Segregated Equality – How PAX Gets It So Wrong

Equality doesn't have borders.

Today, Indiestatik published a story about leaked internal documents it had received in relation to the PAX events. Those leaked documents have since been verified by Kotaku and confirmed by Penny Arcade. In those documents, PAX talks of “Diversity Hubs” and places where “diverse” people can feel safe while industry professionals and fans can mingle in a setting “focused on diversity” and learn about “issues surrounding women, LGBTQ, people of color, disabled people and mental health issues in gaming.”

Labels are stupid. No matter which label you choose to put on another person, or which you choose for yourself, it’s stupid. A human being is a human being and all should be treated with absolute equality. If you don’t agree with that sentiment, at the very least, then you’re being very stupid. The people running PAX are being very stupid.

I realise that the above paragraph may rile up those of you who enjoy the Penny Arcade webcomic or like the PAX events in Seattle, Boston and Melbourne. But if you think Penny Arcade and PAX can do no wrong then you’re being very stupid too. It’s time we all stopped tiptoeing around that fact. It’s time we took a stand and said that if you can’t treat your fellow humans with respect then you should, at the very least, let us ignore you in peace.

Penny Arcade is an internet phenomenon. I’ve often laughed at many of their strips and, although I’ve never been myself, I know many people who say that the PAX events are the absolute best gatherings in the industry for meeting both interesting independent developers and enthusiastic, knowledgeable fans. They are capable of great work.

I wouldn’t dream of simply applying a single label to them as people or even as a group. But they do appear to have some attitudes to people who are slightly different that I think deserve to be pointed out, as loudly and as plainly as possible.

We’re all capable of misunderstanding others, we all occasionally miss the point of a problem. We should all strive to grasp every opportunity to learn how we might better ourselves and improve our attitudes to people who are different from us. I don’t think the people behind Penny Arcade and PAX do this. I think their attitudes to others are often deplorable and I think they often waste their opportunities to improve those attitudes.

These PAX “Roll for Diversity” hubs and lounges will be a separate space within the convention. They’ll have their own booths, panel tracks and speakers that are in some way serving the “diverse” or are “diverse” in some way themselves. There will be special security teams who have been trained in “Safe Zone Training” so that the “diverse” people in the fenced-off areas don’t feel threatened.

In principle, as an attempt to make marginalised people feel less threatened while attending PAX, this might all be seen as a positive step. But designating safe little ring fenced areas where minorities or marginalised people have to retreat to in order to feel safe seems bizarre to me.

Setting up areas where the rest of the PAX attendees, if they behave themselves, can go to learn about “diversity” seems positively draconian. It’s like they’re saying “take half an hour out of your exciting PAX experience to come and ogle these people. They’re so diverse!”

And make no mistake, PAX uses “diverse” in these documents but what they actually mean is “not like us”.

Women are included on that list. You know, women? More than half the human population and almost half those that self-identify as “gamers”. But mostly, the organisers of PAX don’t have vaginas so into the safe little zoo of diversity they go!

Gay people too. A lot of them look like the PAX organisers but they don’t think like them. At least not how they’d admit to thinking when they’re in a room full of other straight white men. Throw them in the bucket of diversity and hope they don’t have to use the same bathrooms!

Trans people? Women without vaginas and men who don’t have a penis? People who were born with one set of genitals and now have a different set? Too much for PAX organisers to get their heads around, put them behind the wall.

Oh, and people of colour are in there too. I assume (and I might be wrong to leap to these assumptions) that means all people who have African or Asian heritage and it probably means Latin and Hispanic people too. So at PAX, it’ll be okay to be bright blue or scaly green (I’ve seen the cosplay photos), but if you’re black or brown, get in the diversity circus and tell us what it’s like to not be white while you’re role playing as an elf.

Anyone who isn’t straight, white, biologically male (and comfortable with that) and possessing of a perfectly functioning set of limbs and a healthy mind must flee to a designated safe zone if they want to avoid the dangers of mingling with people who aren’t capable of granting the most basic levels of respect and decency to their fellow human beings.

Why isn’t the whole of PAX a safe place for people with differences to exist alongside the straight white men who organise and stake claim to the event? Why doesn’t PAX stop saying “if you’re not like us, you can come and enjoy these little special bits just for you and we’ll make sure none of us normal people call you names while you’re in there.” and start saying “if you act like a dickhead, we’ll boot you out and make sure you’re never at another PAX event again.”

