My PAX was lovely; how was yours?

This was the fourth year in which I attended the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, and you’d think I might have gotten tired of it by now. I’ve always been at least a little bit at odds with “gamer culture” as many of us know it: the big-budget console fetishism, the hyper-masculinity, the bright lights and booming noises of convention floors — you name it, I probably can’t stand it. Still, in spite of all that, there’s always been something new and exciting for me to experience every year at PAX, and this time around proved to be no exception.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I spoke on a panel called “Making Stories Worth Playing, organised by the interactive fiction community. My fellow panelists were modern IF legends Andrew “Zarf” Plotkin (whose games I need to play more of) and Robb Sherwin (whose games I need to, uh, actually play!) as well as cRPG designer Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda (who I spoke with previously on last year’s Women in Games panel), and we were we were moderated by Dan Shiovitz (whose games I also need to actually play). We discussed all manner of topics from the role unpredictability plays in interactive stories to genre in stories vs genre in games to accessibility and tutorials in story-based games… all to a completely packed theatre where they actually had to turn people away at the door, which is both very cool, a little bit nervewracking, and unfortunate for friends who tried to get in but couldn’t — sorry about that!

In retrospect, the panel was important to me for two reasons. The first is that finally, we have a storytelling panel at PAX that, instead of being dominated by the Tim Schafers and Biowares of the game industry, gave those of us on the “fringes” a chance to speak. [1] I’ve always been saying that the IF community has been doing so many interesting things with storytelling in games so far ahead of the rest of us, and it was gratifying to see that being recognised, in a fashion. The second dawned on me sometime afterwards as I was venting to Rachel Zakariasen about how I didn’t get a chance to bring up any salient, controversial issues on gender, race, violence, and sexuality like I did last year. She, in turn, pointed out that maybe this is a good thing, that this time around, I’m just a person talking about storytelling in games who just so happens to be a woman, and that it in itself speaks volumes. This, combined with the fact that I wasn’t “the token girl” at this panel gave me a certain feeling of legitimacy as a game developer that I haven’t really felt before, in that it reflected the eventual “world where we won’t even have to have women in games panels” that we opined for last year. We’re still not there yet, but if all game industry panel discussions were like this one, well, we’d sure be a lot closer.

Rounding out the experience was the hotel suite that the IF community rented out as a space a short distance away from the convention proper where we could all continue to sit around and talk about interactive fiction. I was invited to a discussion on characters in IF, which sort of felt like a continuation of things we brought up at the panel, but in a more focussed and intimate round table setting, which I greatly enjoyed. I also found that the IF suite was a fantastic avenue for showing off the Life Flashes By demo I had prepared for PAX, and I managed to get a lot of interesting questions and comments about it, which is always a good sign.

I was also, via the extremely awesome Corvus Elrod, invited on an exclusive round table discussion on the Future of Games, promoting an intriguing new book called Screen Future. Many things were said on the subject, particularly to do with recent “social gaming” trends happening as of late, but what struck me personally was that, when I introduced my work and my goals therein, someone asked me whether Facebook would be an effective platform for reaching the kinds of audiences I wanted to reach. At first, I thought I had a clear answer — that Facebook was only useful to me for promoting my games, rather than as part of the games themselves — but that became challenged more and more both at the roundtable itself and the impassioned private discussions that followed. I have no plans to write any Facebook games in the immediate future, but I did wind up with a few thoughts that I’ll try to go into in more detail in another blog post.

Of course, PAX is nothing without the fantastic people I get to meet up with, and the award for Best New Person I Met at PAX goes to one of my oldest internet friends, Stacia Hartleben. [2] Though she wasn’t attending PAX proper, she’s been living in Seattle for the past couple of years, and my being in town made for a perfect opportunity to chat over coffee. Turns out we still share many of the same interests in interactive storytelling, so I invited her and her partner up to the IF suite, which got her in touch with the Seattle IF community. It’s always nice to bring interesting people together, isn’t it? [3]

Other people I got to hang out with include the aforementioned Corvus and Rachel, Alex Myers and his spouse Monica, John Green, John Seggerson, Charles Berube, Dan Fabulich of Choice of Games (who I’m trying not to confuse with Dan Shiovitz who moderated our panel), Iain Merrick, Amanda Lange, Jeremy Penner of Glorious Trainwrecks, a mouse with bright orange hair, and quite a few others whose names aren’t coming to me right now. Apologies to those who wanted to see me but couldn’t meet up for some reason or another, and thank you to those watching at home for following along! Let’s do it again next year, only this time with Sony Walkmen.

  1. Don’t get me wrong: I love hearing from Tim Schafer and Bioware too, but diversity of viewpoints is even better, right?
  2. For those interested, she used to be known as Stacy on the SCRAMM forums.
  3. All this, sadly, makes me hanker for some kind of Vancouver interactive storytelling community. Maybe I should start one! Hmm…

3 Comments So Far…

  1. Jeffrey Matulef September 7th, 2010 1:39 pm

    Hey Deirdra, I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect (I’d improperly set up twitter on my phone and forgot to click you as someone I wanted to be notified by. Whoops!), but it sounds like I missed a lot of great stuff at PAX. I wasn’t hugely impressed by what I saw this year, but there were enough games that I know I’ll be losing sleep over prior to their release to get me excited. Anyway, I’m glad you had a good time at PAX and next year I’ll be sure we meet up.

  2. The Management September 7th, 2010 8:06 pm

    Sorry I missed you too, Jeffrey! Hope I get a chance to see you next year… or whenever one of us winds up visiting the other’s respective city. Whichever comes first.

  3. Dave Gilbert September 17th, 2010 5:27 am

    Doh! Another person who went to PAX that I would have loved to hang out with. My wife and I had made arrangements to visit her family in the UK several months ago and we didn’t think to check the date! Oh well. Sounds like it was fun. Maybe next year!

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