Game Culture, Conventions, Play

Why I Will Continue to Attend PAX -or- Why Gabe and Tycho are Irrelevant

BookOfPracticalCatsI remember a story my master’s degree mentor told me. She said her family had been outraged because she read a T.S. Eliot poem at her daughter’s graduation. In case you’re unaware, Eliot was often criticized for being antisemitic.

I remember the look of awe on her face when she told me, “The poem was about a cat.”

We were discussing Eliot because I was writing my master’s thesis about him and William Faulkner, two of my all time favorite writers and I had been reading the critiques detailing Eliot’s insensitivity towards Jews. I asked how to deal with these critiques when I loved so much of his poetry.

This brought me into a long standing debate and discussion: Can you enjoy the work of an author separately from the author himself?

Since then, I’ve batted this question back and forth, being at once drawn to the discussion and exhausted by it. I found myself returning to this same question over the summer as I started putting my panel proposal together for PAX Prime and the controversy that had once again returned to one of the founders of Penny Arcade and his unfortunate tendency to stick more than his foot in his mouth.

I don’t want to go into the details of what happened and what was said and why. If you’ve followed Penny Arcade or Gabe you’ve seen the type of language he prefers to use and I’ll just sum it up here: He’s insensitive. He’s famous. And he doesn’t care what you think.

keep-calm-and-obey-wheatons-lawSo why would I present my research, and some kick ass gamers, at a con where the head guy was violating Wheaton’s Law? Here’s why.

PAX isn’t about Gabe and Tycho. At least, it isn’t for me. I had NO idea there was a comic strip associated with PAX when I first attended four years ago. How many Penny Arcade comics have I read since then? A handful. I don’t follow the strip or the story. I honestly don’t find the characters particularly compelling, probably because they are based on the founders in some way. I do often quote the Greater Internet F-wad Theory because it is a brilliant representation of part of what is going on in this situation and what is wrong with gaming and internet culture overall.

The most important thing about any event I attend is how it feels, what the vibe is like, and how the people there treat each other. When I walk around PAX, I know I am surrounded by people who love and appreciate all the things that I love and appreciate about gaming. Not just the games but the community that is built around games. And even when I am run/walking from the show floor queue so I can pick up a Bigger Blacker Box for my Cards Against Humanity cards, I am impressed with the respect I find in the crowd. No pushing, no pulling, and a general sense of relief to know we are about to receive one of the most sought after items at the con.

It’s more than a little distressing to think that some of the awesome people I’ve met through Game on Girl would avoid PAX because of the idiotic ideology of one founder. What Gabe and Tycho started isn’t about them – it’s about the community. The community that’s grown up around PAX is dynamic, engaging, diverse, and full of amazingly intelligent, insightful people. I am proud to count myself amongst that crowd.

So for PAX, I take the event as a separate thing from its founders. I completely understand how that can’t and won’t be the case for others and I respect that because I am capable of understanding differing points of view from my own. Perhaps, this might be a lesson for some comic strip creators.

7 thoughts on “Why I Will Continue to Attend PAX -or- Why Gabe and Tycho are Irrelevant”

  1. I love PAX. When I start making my (hopefully annual) plans for my pilgrimage to Seattle, my girls always ask, "Are you going to go see your friends?" I love the people, the energy and panels. The fact that I make new friends every time is a bonus.
    I tried to follow the comic, truly. But I've had toothaches that were funnier than 99% of the strips I've read. I couldn't pick Gabe or Tycho out of a line up even if they were the only ones in it.
    So I understand your feelings about PAX, as they mirror (for large values of mirrors) my own. Hoping to see you in '14!

  2. What a great comment! Thank you for sharing your perspective. I always make new friends, too, and it's such a fun and exhilarating experience – truly nothing else like it. I'm glad to know that someone else shares my disinterest in the comic. I'm glad it got the PAX ball rolling but if it were to end and PAX continue, I'd be just fine with that.

    I'm planning on PAX Prime 14 so make sure to say hello! 🙂

  3. 🙂 You can count on it M'lady (sorry too many hours in Skyrim). I'm happy I'm not the only one not liking the comic. Guess I've been spoiled by Sluggy Freelance.

  4. Up until very recently, I agreed with this point-of-view that you could support PAX without supporting PA. It's why I, originally, was willing to talk on a panel at PAX AU a few months back. But it's become increasingly difficult to separate PAX from PA. When people complained about misogynistic, racist, and homophobic comments in PAX AU panel summaries, Mike went on a transphobic tirade on Twitter. Like, the tirade was explicitly connected to people having an issue with PAX AU. So, ultimately, I removed my support from that event.

    This most recent furore is almost impossible to disconnect from PAX, as it was at PAX that Mike said he regrets pulling the Dickwolves merchandise, and the crowd cheered. I've always been happy to support PAX while hating PA until recently because I've heard PAX is a very inclusive event. But imagine being a rape survivor in that crowd when they all cheer at this man who says explicitly defends his own rape culture supporting humour. That is not an inclusive environment.

