That thing with Penny Arcade (plus, better places than PAX in which to spend your time and money)

There’s been a bit of a poopstorm over the internet lately involving Penny Arcade and a comic and t-shirt they made that’s triggering to rape survivors. I won’t go into details — there’s a good summary as to what’s been going on here, and the fabulous Kirby Bits has been writing a lot about the issue from a more personal perspective [1] — but suffice to say, I’m pretty damn disgusted with PA’s childish, insensitive handling of the situation.

To be fair, Penny Arcade is known for its occasionally offensive, tasteless humour. Which they have every right to express; it just means I don’t read their comic. [2] There are much funnier places on the internet worthy of my time and eyeballs, after all. The problem, as I see it, is that they also happen to run a certain convention with a reputation for being a welcoming environment to all gamers. Yes, all gamers, even those who happen to be survivors of rape and other forms of abuse. Except… it’s actually not terribly welcoming when a bunch of people at the convention — including at least one of the guys in charge of the whole thing — are now going to start wearing t-shirts that effectively say “team rapist”. So, quite understandably, a number of friends and online acquaintances I respect are putting their money where their mouth is and refusing to attend PAX or provide them with content.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’ve been to PAX in Seattle a number of times and enjoyed myself. I’ve even spoken on panels, and some of them were even about diversity and inclusiveness in the game industry. And I ran the powerpoint presentation for Ron Gilbert’s keynote speech! Yet, I never felt like I was at the convention to support Penny Arcade so much as I just loved having an excuse to see friends and meet people who share my interests. And if my friends won’t come to either of the PAX conventions anymore because it’s no longer a safe space, then there’s no point. I don’t feel safe going there, either. But at the same time, I still want an excuse to meet up with a bunch of awesome people. So, what’s a lonely indie developer to do?

Well, as it turns out, there are a few options:

My friend Max is proposing an “alt-PAX” at ConGlomeration, a crowd-sourced, volunteer-run convention taking place in his hometown of Louisville, KY. It’s a little bit far for me, but I’m being lured with the promise of my very own “awesome hour”, a la Wil Wheaton, and I have to admit, it would be a great excuse to visit East Coast friends if the idea gains enough traction. Plus, if travelling there winds up not being an option, there are apparently plans for virtual guests, which sounds very cool and interesting, and the entire show will be available online for those watching at home.

Geek Girl Con is a brand spanking new event, also run by volunteers, taking place in Seattle in October. It encompasses not just games, but comics, science fiction, and all kinds of geekery. I’ve already offered to present there, but I’d be thrilled to attend as a participant, either way.

For those who enjoy the tabletop rooms at PAX, another friend of mine suggested Go Play Northwest. It’s mainly geared towards obscure indie and story-based RPGs, which I for one can definitely appreciate.

Last year at PAX, the Seattle Interactive Fiction group had their own hotel suite/freeplay room, in which I spoke in several group discussions and generally had fun hanging out and talking to people about storytelling in games. Since you don’t need a PAX badge to get into the IF suite, if they do the same thing this year, I’ll probably consider coming over to Seattle for the weekend just for the IF stuff. There are also some non-PA-affiliated IF events happening in Boston for PAX East, including a demo fair, but I won’t be attending since GDC will be sucking up my travel time and money that month.

EDIT (2011-02-04): A few more cons that came to my attention are listed below. Not all are what I’d call PAX replacements per se, but they are of some interest to me, and may be likewise to others interested in the same things as I am.

IndieCade is a festival for indie video games taking place in Culver City, CA. I’ve heard some very good things from game dev types I know, and it looks to be a great place to check out games with an unusual, innovative bent.

WisCon is a feminist science fiction convention in Madison, WI, and again, I’ve heard great things about it from gamers interested in anti-oppression issues. There’s a lot of in-depth feminist theory being discussed here, though, so your mileage may vary. I won’t be going this year, but I hope I get a chance to someday!

GameStorm is primarily a tabletop games convention, taking place in the “other” Vancouver, in Washington.

That’s all I can think of for now, but if you’ve got any other suggestions for PAX alternatives, please send them my way! I myself am more likely to attend events located in the Pacific Northwest due to travel time and budget, but I’m open to considering all sorts of options, particularly if anyone would like to have me speak on a panel and/or demo Life Flashes By. *wink wink nudge nudge* And even if not, I’d love for a list like this to be a resource for others in a similarly conflicted position.

Obligatory disclaimer: if you’re tempted to reply to this post debating whether it’s right to feel offended by Penny Arcade’s actions, or whether one should or should not attend PAX regardless, I’m going to go right out and say that this is not the place to do so. My reasons for seeking alternatives are my own, and I do not begrudge those who do still wish to attend either convention. I may yet change my mind, but it would take a ginormous, sincere Apology with a capital A (and non-apologies to appease people with money and influence don’t count) from Penny Arcade to sway me, and quite frankly, I highly doubt they’d care to go through the trouble for little ol’ me. They sell out of tickets pretty much every year, anyway. Plus, I’m not into censorship. Like I said, they’re free to keep right on offending people and being petulant man-children about it, if that’s what’s important to them. I’m just not going to give them any more support, financial or otherwise.

