Post-PAX reflection

So, as I discussed at length in my last post, I didn’t go to PAX Aus. You can read that for the long version, but the short one is that I felt the culture around Penny Arcade included some ugly stuff that prevents it from being truly inclusive.

There’s been some discussion as to whether this was the right move, and I should be clear: for Pop Up Playground (and, by extension, me), it absolutely was. By not going, we sent a clear message to our audience that however uncomfortable you might have felt about going to PAX Aus, you should feel totally comfortable coming to a Pop Up Playground game. Perhaps only one or two people would fit into that cross-section of the games community, but those one or two are enough.

Personally, I freely admit I was more conflicted, but in the end I stand by my decision. As someone who spoke up about the issues raised by the controversy, I didn’t feel terribly comfortable going, but that wasn’t the reason I didn’t go. I wanted to send that message of inclusion about my other projects, too. And I needed to do something to change the problems I saw in the culture surrounded the event, and I felt I could do more about that by not going, by making a public statement that I would put my energy into games cultures that are actively addressing those concerns, than by being on the two panels I was signed up for. After all, trying to discuss issues of equality and inclusion in panels about pervasive games and specific applications of roleplaying would be a tall order, and the last thing I wanted to do was use a perfectly good panel topic to get on a soapbox.

But other panels were much closer to those issues, and watching one of them I see a lot of things to be happy about. The “Mainstream Media Portrayals of Gamers” panel, chaired by Nic Healey and featuring (among others) Rae Johnston, was notably one of the few panels with equal numbers of men and women. It turned out to be a good, reasonably nuanced discussion, placing the onus for rejecting the “gamer” stereotype back onto games culture. As backed up by research quoted by Nic, players embrace those mainstream ideas rather than reject them, believing the popular conception that to be a “gamer” is to be male and immature; the panel wasn’t a privileged complaint about the unfairness of the way the culture is treated by other media, but rather a fairly serious look at how this portrayal perpetuates problems within games culture, and what positive things gamers themselves can do about it. It’s a great discussion and I’m really pleased it took place.

As for the panel that kicked off all the controversy, “Why So Serious?”, I haven’t found a video of it yet, but the panel organisers were happy with it and they had a big crowd. From live tweeting and reports it seems the panel itself wasn’t so serious – it ended up mostly a general discussion of the games journalism. Hardly controversial, but hardly an advancement of the issues brought up by the original blurb either.

There are still a lot of discussions missing in action, and still an ongoing rejection of criticism (look up any of the response posts or videos to the criticism of the “Why So Serious?” panel and you’ll see what I mean). But I’m happy to report that PAX Aus, the most visible expression of mainstream games culture in Australia, seems like a place at least receptive to the discussions, even if it has work to do.

One comment

  1. Shannon Dean says:

    Hello again Ben!

    I meant to reply to your earlier reply but then PAX happened. And then the dreaded PAX Pox happened.

    I didn’t actually end up getting into the Why So Serious panel, sadly, but my friends did and the described it pretty much just as you did. Very uncontroversial, no offensive talk of sexism and racism, just a fairly interesting discussion about of game journalism.

    I’m of two minds about that, I’d have quite liked to see the original topics discussed. Some other panels I did get into discussed the topic indirectly but I’d have certainly liked to see a panel about what is really one of the biggest issues with the gaming community as a whole.

    I thought you might be curious to hear about something that happened during the 2nd Q&A panel that the PA boys did. A lady asked the question “What are you doing to make PAX more inclusive for queer-related people?” then went on to explain that she was transgendered (male to female) and would have also been considered gay (as her sexual preference is for men). She then rephrased the question to be, “What can you do to make people like me feel more welcome?”

    Jerry simply put his hands out and said, “Welcome.” He then went on to talk about he hoped that she hadn’t received any offensive treatment, that he thinks such matters are really about education and learning, that the gaming community is getting to a better place, slowly, and that in the end all he really cares is whether she can “play mid-lane in League of Legends.”.

    At some point in a different question he also discussed that the people that give gaming such a terrible name on the internet, such as those that championed the Dickwolves shit even when the PA boys stepped away from it, don’t seem to be the same crowd that actually heads out to conventions like PAX to mingle with other gamers of all stripes.

    And as for that point, I’ve got to agree with him. There was some shocking lines at PAX Aus but that gave me plenty of time to meet some of the peoples around me and I had no issues across the three days. Met some lovely, interesting people of all genders and sexualities and from what I saw and heard, the same can be said for most of them. Certainly my female friend (who associates more closely with the male gender than her female body) didn’t have any trouble.

    The only scene I saw that really disgusted me was some fellow who asked to take a photo with a Catwoman. The woman’s costume was brilliantly made, a damn near exact copy of Catwoman from Arkham City.

    She was happy to take the photo but then the guy went all creepy and started to pose licking her neck and trying to turn her breasts (reasonably low cut costume) towards the camera.

    So yeah… There’s work to be done still, but I think we’re further along than we were and I hope we keep getting better.

    I also hope you’ll be there next year, as I think you can help.

    Bring your friends and bring some of those panels you know we need?

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