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.