    So yeah. It's super complicated and I am not one to tell others they shouldn't go to PAX, and I think for a lot of people it is still a very important event that can't simply stop existing. However, in this particular instance of PA's latest stuff up, it becomes a lot harder to keep the two separate. Which is also why I think there have been a lot more calls to boycott PAX this time round, too.

  5. I tend to agree with Elizabeth Sampat on the matter –

    I get that it's become a big enough to be enjoyed even independently of its "main" content, because it's simply the ideal time to hang out with people you rarely see and to make new friends. Because everybody's at PAX. But if the things you enjoy about it are unrelated to its problematic leadership, why continue to prop up the convention with the money and legitimacy we all lend it? You don't need Mike Krahulik to have a convention. In fact, he seems to get in the way of its inclusive goals.

    There are problems with this idealistic approach, like how forcing an alternative into existence via boycotts might first lose you something, money and attention for your game, whatever. Perhaps not everybody can afford to miss out on it because of just how big it's gotten, and on the flipside, my not going there is no big moralistic triumph when the truth is I probably never would have flown across half the planet to be there/cover it in the first place.

    Which is to say that I get being there doesn't mean you want to tacitly endorse the ideas that its figureheads promote. But I don't think that because you, very understandably, don't want to make that part of your convention experience, you necessarily get to declare it irrelevant. It's still very much their show, as can be seen right there in the title. Likewise in the crowd cheering Brendan brings up.

  6. Ahem. This is a convention. This is not a piece of poetry. There are other conventions which could completely replace PAX – and other people who could completely replace Gabe.

    There are many conventions. You can go to any one of them. This particular one has one particular captain heading the ship. He has directional charge. He leads and distributes the work, and he has final cut on a lot of issues. And he has some opinions you disagree with; things you'd like to say you disagree really strongly with, apparently.

    You are therefore put in the precarious position of being able to go, or to not go. If you go, you contribute to making successful and fortifying the fame, reach and power of an individual you disagree with. You help hold up his platform. But you would clearly like to go. It is in your own best interest to go.

    There is only one way to square this. Giving him that platform is worth it for what you get in return. That's it.

    I don't know like…how can you even try to justify it? You're trying to worm your way out of your moral responsibility here. And that's fine. I don't judge people who watch the pianist in spite of it being made by a convicted child rapist who never served his sentence. I wouldn't touch that crap myself, but hey, if that's what you like to put into your mind, be my guest, I certainly allow things into my mind which you'd probably think is crap.

    Just…don't try to dress it up. Be candid. You go, because it is worth it. The price to not go, for you, is too high by comparison to the little blow you might strike against Gabe. One the other hand, I do approve of other peoples right to judge you. Especially those who decide to not go, who know that their blow would be _more_ forceful if you _also_ didn't go – and who have to sit by and watch, as you claim to have as strong oppinions about this as they. Those people? I feel they can rightfully feel superior.

    Or am I wrong? Please. Explain to me how this very convenient stance isn't at all sourced in convenience for you.

  7. Thank you all so much for your thoughtful comments on this post. As always, I love hearing from readers, perhaps especially when they challenge my points of view.

    This isn't an easy issue for me to consider and I don't want anyone to think it is from this post. Game on Girl is a labor of love, one that I fund completely out of my own pocket and I am proud to do so without having any advertising content on the site. With that said, it's not an inexpensive thing for me to do as a recent Ph.D. graduate with a mortgage and more student loans than I care to admit. So yes, PAX Prime is conveniently located for me and a con that I can attend at relatively little cost. I hoped this year to be in Atlanta for Dragon*Con but I just didn't have the cash to pay my way out there.

    I've attended other cons, my favorites including Geek Girl Con and Emerald City Comic Con. I enjoy the communities there as well – both are dynamic and engaging spaces – but I don't connect there like I do at PAX. I can't quite place my finger on what it is that is so compelling for me about the PAX crowd. It might be that it was the first con I ever attended and therefore left a serious mark on me. I hadn't experienced that depth of community before and maybe that gives me a bit of rose colored glasses when I view PAX as something separate from PA.

    But I'm largely ok with that. I've said on the show before that I am an idealist. I've also said that I tend to think of my brand of feminism to be more subversive. I think it's important that there be a feminist presence at PAX and because I am comfortable there, then it should be me. Should you go to PAX if you feel uncomfortable? Hell no. It's the reason why I don't game like Jenny Haniver does. I would *never* play a first person shooter on Xbox Live. I don't want to put up with the harassment she deals with every time she games. That's not fun for me and the point of gaming is to have fun, enjoy yourself, and build a community.

    Our first video post from PAX demonstrates exactly why I love it. I would never have discovered Geeta Games on my own – there are just too many great games on Steam to find every one of them – but as soon as I saw Lily on those t-shirts, I knew I had to know her and promote their game. It's a game I think is doing the best of what gaming can do, what PA could do if they follow-up and follow through with what Gabe discussed today on the PA site. I'm hopeful. I'm idealistic. And I'm ok with that.

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