My first Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) was in 2008. I had just met some of my Seattle guildies earlier in the year, and they talked about this video game convention that I should check out. At the time I was a game player but not really a member of the game community. I didn’t really know about this Penny Arcade comic thing, but I figured.. why not? I drove to Seattle, ambled up to the ticket booth on the Sunday morning and got a day pass, and had a lot of fun wandering around the show floor for a few hours.
My, how times have changed.
My feelings about Penny Arcade and the two fellows behind the property are.. complicated. On the one hand, they’re pretty good at getting to the heart of game players sometimes. They’ve picked fights with the game industry on behalf of the little guys, created a great charity in Child’s Play, and popularized John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory which is pretty fundamental internet sociology. They’ve given the spotlight to some pretty talented folks, too, like journalist Ben Kuchera and the Extra Credits gang.
On the other hand, the PA guys have said a lot of horrible, hateful crap. Probably the most famous is of course the “dickwolves” incident, where PA founder Mike Krahulik responded to concerns about a panel featuring a rape joke by mocking trigger warnings, selling a t-shirt that repeated the joke, and declaring on Twitter that it “feels pretty good to be actively encouraging rape culture”. Yeah. Ponder that shit. As if that wasn’t enough, earlier this year the PA guys also actively promoted and helped fund a hentai rape-based collectible card game. It’s pretty clear to me that Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins as people and artists don’t want women in their game zone.
So then we come to PAX itself. I’ve gone every year since that first one in 2008, which makes this.. my fifth PAX! And if we can put aside the fact that its founders are buttheads, PAX itself is amazing. (If you’ve never been before, read this wonderful article about it from last year.) I’d estimate that at least 40% of the attendees now are female. Booth bunnies aren’t allowed on the convention floor, which makes for a very pleasant environment. PAX Enforcers (the volunteer guides and security) include a lot of women and are very easy to find if you should need one.
The result of this inclusion is that at PAX I feel I can relax and just be a game enthusiast like everyone else. There are costumes and line parties and Nintendo DS throwdowns with strangers. There are event parties where you get to meet your fellow players and developers, and movies that run late into the night. All games are there, from Magic to D&D to SpaceChem to next year’s multi-million dollar title. I have friends that I pretty much only see at PAX every year. You know what it’s like if you’ve ever been to a hobby convention — that warm feeling of everyone being there and on the same page because you all love the same thing.
But the fact remains that it is the Penny Arcade Expo, even if the Expo is the important bit for me. Every year I feel more and more conflicted about giving the Penny Arcade machine my money. Is 48 hours of nerd community bliss worth the teeth gritting whenever Mike Krahulik (in particular) says something horrible and depressing? Can I continute to pretend that PAX welcomes women in gaming while Penny Arcade clearly doesn’t care for them? After this year.. I don’t know.
Now, though, is the time to pack all my nerd shirts and update my contacts list and dig out a wall charger for every mobile device I own. Tomorrow I am off to Seattle for PAX Prime 2012, to be with friends I haven’t seen in ages and rush around between panels and go to parties (RIFT party people I will see you there!) and this year for the first time host a live podcast from my hotel room. I will have fun with people who like some of the same things I like.
Let us eat, drink, and game, for next week we ponder our line in the sand.
PS: Going to PAX Prime? Wanna hang out? Email me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter and we should meet up!