There are so many reasons to look forward to PAX. An exhibition hall of new games so big that you can barely get through everything even with three whole days to try, a board game section including every game you can imagine, and so many diverse panels that unless you were in possession of a time turner, it would be physically impossible to attend them all. There really is something for everyone. So for me, when I looked at the schedule and saw that there would actually be panels about the fact that the gaming community is so diverse, there was nothing but optimism – until I saw the reactions on social media. Then the trepidation kicked in.
It’s no secret that every time we have a conversation about making games that feature characters who aren’t stubble-bearded fearless white guys, there is a bit of a backlash. Furthermore, when a post about a panel on the topic existing elicits comments like “well now I know where not to be at X time to avoid the social justice warriors” and “if you don’t like the way games are then don’t play them”, it kinda seems like there might be a problem. Why shouldn’t there be diversity? Shouldn’t the idea of bringing a wider range of games that tell a more varied collection of stories be an exciting one for gamers? Whether you play for escapism, for fun, or just for the competition, I can’t see how telling new stories would hurt anyone – and that’s exactly what the conversation at PAX was about.
As it turned out, there was nothing to be afraid of. What I saw was an amazing group of professionals and enthusiasts alike getting together to talk about how we as gamers are unique, but not alone. Discussions were had about how beneficial it would be to include disabled characters, characters from different cultural backgrounds, and characters of varied sexualities and genders – even if we just started by including them as a supporting cast. We looked beyond the games themselves and brought up the often taboo subjects of mental and physical illness to speak openly about how we can be kind to each other and make games more accessible for all. These suggestions were met not with skepticism and defensive arguments, but with a resounding cheer from the theatre audience on all occasions. The amount of people that wanted to see these panels was so great that the theatres couldn’t accommodate them – and if that isn’t a sign that the community is changing for the better, then I don’t know what is.
So this year, for me, PAX wasn’t about the games. It was about the gamers. It was about opening up discussions within the community that will make the world of gaming a more inclusive and creative space within which we can create games representative of all beliefs, cultures, sexualities, genders, and overall, people. It was about the future – and damn does it look bright.