Since 2006, the furries have come to Pittsburgh for their annual convention known as Anthrocon. And while they come to the city with suitcases stuffed with fur suits and animal costumes, they come with other baggage, as well.
Group members often face harsh criticism and are frequently stereotyped as "perverts." And when portrayed in popular culture -- like on an episode of Law and Order, for example -- they are often portrayed as individuals who dress up to have sex.
For their part, the furries have tried to combat that image. But a new game that will be sold at this year's Anthrocon is sweeping through the furries' world and, to the dismay of some, it's all about sex.
At last year's Anthrocon, Forrest McDonald and Leslie Smith debuted the adult trading-card game Furoticon. Think Pokémon if all the characters went through puberty and got naked. The cards come in two forms, starter packs and booster packs -- which help the players become stronger. To date, the two say they have sold more than 3,000 packs of cards.
The success of the game throughout the past year is both everything an average person might expect from the furry community and completely contrary to the image the community is trying to promote. Dr. Samuel Conway, chairman of Anthrocon, says, "If you have a reputation that is not necessarily stellar, the best you can do is conduct yourself properly, show them, demonstrate to them, that that is an undeserved reputation."
Anthrocon does allow mature artwork and merchandise, but that section of the art show requires an age-check by a security guard, and individual dealers must check the ages of customers in the merchandise room. Because it's a sex game, Furoticon cannot display its name in banners and advertisements in the open merchandise room at the family-friendly event.
"By allowing Furoticon space, regardless of its moral impositions, Furoticon is still allowed to be sold to adults," says Smith. "Anthrocon is well within their rights to impose their rules and regulations on us."
It's not just Anthrocon officials looking to maintain a cleaner image, but also the furry community at large.
"Furries have such a hard time already with being made fun of," Anthrocon attendee and Furoticon player Steven Hogle says of the fringe elements of the community. "Look at fur-suiters: Most of them just like dressing up in a costume, acting silly and getting to be something else for awhile. Then there are some fur-suiters who like to have sex in their suits. It's easy to make generalizations and say 'all fur-suiters dress up to have sex.'"
McDonald and Smith will premier a new bondage and sadomasochism expansion pack called Triskelion at this year's convention, held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center June 24-27. They also offer two how-to-play panels and two tournaments. At last year's Anthrocon, there was just one combination how-to-play panel and tournament, which attracted 60 attendees, a number they were not prepared for. Since then, McDonald and Smith have attended other furry conventions nationwide, and promoted the game on furry websites. This year, they're coming equipped with more people, more resources and fan-demanded items such as art prints, collector's binders and stat mats.
In 2008, McDonald had an idea for a game. He wanted something new and interesting, but he knew how hard it was to break into card games. "He decided he needed to tap into a market that hadn't gotten a lot of attention," says Smith, "and he knew he was part of one -- the furry fandom." He also wanted to showcase the community's artistic talents. As a result, each card gives artist attribution and website information.
Furoticon uses cards and dice as in similar games, though the goal is to take control of your opponent's harem. Smith explains: "By creating a game based off of sex instead of violence, it actually allowed [McDonald] to create a more original gameplay, one that worked with four different genders." (These are male, female, hermaphrodite and otherkin, which is anything that doesn't fit into the first three).
The success of Furoticon does complicate the public image of the furry community. The game makes it harder to convince the greater public that being a furry doesn't mean animal-costumed sex.
And if a person is a furry and enjoys Furoticon, he can still have trouble finding non-furries to play the game with, especially since the game only reinforces existing stereotypes. Smith says, "They don't want to scare their friends away. If we had made a human-based porno game, they'd probably turn around and sell it to their entire friend base for us."
What's an erotic-card-loving furry to do?
"Get to know us as people first, then as sexual beings," says Smith. "Finding out that [we're] just normal people who have a love for something a little different, well, that works for just about every type of sexual or otherwise minority everywhere."