You've got the Game Developers Conference (GDC), and you've got the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Those are the two colossal video-game conventions for the game industry and press. And for everyone else, there's the Penny Arcade Expo, now divided into two bicoastal cons: PAX Prime in Seattle and PAX East in Boston. PAX East came to the Boston Convention Center this past weekend, bringing 69,500 gamers together for three days of video and computer-game demos, nerdcore concerts, panel discussions about the industry and gamer culture at large, and chances to meet the convention's hosts, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the author/artist duo of the popular gaming webcomic Penny Arcade.
There's plenty to do at PAX East, and long waiting lines for all of it (alleviated somewhat by video displays and lots of cool free T-shirts). PAX has cultivated a positive, socially inclusive image to counter gamers' unfair reputation as anti-social or just plain socially incompetent. But the convention had a few chinks in its progressive armor this year, those due in part to what the gaming community at large now refers to as the Dickwolves Debacle. (See "Gaming, Rape Culture, and How I Stopped Reading Penny Arcade," in the March 4 Phoenix.) And though PAX also had a longstanding policy against booth babes — scantily clad models hired by exhibitors to tempt the predominantly male, straight gaming audience into checking out their booths — it seems that policy was more a firm suggestion than a hard-and-fast rule, since there were more booth babes this year than ever before. PAX has changed — but not by much, and not for the better.
As gamers, we have differing standards for how we want our games to play, and we also have differing standards for gamers' behavior. While I waited in line to play the reboot of Mortal Kombat, I heard my two male neighbors talking up the game's "jiggle physics" — yes, they were referring to the female fighters' boobs. Then, when I attended a panel called "The Other Us: If We're All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter?", audience members kept asking why games couldn't be more progressive in their depictions of female characters, and why the gaming community doesn't self-police more and reduce hate speech in competitive atmospheres. And yet, on my way into that panel, I overheard male PAX staffers laughing in bewilderment that so many men were attending the panel.
>> READ: Gaming, rape culture, and how I stopped reading Penny Arcade <<
I used to see PAX as a beautiful, welcoming rainbow of all different kinds of gamers respecting one another, but that's because I tend to keep my progressive blinders on wherever I go. The truth is that many of the people at PAX are — or surely must be — the same trolls whom I overhear yelling hate speech into their mics when I play Halo or Counter-Strike multi-player. At PAX, we all play nice, most of the time, but we definitely don't all get along once we leave these halls and return to internet anonymity.