My First PaxEast and “You Game Like A Girl”

This past weekend, the Boston area hosted thousands of gamers rolling into their fair convention center for PaxEast, a major east coast gaming convention. Triple A companies to Indies in video games and tabletop brought their best to show to consumers and panels were held on every subject imaginable. This might have been enough to bring a gamer like me to the Boston area for the con, but I was lucky enough to be involved in one of the panels this year. And let me tell you, it was a heck of a time.

First let me start with saying that as a convention, I found PaxEast to be really enjoyable. The Expo Hall is chock full of video games to try from every company imaginable. I particularly enjoyed discovering a few new independent video games that I am looking forward to, like Red Barrel’s terrifying Outlast and Compulsion Games’ Contrast, both of which I wrote up for Tor.com this week. I also got the chance to get a look at Transistor from the creators of Bastion and I’m going to love putting my hands on it. The Indie Megabooth section was a chance to straight nerd out on great independent companies that are doing stellar work that, I dare say, is competitive with the quality coming out of the Triple A’s.

That, however, wasn’t even the best PART about the convention. PaxEast fostered an open gaming section where you could turn in your ID and take out whatever board game you wanted to try out. This section was open from 10AM until nearly two in the morning, letting gamers just get together with their friends for a good time. I had the privilege of spending most of that time with Rob Donoghue and Fred Hicks from Evil Hat productions, and we got to try a few amazing games that I never would have checked out otherwise (Cockroach Poker, anyone?) I could wax on about the convention, but let’s talk about the major event for me that weekend: the panel.

photoI was privileged enough to be invited by Anja Keister of the D20 Burlesque troupe to come in and speak as a game designer on a panel called “You Game Like A Girl: Tales of Trolls and White Knights.” The idea of the panel was to tackle the fraught issue of women in the gaming and geek community, spanning from the treatment of cosplayers to the representation of women in video games. We had a one hour slot on Sunday morning and the panel featured Susanna Polo from the Mary Sue, Stella Chu (professional cosplayer and burlesque dancer), Iris Explosion (burlesque dancer and sex educator), Anja Keister (founder of D20 Burlesque) and myself. For those who missed the panel you can find it on Twitch.tv here (hint: our panel starts at 3:05:00 – that’s hour three folks!) and check us out talking about the issues facing the female community.

From my perspective it was a surreal day. I got to the theater to see a line of people in the room next door. I asked what they were waiting for, and the Enforcer at the door said: “That’s the line for your theater. It’s already out the door.” I was positively floored. We got into Naga theater and set ourselves up on the stage and they let our audience in. And this? This was our audience.

The audience at "You Game Like A Girl"
The audience at “You Game Like A Girl”

I cannot explain how honored I felt to be in the presence of EIGHT HUNDRED of my fellow gamers who came to hear us talk about the topic of women in gaming. It was an incredible experience as people came up to the microphone and asked us questions or lit up Twitter on #Paxlikeagirl to express their support. A tradition was started too when Iris Explosion got so mad at misogyny issues that she launched a plastic cup off the stage, inspiring others who came up to the microphone to throw cups too. Soon we had the ‘we hate this!’ cup launching going on, which was hilarious and light fun.

The panel went off beautifully with only a modicum of trolling (which I’ll address in another post coming up soon), and the experience was overall super powerful and empowering. After the panel people came up to us to share stories and ask questions. I personally got to meet some women who are going into game design and who had questions about how to engage with problematic team situations or content. I’ve never quite been so humbled to have women ask if I’d be willing to mentor them going forward.

photo copyPeople brought up their badges and had us autograph them and asked us to autograph cups that had been thrown! It was a strangely surreal experience for me in general and we stuck around to talk to people as long as we could before we ran off to head back to New York.

From a game designers perspective, the kind of things  we spoke about were just the tip of the iceberg of issues I wanted to talk about. But you only have one hour sometimes! I was really glad to be able to bring up the way men have been spoken to in the ‘fake geek girl’ debate, about people raising children to be the next generation of gamer girls, and about pushing back in unhealthy/uncomfortable situations for women in game teams. There was only so much time and so much we each could have spoken about from our particular specialties, but I think it was a great start. And it will be just a start, because there’s plenty of other opportunities for conversation.

Meanwhile, back at home, there’s more game design though to be done. So I’m back into writing and doing work. PaxEast, was a pleasure, hope to see you next year.

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