It’s not the “diverse” people that are in the wrong here, their inclusion shouldn’t be something you specifically have to provide for, it should be assumed. People who can’t behave with the most basic levels of human decency should be immediately and unequivocally ejected from the event. PAX should – we all should – be making it abundantly clear that those kind of attitudes aren’t welcome at that event. We should all make it clear that those kind of attitudes aren’t welcome anywhere.

Throwing up fences or creating safe zones never helped understand anyone better. And who’s policing these “safe zones”? Who’s vetting the experts they’ll have talking about diversity issues? Once you draw up borders, you’re inviting an almost infinite degree of further separation and ever more specific labelling.

These “Roll for Diversity” areas show, at least, a willingness on the part of the PAX organisers to engage the issue and address the disgraceful problems that have arisen around marginalised people at their events in the past. But it still doesn’t show even the faintest glimpse of understanding of the issue and it still doesn’t accept that people who are slightly different, people who aren’t straight white men, are still deserving of the same assumptions of equality and the same degree of respect.

It’s not a step in the right direction, it’s a nervous shuffle sideways and it creates as many -or more – problems as it might solve. PAX has an opportunity to lead here, to really make their events an example to all. They seem intent on wasting that opportunity once again as they clumsily pen in and marginalise even further.

Even as a straight white man, I think that’s a tragic shame.

17 Comments

  1. This really boggle the mind!

  2. Great read and I completely agree.

    True, there are “diverse” social groups out there but their integration should be organic, not rammed down everyone’s throats.

    The designated “safety zones” are also utter bullshit. It’s making the assumption that most people don’t have the capacity to tolerate and engage with others who may believe or present themselves differently.

    • and you’re making the assumption that that assumption is wrong.

      i don’t know about most, but many actually don’t have that capacity.

  3. Will this “Diversity Hub” have a big black lesbian bouncer to chuck out folk for non-compliance?

  4. Am I missing something here? I’m not a frequesnt reader of Penny Acade, and I agree that people shouldn’t be labled and all should feel welcome at events such as these, but reading the posted excerpts, I can’t see anything that states the hub/lounges are places for diverse people to go to feel safe while at the event. It mentions safe zones, but doesnt say that this is what the hubs actually are, just that these are areas with rules to allow self expression while at the same time discussing such issues.
    It reads to me like these are areas to discuss diversity with everyone being welcome to participate, whatever colour, creed, gender, console choice etc, not a system to seperate “diverse” people from everyone else.
    We all know gaming can play to stereotypes and cliches in its subject matter, so this strikes me as being a means to focus and openly discuss such aspects rather then enforce them.

    • Nope, you don’t seem to be missing anything. The PAX guys have decided they want to champion this issue in their own fashion (which arguably may or may not be a good one) and the few sites that have covered this have really seemed to overblow or miscover it.

      The docs are pretty clear in that they are creating an areas where people who want to opt into learning more or discussing these issues can. Personally I don’t see how creating an informational area where some high school or college student who has never met a gay or transsexual person and discuss the topic in “safety” is a bad thing. Yes, it would be nice if every person in this world was born with the grace, patience, understanding, and knowledge of the Pope or Dali Lama, but the reality is that’s not the case and education has to start somewhere.

  5. Fantastic article. Though I do feel that the way the leaked info reads suggests it’s more intended to be an area specializing in booths relating to LGBTQ, and so on, which isn’t in itself a a bad idea, but the second page does make it come across as a bit ‘ATTENTION. YOU ARE ENTERING A DIVERSITY ZONE!’.

    The way it describes the enforcers make it sound like it will be a desk of some sort where you can report any harassment or abuse by people anywhere in the con. Sounds fine to me, though still comes across as a bit patronizing, like these people have to be catered to like children. Enforcer shouldn’t need fucking training to be decent human beings.

  6. Peter, for someone railing against labels, you use the label “stupid” in your piece with startling regularity.

    To be honest, I find the hypocrisy here staggering. While it’s dressed up in “liberal ideals”, you are peddling the same thought fascism that the extreme conservative right peddles. The only difference while they are saying if you think anything but X, you are wrong – you’re saying if you think anything but Y, you are wrong (or stupid).

    PAX is not a government. They are not compelling compliance. While you may disagree with their methodology or beliefs, THEY ARE COMPLETELY ENTITLED TO THINK THEM. When someone forces you to act or conduct yourself in a manner conforming with their beliefs for no reason other than because it is their belief – lets talk. Otherwise I’d encourage you to be a bit more diverse and accepting other viewpoints, beliefs, lifestyles, or creeds other than you own.

