As some of you may know, I sat on a panel regarding women in video game culture this past March at the PAX East convention. We spoke about feminism for gamers, how women are marginalized in the media itself and mistreated in person, and a few strategies for how to overcome all that. It was a phenomenal experience, and I have been looking forward to doing it again in way-far-away Seattle for PAX Prime at the end of August.
The events of last week regarding Penny Arcade, both Gabe and the PAX showrunners, have been very upsetting for me. It’s been made quite clear, even to those unfamiliar with video games or gaming communities, that it’s all pretty toxic toward women and LGBT folks, and there has been a lot of rightfully aimed criticism levelled at all of this, which has been heartening to see. It’s awful that a Microsoft developer can make a rape joke during a PR event at the biggest industry convention of the year, but it has been wonderful to see so many people speaking publicly against it. Criticism, calling out violent or inappropriate speech, and making spaces more inclusive is a sign that this world is growing and changing for the better, but the struggles are far from over.
So a figurehead in the community made some really shitty comments this week in a very public sphere. Gross. Gabe's actions and words were deplorable, and it’s interesting that in his first, and lamest, apology read not as a “sorry I was an asshole”, but “sorry everyone pushed me to lose my temper”. It seems to me that thus far, Gabe has been operating as if he’s a loveable, nerdy jerk, who likes to push around the bullies. How can anyone blame him? He’s just a guy! Being an asshole on the internet is all well and good if you’re an anonymous troll, but Gabe is not anonymous, and hasn’t been anonymous for a long time. If he’s posited himself as a figurehead of a large and global community, he needs to be held accountable for his actions. And if his most most recent apology is to be taken at face value, it seems like someone finally got through to him. Thank goodness. (It’s worth noting that my compatriot Shoshana Kessock goes into more depth about this in her fantastic blog post.)
My biggest moral quandary this week was: do I still go to PAX? One indie developer has pulled out in protest, and I had received word that one of my more high-profile fellow panelists was thinking about doing the same. By attending PAX, and speaking at it, would that be an endorsement of Gabe and the ignorance that he’d doubled down on? It’s great that he made an apology, but there’s still a lot more that Penny Arcade has done that they need to understand and apologize for. I’ve been mulling this over a great deal in the past few days with friends, coworkers, and my partner, and what I’ve concluded is this: even if Penny Arcade continues to perpetuate hurt and ignorance, I’m still going to go.
First of all, by attending as a speaker, I’m not actually giving them my money, so that’s all well and good. But more importantly: by doing this panel, I provide support. I want to be clear that by blogging, tweeting, and speaking, my goal has never been to educate the privileged. They can listen, and probably learn, sure, but it’s not really in my realm of interest to teach or *shudder* debate. My goal from the first to the last has always been to empower people; to help women feel safer at conventions, to help gamers feel good about the choice to protest their representation at the hands of developers, to help people of all genders speak out against bad behavior online, on XBOX live, among friends, and wherever they find it.
I’m not so egotistical to think that if I don’t attend PAX personally, the scaffolds of feminism will crumble. That’s silly. But if our panel falls apart, and there’s no dedicated space to help women feel safe at this convention, or help people of marginalized identities the the spark they need to understand their own power, I’m not so confident PAX will make that opportunity available (especially considering what’s going on in Austraila). Penny Arcade was created to make gamers laugh, and PAX was created to bring gamers together, and, for what it’s worth, I believe in it. Gabe and Tycho need to remember, though, that not all gamers are straight, white, cis men like they are, and I hope our panel, and other events like it can serve as a reminder of that. Even if it means endorsing shitty guys with shitty opinions, I want to be certain my support is there for the people who do still attend PAX. I’ll still go because I love gaming and gamers, and I want to do everything I can to make a change.