EDIT (2011-02-04): Since I didn’t make it clear before, ALL COMMENTS THAT DO NOT RESPECT THE ABOVE DISCLAIMER WILL BE DELETED. There are other places on the internet where you can debate whether it’s “okay” to be angry over this. This is not one of them.

  1. Don’t read the comments section unless you have enough of a stomach for creepy personal attacks and bad reading comprehension, though.
  2. I will admit that I’ve laughed at some of their stuff I’ve seen linked around, but the ratio of not-funny to funny is still way too high for me to pay them any mind.
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11 Responses to That thing with Penny Arcade (plus, better places than PAX in which to spend your time and money)

  1. Maverynthia says:

    Is the alt-Con (there’s an alt-ctrl delete pun in there somewhere) going to (hypothetically) have a policy against the Dickwolves shirts (or any other offensive and/or triggering shirt)? That could be written into the Anti-harassment policy (that I’m HOPING an alt-Con would have). It could even fall under “All shirts must be rated G, no exceptions!” for all the kids that might be at the event. Often I’ve seen shirts at conventions going “That’s not child appropriate..” as I see children walking by.

    I’d love to go to some of these however that are far out of my driving range, which put them out of my economic range to pay for the NOW inflated prices of flying and hotels. :x

  2. edmundito says:

    Not at all like PAX, but have you considered IndieCade? I heard it’s pretty good, there’s a ton of folks like us who just kind of want to make games for the glory of making them and not just for the whole business aspect, you’ll get a chance to socialize with these people, and it’s less corporate than other game conferences (such as GDC).

    I hope to be there this year.

  3. Maverynthia: I spoke to Max earlier regarding the anti-harassment policy; hopefully he can shed further light on that, and if there isn’t already an explicit G-rated t-shirt policy, help implement one. As I understand it, the organisers would be open to such suggestions.

    Edmundo: I’d love to go to Indiecade if time and money will allow it. I might even submit Life Flashes By to the festival. I’ve heard some very good things…

  4. Caitlin says:

    Great response to the whole situation, and thank you for talking about alternatives :) Looking forward to meeting you at GDC! (I’m also a CA.)

  5. Thanks, Caitlin! I look forward to meeting you too!

  6. Max Battcher says:

    Maverynthia: In terms of ConGlomeration, I’ve brought the PA situation before The Committee, and I’m sure that for the most part they are all busy right now with their various lives and real jobs. The response I’ve received has been entirely positive (as I certainly expected, no less). They are very serious about “family friendly” as an operating principle and I think they will take all concerns equally seriously. ConGlomeration’s “house rules” of respect and keeping things G/PG for the entire family during the day (and PG-13 for responsible properly matured adults during the nights) are reflected in its policies, but also a core part of its DNA (and the community of volunteers that run it and the diverse crowd of regulars that attend it). In 10-ish years they’ve only had to permanently oust a single person.

    I will permanently pass on any and all concerns that you may have. I do take a lot of personal responsibility in my very public “invite”. In all likelihood the ConGlomeration regulars and traditional sci-fi/fantasy convention goers will outnumber any that come from my invitation due to this “PAX diaspora”. However, I will feel guilty because if there are bad apples that will spoil this year’s ConGlomeration it will be most likely due to this situation and my personal invitation to the public and this virtual community that I prize and enjoy meeting whenever I can in person. I do feel some personal responsibility to do my best in the coming months to help ensure that things run smoothly and everyone feels safe and welcome. Ideas, questions, concerns or even an extra helping hand can all be directed at [email protected].

  7. Max Battcher says:

    Stupid fingers. This: “I will permanently pass on any and all concerns that you may have.” should have been “I will personally pass on any and all concerns that you may have.”

  8. Wyatt says:

    Where’s the East love!? Origins, MagFest, GenCon, Otakon (if you’re into that). And others?

  9. Not residing eastward makes it harder for me to know what’s going on over there. But thanks for letting me know; I’ll look into those!

  10. MXC says:

    I was directed to this post via Kirbybits and really love it. There are a lot of great gaming/geek conventions around that just don’t get their names out there nearly as much as the big guys.

    I’d like to also throw out a suggestion for Classic Gaming Expo. Their site hasn’t been updated since last year, which is a bit worrisome, but apparently the heads of the project have just gone scouting in Vegas for a possible new venue. They’ve been at it for 11 years now so I’m assuming they’ll be back again.

    This convention really isn’t a PAX alternative since it focuses quite heavily on retro games! However, basically anything that isn’t a current gen console is allowed (many people sold PS2/GC games for example). Or, even modern day systems get some respect when there are retro-inspired games released for them. Either way, this isn’t a replacement convention in the least but it’s amazingly fun. They set up a huge row of arcade machines, trading/selling tables, and have fantastic guests. Despite being in Vegas the convention is very down to earth and all ages can be seen checking it out.

  11. Thanks, MXC! I love classic games, so I will definitely read up on that expo!

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