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December 20
2013

PAX “Diversity Lounges”

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Back in November, I suggested the word ‘xbroglio as a catch-all term for the many-and-various ways that Microsoft have messed up with regards to creating and marketing the Xbox One. This week, thanks to a leaked (and now, officially confirmed) document regarding the addition of “Diversity Lounges” to future Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX) events – ostensibly areas for people interested in games and social consciousness, but which comes across as the Designated Diversity Zone of PAX – I’m forced to think of new nomenclature for Penny-Arcade related mishaps.

The best I’ve got thus far is “PAXccident”, although I’m willing to bet there’s a better one out there; hit me up if you got one!

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According to the document – which was originally posted up on IndieStatik – the “Roll for Diversity Hub and Lounge” will be a fixture within the PAX convention itself, dedicated to providing a space where attendees can “find out about all the different diversity related things happening in and around PAX”, “learn about diversity in the gaming industry”, “learn about diversity in general”, and “learn about geek businesses that cater to diverse communities”. On paper, this sounds like a great idea – a dedicated zone inside one of the biggest games conventions in the world, where folk interested in social awareness in games can find like-minded folk, listen to panels and speakers on subjects relevant to them, and check out games that cater specifically to them. Indeed, with some reading-between-the-lines (and divorced of additional context), this seems to be what the folks at Penny Arcade intended all along.

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The problem is illuminated once we consider the context surrounding the proposed Diversity Lounges. Penny Arcade has previously struggled with respecting diversity themselves – one of PA’s co-creators, Mike Krahulik (a.k.a. Gabe), has himself displayed pretty transphobic behaviour and continues to cycle between apologising and attempting to justify the ‘Dickwolves’ rape joke that he and his partner, Jerry Holkins, created back in 2010. It’s galling to consider that a convention like PAX could house so-called “safe zone training” when one of its creators so badly needs it himself.

In fact, the Diversity Lounges themselves seem like an arse-backwards, Alice-in-Wonderland style exercise in topsy-turviness, exemplified best by the fact that people are already re-branding PAX’s hub for a “Diversity Ghetto”. It’s one thing to have a group like LGBTQ gamers congregate in heir own, dedicated con like GaymerX, or to institute women-only spaces as part of political praxis – but it’s a strange idea that an attempt at inclusivity, empathy and sensitivity would be consigned specifically to a specialised niche, rather than attempting to spread the idea that the whole con itself is safe.

Add to this the convention’s “Enforcers” (volunteers who supposedly ensure that the con remains a safe place for all attendees), who are to make the Diversity Lounge that much safer, despite the allegations of sexual harassment by an Enforcer at a PAX event and a subsequent coverup by Penny Arcade staff, and you have to wonder just how safe this “safe zone” can really be.

There’s also some doubt as to how well-researched the inclusivity in the Diversity Lounge policies may actually be; in a follow-up statement on the Penny Arcade forums, Robert Khoo states that the PA team:

“reached out to a friend of ours, Benjamin Williams (co-founder of Queer Geek and GaymerX) to help with the concept and execution. Together, we’ve been working to create something that both celebrates and raises awareness of different, underrepresented gamer groups while also encouraging attendees to discover where all the different diversity-driven content at the show can be found”

However, in an interview with Leigh Alexander, Toni Rocca, president of GaymerX, categorically stated that “GaymerX was not involved in the making of the PAX Diversity Hub and Lounge”.

Over on Twitter, GamersAgainstBigotry asked #HowToFixPAX, with replies ranging from the astute:

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to the ruthlessly efficient:

 

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The thing is, the Diversity Lounges aren’t a terrible idea in their own right – and the fact that so many people on Twitter were on board with providing constructive feedback on how to improve them says a lot about the tenacity of gamers as a whole – in spite of their propensity for PAXccidents, people are still willing to forgive, and still work to improve Penny Arcade in some way.

Well, there’s still time before PAX 2014, so here’s to hoping the folks at Penny Arcade take this feedback to heart.

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About Mitch Alexander

(Writer) Mitch Alexander is a Game Design student from Glasgow, Scotland. who usually talks about things you get into deep discussions about at 3am, like Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, The Mothman Prophecies, The Invisibles, or how creepy monkeys are. They're so, so creepy.

2 Responses

  1. I feel bad about this fiasco, because I honestly believe that it wasn’t born out of insensitivity or arrogance. I think it was made by people who actually wanted to make a difference but didn’t have enough experience with the issue to make good judgement, but it is an awful, disgusting idea.

    It just makes me feel like a freak, a little booth for anyone who isn’t a straight white male? What an awful message.

    This is a cheap way to combat a complicated and serious problem, we need to tackle this issue in a comprehensive way, create an environment in which everyone at the event (including the officials) know that sexist and homophobic remarks are unacceptable.

  2. avatar The_French_guy says:

    I still say that the best way to fix PAX is to simply have the founders step down. They can still host, they can still hold panels and Q&A but they should not be in direct executive command.

    It seem extreme but people need to understand that PAX is no longer the convention it was originally made, it now embraces much more reasons while enveloping so many different diverse groups of convention goers. Treating these new people as something foreign isn’t the way to go. And sadly, for that to happen, Gabe and Tycho needs to get educated on how to behave or they need to go. PAX is now too huge to be stopped.

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