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.
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.
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.
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…