anti-cuteness medication. Thank you.
Sorry. You might want to take another dose of your anti-cuteness medication now.
Ok, let's get serious again.
Getting back on the topic of transhumanism, I found that most furries I talked with were quite open to the topic at large, and about the creation of artificial furry bodies in particular. There were of course issues with identity when discussion topics such as uploading, but that was to be expected. Furries seem to be far less technophobic and closed-minded than the general population. I didn't have to try convincing the Eurofurence attendees that furry avatars would be a cool thing. The problem was rather that I didn't have a clear actionable plan for how to turn them into a reality. Getting a visionary furry millionaire to sign up to such a plan seemed to be the best general course of action. Well, there's still some time for that.
This Eurofurence was definitely the best convention I've ever been to! Some of the other conventions were pretty great, but this one was absolutely awesome. The organizers did a remarkably good job at delivering a smooth and very satisfying experience. What's even more impressive is that virtually all of the convention was based on unpaid volunteer work. Hey, they even had a small newspaper for convention-related events that was freshly released every day! It's really hard creating an experience that is similarly out of this world without resorting to hallucinogenic substances or the miracles of immersive CGI.
Somehow I underestimated how amazingly creative the furry fandom really is. There's a whole furry content ecosystem out there. And what's perhaps even more important: It looks like the furry fandom is on a smooth growth curve. It's still growing significantly, which unfortunately cannot be said about other creative communities. It seems that the furry fandom has become a kind of stable and self-sustaining system. While it was been inspired by external media content, it now seems to stand on its own, with furry artists inspiring one another. And that's a rather fascinating development which is rare to observe anywhere else with this kind of intensity.
There's still an issue I have with the furry fandom: It's hard to see how it can become a force for the betterment of humanity. After all, it looks like it's a retreat for escapists. But then, the same could be said about any other "hobbyist" community.
Perhaps there's something I'm missing here. I'm not sure.