    • I was very careful not to label anyone “stupid”. I only ever say they are being stupid – not beyond redemption but guilty of lacking the capacity or will for thought that might be required with such sensitive issues. I don’t think that’s something that can be disputed but if you have a sensible response (rather than the misguided rush to insult you’ve tried to engage above), I’d gladly hear it.
      I refuse to accept that bigoted, close minded opinions are as valid as accepting ones. If you want to pretend that preaching acceptance can be likened to “fascism” then go ahead, I’d hope that most people reading this discourse would have the sense to spot how utterly bereft of worth that argument is. You appear to confuse the right to hold any viewpoint, regardless of the hate involved and damage it might do, as the right to share and propagate any viewpoint. And I think that’s being pretty stupid.

    • It was an opinion piece. PAX are entitled to their own opinion just as Peter is entitled to his. All he did in this article was voice his disagreement with PAX’s policy – hardly “thought fascism”.

      Plus as Peter already mentioned, there’s a difference between labelling a person stupid and labelling a specific policy of theirs stupid.

  7. “A human being is a human being and all should be treated with absolute equality”

    i agree 100%.
    the trouble is, that just doesn’t happen.

    it doesn’t happen in the world at large, and it certainly doesn’t happen in gaming culture.

    maybe it is bizarre that they felt the need for these safe zones, ideally they wouldn’t be necessary.
    ideally everybody could just get along.
    but they don’t.

    i don’t know how often you visit other gaming sites, but frankly, some of the community out there are downright repugnant.

    i saw one article somewhere about gay relationships in games, and one of the tamer responses was “this sickens me”
    and have you seen the comments about the transgender game reviewer Carolyn Petit?
    then there was the woman who got hired as community manager for Keiji Inafune’s company.
    because she dared to suggest it would be great if there was a playable female character in the game or even that the main character be female, some people put out her phone number and she’s been getting rape and death threats.

    frankly there are parts of the gaming community with views so disgusting they could pollute a fucking cesspool.

    and i always thought diversity was about embracing and accepting that which is different, not trying to make everything the same.

    equality is not uniformity.

    i don’t know if this kind of separation is the solution.
    i won’t call it segregation because im my mind segregation is about forcing people out rather than letting them in.
    i don’t see a problem with wanting to have somewhere, be it a group, a location or anything like that, where you don’t have to worry about being harassed, insulted, disrespected, or outright threatened.

    where you can be who you are without fear.

    personally i’d prefer a community that can accept the differences to one that just pretends there aren’t any.

    your point seems to be we’re all gamers.
    now, yeah, that’s true, but that’s not all we are.

    questions like “what has your sexuality got to do with gaming?” are no longer valid.
    games are no longer just about the hero killing generic enemy 46575.

    how many games feature romance options these days?
    how many games give you moral choices to make.

    as the presentation and writing in game storytelling gets ever more sophisticated the more real world issues are beginning to matter than just can i get to the end of this level.

    if nobody is allowed to bring ideas into gaming that don’t come from gaming, then this industry is going to die.

    state security vs personal privacy?
    well, that’s not a gaming issue, until recently at least, shouldn’t be allowed in gaming right?

    well, better not buy Watchdogs then.

    • “your point seems to be we’re all gamers.”
      Not really, my point is that we’re all humans.
      I’m all for a place where people can feel safe and where people can find out about the issues that have an impact on those that are different to them – I’d even go so far as to suggest that it might be nice to have a place where differences can be celebrated – but I don’t think that should be in a specially dedicated little “zone”. I think they should commit to excluding the people who make the marginalised feel uncomfortable from the whole of PAX, not just a specially patrolled little area. Don’t offer a little sideshow safe area for the marginalised, take away the main show from the bullies and the idiots.

      • I can’t see an easy solution here. How would you exclude people? By what criteria? Just through personal experience with the comments I have come across gaming on line and reading other gaming sites etc, there is a percentage of the gaming population who certainly have the capacity to make others feel uncomfortable. There are bullies and idiots out there who are gamers (and possibly some are even human beings) and chances are some of them will be attending PAX, but I can’t see how you would prevent them entering. Better to have them present and have an opportunity to express their views, and listen to those of others in a controlled environment. These steps seem to present an option to make change. Banning people would just maintain the status quo (not the group).

  8. They state they dont allow harrasment, that’s all that is needed.

    Simples.

  9. political correctness will destroy the world

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