Wednesday, December 18, 2013

PAX's "Diversity Lounges" need to be more



Penny Arcade has a problem. They have a problem that involves race, gender, and sexuality. Instead of engaging with those issues and trying to discover what things have been done in order marginalize several groups of people they've decided to round them up into a corner at every PAX.

Now I realize that I am being somewhat cynical. They haven't even implemented this yet and some people are saying that it's a positive step forward for an organization that has never before demonstrated any sort of support for the groups they would like to round up.

I agree that this is definitely something positive coming from Penny Arcade. Their past can best be described as troubling or problematic and at worst simply flagrantly offensive. The idea of "diversity lounges" and their stated goals makes sense in light of that. However, it's a bandage attempting to stop a raging hemorrhage.

Yes, videogames have an inclusiveness problem, that few will deny (and those that will are wrong). But that's for another day. Right now I want to look at why this is the wrong solution for what I think is the problem.

PAX, and convention in general to a certain extent, have been described as hostile environments, especially for women. This extends beyond attendees to presenters as well. They're not the only ones who feel unsafe at cons either. Pretty much the only ones who generally do are men, and particular groups of men especially.

So the need for a safe space is not unfounded. Penny Arcade does well for understanding and getting this part right. However, what they get wrong is that their solution gathers them into one particular place. Penny Arcade needs to put their foot down and say that the very idea that a videogame convention being hostile to fans of videogamers is abhorrent and will not be tolerated. The entire showroom needs to become the "safe zone".

PAX was once a plucky convention that stood in defiance of things like E3 and TGS by celebrating independent developers who were often on the fringes of the industry. PAX needs to once again make a stand against the culture and demand more of its fans and attendees, it needs to demand more of itself. A lot about the release (original docs can be found here via IndieStatik) stinks of saving face and corporate buzzwords, it feels disingenuous. Penny Arcade is a lot of things but they aren't subtle and if they were to take a big stand and make all of PAX the things they outline in the "diversity lounge" they'd be working the real problem, the culture.

They're doing a good thing. I think there are a lot of gamers out there that want to be allies and don't know how. They've been silent and perhaps this can help. The program also aims to shed light on the systemic marginalization that is prevalent in the industry. These are all good things and I don't want to take away from the good that it could do. But I think that this should be a small part of a massive overhaul, a campaign to shed light into the dark corners. I think there's a lot more, bigger, louder, good to be done. My problem isn't that this is a stupid idea, my problem is that it doesn't go far enough.

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