EgyCon: Where Egypt's Geeks Roam Free
After EgyCon, Skot Thayer begged us to let him write about all things nerdy in the nation - we begrudgingly obliged after he let us borrow his PlayStation. Welcome to Geekdom; here Thayer shares his experience of the biggest gathering of Egyptian geeks in the country...
Covering the Egypt Comic-Con, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never encountered the Egyptian geek in its natural habitat, and no one really knew how many of them there were in the wild. I was prepared for a small gathering of anime and comic fans - perhaps a few artists exhibiting pieces paying homage to their favourite characters or series, or a few decent costumes, like a Spider-Man or a couple of anime characters. Instead, I experienced the entire ecstatic, heartwarming, and creative community of Egypt’s comic, anime, and gaming fans in a single dose. It was beautiful.
Rounding the corner to the GrEEK Campus in Downtown Cairo early that morning, I ran into a solid wall of people gathered around the gates. Huge swords and crazy hairdos stood out from the crowd like the banners of some massive nerd army who had come to raid a castle for its Cheetos. Waiting in line, the energy was already contagious. The air was alive with the conversations of excited geeks. Guys carrying pieces of costumes and foam weapons enthusiastically compared their cosplay strategies, along with an astounding number of women who were doing the same. Selfies were being snapped everywhere, all of them full of beaming smiles. I was overjoyed at the presence of so many ladies, many of them cosplayers themselves. Some incorporated their veils into their cosplays, and I swear I even saw a young woman in a niqab who was wearing cat ears.
Inside the gate, gathered around the main stage, it was as if someone’s eclectic toy box had overturned and all the action figures and dolls had started walking on their own. Ezio from Assassin’s Creed struck poses with Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion and Sub-Zero; a couple of Batmen stiffly looked about (Batman not being able to turn his head seems like a big vulnerability), while characters from the only three animes I had ever watched mingled with the veritable buttload of ones I’d never heard of. The number of cosplayers was nothing short of incredible. I’d been to a few small events back in the States, but this was something else entirely. I knew that Cairo had a scene for geeks and people that spend a socially unacceptable amount of their income on pop culture media and memorabilia. What I didn’t know is how populous and vibrant the Cairene geek scene is. One of the biggest things I learned is that Egyptians really love Naruto. I’ve never watched it, but the amount of guys in orange throwing ninja gang signs had me worried that we would soon be in the midst of some kind of anime turf war. I was sure that, any minute, fireballs would start erupting from the hands of Narutos as they leapt all nimbly bimbly from the treetops and balconies.
Thankfully, everyone was so stoked about the awesome event that no kamehamehas – or whatever Naruto does – were needed. Good thing, too, because there was a lot of nice stuff there. Art vendors set up prints all along the walls of the library rooms. Original works from Egyptian artists showed us a glimpse into wholly new worlds of fluffy rainbow dragons and spooky dark things on an endless bridge of piano keys. There was also plenty of work showcasing characters from established universes. Memories of a portrait of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles taking selfies still pangs me with regret – yes, there was a poster of TMNT taking a selfie. It should be framed in my home alongside my Wookie Jesus print. Even extra fantastic was the presence of original Egyptian comic books. I managed to pick up the first issue of El 3osba, the story of a team of Egyptian superheroes created by the supremely talented Ahmed Raafat and John Maher, which I’m excited to read – as soon as I figure out how to read Arabic. The team behind El 3osba and the other exceptional artists are a shining example of the creative side of Egypt that is all too often forgotten or overlooked. Heading into the ground floor of the library at The GrEEK Campus saw even more epic testaments to the thriving game geek and otaku community of Egypt. The centre of the room held several long tables, each with their own nerdy card game happening. The guy from Yu-Gi-Oh! was there, schooling Bane from The Dark Knight Rises in a monster duel, while Anakin Skywalker watched with his arms full of swag from the various booths selling action figures, key chains, and t-shirts. Past the tables, on the far wall, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life: a wall of spectators lined up behind a massive line of TVs and game consoles from EGYgamer, playing everything from FIFA and Street Fighter to Mortal Kombat and Mario Kart. In my hubris, I jumped on a game of Mario Kart and gloated at how I was a pretty big deal back in the States. I was summarily decimated by a barrage of green shells. Do you know how hard it is to aim those things? Opposite the EGYgamer wall was a giant sign that said Gigabyte. The PC maker had so many big, sexy, powerful PCs in the room that I’m sure the total amount of RAM was equal to the computer that ran The Matrix. All of it featured the latest and greatest in tech to help you shoot Nazis in the face with the most precision and highest resolution possible. Coming away from the experience at EGYcon, one thing was clear: these were my people. Thousands of miles away from my home, I had found another community of people that understood me, even though I couldn't really understand what some of them were saying. It helps that I'm a walking billboard for geeks that has a nerd magnet built in. It dawned on me that all these folks needed a place to go that understood them as much as they understood the various fandoms they inhabit – a place to cater to the unique needs of a gamer or an otaku, or a comic geek in Egypt. SceneGeek is going to be that place.
Photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Shot by Fouad El Batrawy.
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