The Diversity Lounge returned for a second year at PAX East 2015, but it was looking slightly different than its 2014 version. This time, the booths were running along the edge of the room with tables and bean bags in the center. This created a more inviting space for people to wander into, but unfortunately there were about a half-dozen less booths exhibiting than last year. Still, with the extremely chilly weather in Boston this year, and the coat check rooms just down the hall, the Diversity Lounge still found quite a bit of foot traffic from curiosity seekers who happened to be in the area.
Zan Christiansen from Northwest Press was back again with a booth selling LGBT comics, books and graphic novels. “I love spaces like this that are geared toward embracing all different kinds of people,” he said. “And everyone just seems so happy here!” Josh Siegel from NYC-based queer geek community organization Geeks OUT was pleased to be able to attend after being unable to accept an invite to PAX South. “It’s been great,” he reported. “The crowd has been a lot of fun.”
Doctor Catherine Flick, a senior lecturer for Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University in Leicester in the United Kingdom was thrilled to return for a second year interacting with gamers in the Diversity Lounge. “Part of my research activities are looking at the junction between technology and society,” she explained. “I’m interested in seeing how people interact with their games and if there’s any kind of disconnect between what the industry provides and what people are looking for. But mostly it’s just to challenge people, get them to reflect on their own game-playing experiences and what they look for and how they behave in games and get people thinking.”
Also this year, for the first time, the PAX Pokémon League had a booth, and it was located in the Diversity Lounge. A community-run real life version of Pokémon, Gym Leaders in green scarves wander around PAX so gamers can challenge them to a Pokémon match. “If we didn’t have this booth, it’s me carrying a bunch of stuff, coordinating with the Gym Leaders,” laughed Alex Roederer. “This is the first year that we were able to have a home base.” And as opposed to being located in an obvious space like the Handheld Lounge, Roederer believed that basing themselves in the Diversity Lounge opened them up to a new audience, especially people who might be wary of engaging in what could be perceived as a hyper-competitive competition. “We sort of tried to bridge that gap,” he explained. “Have an event that’s more inclusive.”
Mollie Patterson of the trans gaming organization Press X/Y, admitted that last year, there were more booths in the Diversity Lounge, so there wasn’t as much lounging room. “So it was diversity, but not so much the lounge,” she said. “Now it’s more of a lounge, which gives people more of a chance to come in and hang out if they just need a safe space to relax and get away from things. I would love to see more people be here. I’m not sure what the switch was between this year and last year, in terms of exhibitors. But I do think that the space this year is a little more inviting versus last year where it felt almost like you were coming here to shop. Now it is more of an actual lounge.”
“I’m a little disappointed versus last year,” declared Mark Barlet, founder and executive director of The Able Gamers Charity. “I think [last year] there was a lot more work in trying to create a diverse location, and this year I don’t think that commitment to diversity has completely lived up to its goal.” And he wasn’t just talking about the physical number of booths, but the types of booths. “There’s gotta be a little more effort put into creating a Diversity Lounge to make it diverse. You know, I am a gay man myself, but we have to be more diverse than just having the gay gamer culture being represented.”
Barlet also admitted to preferring the location of the Diversity Lounge at PAX Prime, where it was along the edge of a hallway at the top of the stairs in a well-trafficked area. “People have a tendency to come visit you and really interact with you because they’re in the hallway versus kind of a segregated room,” he said. “You have to kind of make the decision ‘Am I going to find anything in that room that’s interesting to me?’ and then you have to break the threshold and go in the room. Versus at PAX Prime, you’re just kind of like, ‘Oh! I’m in the Diversity Lounge! That’s awesome! Hey, how are you?’ So if I had my choice, I’d love to see them duplicate what’s at PAX Prime because it’s not a room. A lot of gamers do the ‘Well, I don’t know… I’m not gay…” and then they might not go in and interact with some really awesome people.”
Patterson allowed that the exposure the Diversity Lounge received at PAX Prime was great, but added that the location had its drawbacks. “The bad side was that it was harder to just kind of sit down and converse with people,” she said. “Because it was noisier. You’re not going to necessarily happen upon this nearly as easily as people happened upon the one at PAX Prime. The problem is, I don’t know which one I like better at this point.”
Still, all of them would happy to return if invited to participate in the Diversity Lounge next year. Roederer would love to continue having a “home base” for the PAX Pokémon League, Flick would enjoy questioning more gamers and perhaps presenting a panel talking about the stories she’s been collecting, Patterson would like to see if there could be a way to have the organizations exhibiting hold presentations or other organized events in the Lounge, and Barlet would simply like to see a more diverse array of groups representing in the Diversity Lounge.
But despite the slightly-smaller turn-out, the constant crowds in the Diversity Lounge led everyone to expect it would be back next year, and at PAXes for the foreseeable future. “It would be great if we didn’t have to have a space like this,” mused Christiansen. “If the whole show was feeling like a welcoming hug. We’ll know when we’ve gotten that because this will feel silly. So maybe at some point we’ll be like, ‘Why do we even do this anymore? This is silly.’ Then we can stop. But it’s gonna be a while yet, I think.”