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What is PAX?

Features 23 Jun 2013

I am the Content & Communications Manager for PAX Aus.

Some of you may know me as the creator of the video game cocktail bars – the Mana Bars. Some from my short lived gaming show Game Damage. Others from my early days on the Penny Arcade inspired website Australian Gamer. Some of you don’t know me at all.

The overarching theme to my videogame career has been trying to change the negative perception of gamers amongst the wider population. Gamers come in all shapes and sizes, colours and genders, in the way that anyone who enjoys any entertainment medium does.

The Mana Bar I was particularly proud of, proving all those people who felt that ‘gamers aren’t social enough to drink’ to be completely wrong. Becoming involved with PAX was, to me, a logical progression.

Here is a gaming event that above all puts the interests of the attendees front and centre. It’s not just a ‘trade show’, it is a celebration of gaming culture. It is a way for the more socially awkward to come together in an inclusive environment and meet new people that share their passions (just like at the Mana Bar!).

The significance for Australia cannot be understated either. PAX as a brand is known worldwide, and I’ve been dealing with many international developers that are excited about the prospect of coming to PAX Aus as they’ve never been to Australia before. It’s made a lot of people within the gaming community cast their eyes towards Australia and go ‘woah, hang on, there are gamers/developers down there to justify a PAX?’

It’s one of my many frustrations that Australia tends to be overlooked on a global scale, and the advent of PAX down under makes our light shine that much brighter.

PAX stands as an anomaly amongst most gaming expos as well, since the foundations for it are built upon the personalities and community of Penny Arcade, a website that has retained their independent voice amongst the larger corporate gaming media, and because of that represents a level of credibility that is defended strongly by themselves and their fans.

Working on PAX Aus, and with the Penny Arcade team, my job has been to ensure this integrity is maintained when balanced alongside the need for a festival of this magnitude to actually be a profitable enterprise to justify it happening again.

We turned away exhibitors and imposed restrictions on others because of this belief: that PAX represents a credible place for people who love gaming culture to come together and feel safe to be exactly who they are.

Since the release of the schedule, one panel in particular was picked up as being purposefully antagonistic. The description read as a call to arms for people to stop escalating issues like sexism and racism within games and the gaming industry, almost suggesting they aren’t issues worth raising. We all know they are. The panel was supposed to be a discussion about this very thing.

I know all the individuals on that panel – intelligent, professional, most are gaming editors from respected gaming media outlets in Australia. Of particular note is Rae Johnston, one of the panellists who some may know represents the exact opposite of what that panel seemed to convey.

It was a badly worded submission for a topic that – obviously by the response – is worthy of debate. Not surprisingly, the panellists decided to send me an updated description that better reflected the panel they intended to do. The original was a mistake – a misrepresentation of the panel’s intentions and of the attitude of PAX as a whole. I’m genuinely sorry we let it through in that state, and I apologise directly to the people who were offended by it.

This in turn led to Gabe from Penny Arcade defending the panel submission process, and eventually leading to a series of tweets relating to an incident from weeks earlier regarding comments he made towards the transgendered community. Questions of sexuality, gender, and bigotry have been raised, and rightfully so, though it speaks to a much larger cultural crisis. In a series of front page posts. Gabe explained his actions along with genuinely learning why what he said had offended. A silver lining is that many people learnt about what it means to be transgendered and what the term “cis” stands for.

These and other topics are worth discussing. The gaming industry should have more women working in it. Multiplayer games shouldn’t be so filled with hate chat. Games shouldn’t objectify females so god damn much. These things should always be discussed, because it’s from a lack of understanding that they exist. I hope we continue to have panels submitted to PAX that discuss them, though I also hope one day we may not have to.

The fact that there have been a few people questioning their support of PAX at all in light of this really upsets me though, and not just because I’ve poured my heart and soul into making PAX Aus the best gaming community event Australia has ever seen. It’s that some people feel that by supporting PAX, they support a show that represents intolerance and a lack of understanding.

That simply couldn’t be further from the truth. PAX is inclusive of all types of people regardless of gender, colour, sexuality, size, or heritage, because we are all brought together by the same common thing – our love of games. I have been to a few of the PAX shows in the US, and I have seen people who never knew each other leave that show with connections as close as family.

Part of my duties working on PAX Aus is designing the signage, one of which is a massive 10 metre wide banner that is to be placed at the entrance to the show to be seen before any other. When I asked Robert Khoo – the President of Penny Arcade whom I have an infinite amount of respect for – what should be put on that banner, he simply said it should have, in the largest size possible, the phrase: ‘Welcome Home’.

I sincerely look forward to seeing you there.

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