Jumping to Conclusions: Inclusivity at PAX East 1


I had never been to a PAX conference before PAX East 2016 two weeks ago.
Although there are a number of reasons why, the main one was that I never considered myself a “gamer” until this year, despite having grown up avidly playing games since I could hold a gameboy. I delved more seriously into game development this year when I joined Microsoft, and as part of my job I sought out gaming conferences where I could share my knowledge. When I applied to PAX East the only thing I knew about PAX is they’re a series of gaming conventions. I was peripherally aware of them because I was strongly invested in the anime convention circuit.
I believe my face when I learned that PAX stood for Penny Arcade EXpo looked something like this.

Ew

Uh, no thanks

It’s not a huge stretch for those that know me to imagine I was pretty put off by Penny Arcade due to certain previous incidents. Penny Arcade seemed to contribute to the very culture that alienated me from being a gamer in the first place. Why would I want to go anywhere near that?
Well I’m writing this post now to inform you dear readers that I might have been a little hasty in my judgments.
I’ll start at the beginning. PAX East is a yearly video game expo held in Boston. With hundreds of booths and over 70,000 attendees, there is something there for every aspect of game culture. Each year PAX selects a few panels based on game development. My panel “Crafting Custom Controllers for More Immersive Gaming Experiences” was chosen and I presented it with a couple of awesome coworkers. As soon as I stepped into the convention there were two big realizations that hit me.
The first was the sheer amount of people.

crowd shot

Image from here

The second was the diversity of people there.
I was honestly surprised by how many people were not white men. Every time I looked at any crowd of people there was always a mix of men, women, and even non-binary people of all races.
I had a blast at the diversity lounge, which I found out was an initiative introduced a couple of years ago. I quickly changed my lanyard to a purple “roll for diversity” one.
Everything about the lounge said “safe space”. It was a quieter environment with booths dedicated to accessibility and safe gaming spaces.
When I was recharged enough to delve into the massive expo space, I made sure to hit up plenty of indie games.

playing games!

Playing Super Rock Blasters at the Playcrafting booth

I approached PAX East expecting gatekeeping attitudes, crowds of men, and identical panels. I was pleasantly surprised to find almost none of that.
The diversity lounge sponsored a number of panels over the course of the three days about queer and inclusive gaming. There were panels whose topics ranged from gaming culture, to technical talks. I managed to play a whole bunch of indie games. It was a good time, and I’d definitely go back. In fact you might find me at PAX Dev and PAX Prime…