By Leo Stevenson
A post appearing on Canned Geek is asking the question: how inclusive was PAX Australia? Following an online argument via Twitter (below) in June -- in which Penny Arcade co-founder Mike Krahulik seemingly dismissed transgender issues and transgendered people -- many wondered whether PAX was as welcoming as its messages would have them believe.
The day immediately after the Twitter argument, the Full Bright Company announced that it was pulling out of PAX Prime in Boston. Ben McKenzie -- head game designer at Pop Up Playground -- cancelled his planned panel at PAX Australia, citing concerns regarding the culture of PAX. "I've had reservations about the culture of Penny Arcade and the way they handled things like the Dick Wolves controversy and other issues that have popped up over the years, but I kind of wanted to feel that PAX Australia would be different." He said the incident on Twitter led him to reconsider his support for PAX Australia and eventually led to the cancellation of the panel.
"I agonised about the decision, personally," he said, questioning, "Should I pull out? Is that the right thing to do? Should I go and have a feminist, queer friendly voice at the event?" In explaining his decision Ben said, "a large part of the motivation behind it was really we wanted to send a very clear message to people about Pop Up Playground that we want people to feel welcome [at our events] and we don't want to associate with any group or event that might make people feel unwelcome or unsafe."
Canned Geek reports that after Pop Up Playground cancelled its panel, a media Q&A with Penny Arcade founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins inevitably turned to the issue of companies pulling out of the event. Canned Geek asked the founders, "I just wanted to get your view on whether you feel that this is a queer-friendly, welcoming place for any gamer?”
Mike responded with, "I think it is. I mean we try very hard to make it that way. I mean couldn’t tell you; I’m not coming into PAX from that perspective. I can tell you on our end we try very hard to make it inclusive to everybody. There’s this sign when you come in that says ‘welcome home’ – we really mean it. We want everybody to feel welcome here. Regardless of what you think about Penny Arcade or the comic strips that we make or anything like that, PAX is separate and PAX is a place that any gamer can come and should feel welcome."
In order to determine whether or not everyone was indeed welcome at PAX AUS, Canned Geek reached out to members of the queer community, including our very own editor-in-chief Steve Wright. Steve's opinion of the atmosphere and culture of the event was one of inclusion, friendship and even love. "I didn't feel excluded; I felt quite loved," he said. “People were not only accepting of who I am and my relationship with my partner - but also asking where he was which made him feel pretty good too. Not a single element of PAX Australia made me feel unwelcome in my relation to my gender or orientation. In fact, not a single element of PAX Australia made me feel unwelcome at all."
Canned Geek admits that while Steve's account -- and those of others you can read in its original post -- is just one among thousands, "in casting out a net for queer attendees, [Canned Geek wasn't] able to find any negative experiences either."
In the press Q&A Holkins said, "I think that it's a choice you can make whether or not to attend, but we absolutely need the full spectrum of those experiences. And we get them by people attending and communicating. That's the goal."
He ended the Q&A with, "I would love to see people expand their horizons and start to learn about the problems that still exist in games culture that are reflections of the problems that exist in the broader world - because that's where they come from. These are not problems that are endemic to games; they’re problems that are often exacerbated and seem more pointy (for want of a better term) in games. But they are a reflection of broader society and I would love for a really truly inclusive PAX to not just being a safe space but to having those cultural discussions as well.”
You can read the full Canned Geek post here. A podcast version of the report also accompanies the write-up.
What were your experiences of PAX AUS? Did you feel included?