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.