Saturday, September 19, 2009

PAX Redux the Second: Sexay Panels

Sorry it took me so long to write the second part of my PAX adventures. Part of it was me being hella busy this past couple weeks, but another part was me being my usual lazy self. But in good news, I was not one of the cases of swine flu that broke out in Seattle that weekend!

Since I don't play many video games past Rock Band, and I doubt PAX was holding a Scrabble tournament, I decided to spend the time I wasn't basking in Seattle or nerdom in some of the panels that were offered. My apologies if my thoughts are a bit jumbled. This is what I get for waiting so long to write this up.

How to Make it in the Back Door: A Rainbow Colored Perspective of the Game Industry
The Gay Gamer panel was made up of some of the writing staff of (The moderator was the genius who took on the sexism and heteornormity of EA and Dante's Inferno)and some of their friends in the industry: designers, programmers, and even PR were represented. This was hands down the my favorite panel of the ones I attended, for the truths and advice, for the insights, and for the absolute hilarity of the personal anecdotes. Plus how can you not love a panel with a title like that?

All the panelists were great, but the person I focused on most was Helen, a bisexual former sex worker who now works for Harmonix. Yeah, there was some estrogen solidarity going on, but really it was because I was able to draw some parallels with her difficulties being an out bisexual (Bisexuals don't exist! You're just a slut/perv! You totally want to have a threesome with me!) and my difficulties in coming out as a polyamorist (Poly women don't exist! You're just a slut/perv! You totally want to have a threesome with me!) She was fabulous and I could probably listen to her tell stories all day long. She also loved my vulva shirt.

It made my cold bitchy heart grow a little to hear the (little) steps these people have been able to make in an industry that is often strongly homophobic. Helen talked about how disappointing it was to have characters she developed be "straightified" before a game's release, but another panelist was able to take pride in being able to put a gay character into a military game and in getting his straight male coworkers to get as excited working on a Hanna Montana DS game as he was. The common theme was that, yes, the industry is homophobic, but it's also maleable, and momentum is building. They've seen people quick to change their language and actions once they met people different from them. Go Team Diversity!

Girls and Games: The Growing Role of Women in the Game Industry
Maybe it's just yea for low expectations, but I was seriously impressed that even a half hour before the doors to this panel even opened,the line had already folded over on it's self a couple time.This panel was packed and split pretty evenly between men and women! The panelists were a good mix as well. 2 younger (looking) women and 2 older (looking) women; a programmer, a CEO, a COO, and a designer. And an extra woohoo for diversity, they weren't all skinny and white! Whoever brought this panel together definitely deserves credit for bringing together women at all level of industry and with different experiences.

All in all, this was another incredibly informative panel. The panelists talked about how women used to be relegated to the marketing and PR side of the industry, and even when faced with a female CEO many people still assume that's the case. The only part of the panel I was less than impressed with was the answers to one audience member's question about any potential wage gap between men and women in the gaming industry. Maybe the women on this panel didn't have any data on this subject, but I felt they were just sidestepping the issue and blaming any difference on wages on women taking time off to have children, ignoring that that is already taken into account in wage gap studies.

On the topic of female avatars, Annie commented that having female characters is freeing, while Deirdra lamented that there are still no female characters/customizations that look like her. There should be more options for women, in the games themselves, and in the game characters available.

Marketing games for women and girls was another fun topic. In addition to having more options in general, the panelists pointed out that there should be more diverse focus testing, and that game publishers need to step back from the hyper focus on the young white male demographic. One panelist said games should be marketed towards ages not genders, and that when it comes to games, women and girls should be allowed to like multiple things, both first person shooters and Hello Kitty. There's no reason why it needs to be either/or.

One of the more memorable parts of the panel came when a male audience member asked the panel what men could do to help women have a voice in gaming. The moderator (and only man on the panel) Jeff from Penny Arcade answered, "Stop being dicks." I like his answer, but mine would have been even shorter, "Shut up." It may sound harsh, and I know the asker had only the best of intentions but honestly, the answer is in the question itself. You want to help women have a voice? Let them use their own voices. Don't interrupt them or talk over them. Listen to the women in your gaming group if they have complaints about how they are treated. Shut up and listen.

Sex in Videogames: A Comparative Study
Before I even left for PAX I joked with some friends that I would be that girl who questioned if the panelists were talking about sex or women's bodies. Turns out I didn't have to because, 1)someone else beat me to it, and 2)the answer was obvious when the panel came out and was entirely made up of white, (seemingly) straight men. Now the panel didn't completely suck. The panelists actually called rape "rape" (re: Custer's Revenge). They also pointed out the double standard in US culture when it comes to sex versus violence (Anna Paquin pointed out the same thing recently in regards to Tru Blood). But seriously, not one woman or openly homosexual* panelist? On the topic of sex?!? Um, fail guys.

Unfortunately for the panelists they had to deal with some technical difficulties throughout the hour, but that wasn't the only thing that turned the audience off from this panel/presentation. There was vocal dissent from several audience members about the purpose and scope of the panel, and the panelists were questioned about their backgrounds in gender and cultural (a large part of the presentation was comparing the US attitude towards sex with the Japanese attitude) issues. At one point a female audience member got up and asked why 50% of the population wasn't represented on a panel about sex. One of the panelists responded that they didn't want to have a "token" woman. The audience member quickly responded that she'd rather have a token woman than "a bunch of cocks." There was a mixture of cheers and boos from the audience but the panelists really seemed to get her complaint. One even invited her (I think legitimately) to help them on any future sex panels they might host.** Not everyone appreciated her comment though. After the panel a male audience member hunted her down just to chastise her for being rude.

Final Thoughts
I think I managed to pick some damn good panels for someone who's not as much into the gaming culture as most of the PAX goers. I do hope that in the future though, PAX is able to get more diverse people for their panels. Excepting the Women in Gaming Panel I saw only 2 women***, one on the gay gamer panel and one in the geek musicians panel (that I didn't discuss here because it mainly involved the musicians cracking jokes and people fawning over Jonathon Coulton). And over all, I only saw one person of color, Deirdra on the women in gaming panel. But really I'm just in hearty agreement with Annie from the women's panel, I hope we get to the point soon where these panels won't be needed.

*They were actually supposed to have someone to talk about sex in games from the gay perspective, but he was unable to make it out to PAX. No excuse for the lack of women though.
**I hope the panelists were serious about their offer. In talking to that woman afterwards I learned that she has actually been involved with sex in gaming panels at other conventions.
***Granted I only went to a very small percentage of all the panels offered, but I didn't see to many obviously female names when I looked at the makeup of the other panels.


  1. It probably wouldn't hurt if she emailed the organizers about it. I'm sure they'd be happy to have more commentors, but whether or not they'll remember without prodding is uncertain.

  2. When I was talking with her, she did say she was going to try and hunt them down to see if they were sincere. I didn't get any contact info from her so I don't know if she found them afterwards or not.