The Rather Lengthy PAX Recap

I’ve been home sick for the past several days, fighting off some sort of rather nasty convention plague. I have, for the time being, been fortunate enough to manage avoiding the dreaded H1N1 that appears to have reached over a hundred fellow con-goers, which is a small consolation, I suppose. (EDIT: turns out I was indeed one of the H1N1 sufferers, but fortunately, the worst is over!) As I intimated on Twitter, I have reason to believe that EA’s Dante’s Inferno marketing campaign probably has something to do with this particular outbreak. After all, no other company is both rich and foolhardy enough to hire the services of Pestilence himself, right?

Anyway, now that I’m at least coherent enough to make it through a blog post, I figured I’d give all you folks watching at home that PAX recap I promised earlier. Suffice to say, if there’s anything out there that’s worth getting this sick over, this year’s PAX was definitely it, at least for me. I came carrying several months of anger at the video game industry and frustration about the future of my career, and left feeling newly invigorated and hopeful about where life will take me next. Not an easy effect to have on me, I tell you.

The panels I spoke on went far better than I anticipated. I was a bit nervous about doing them, worrying that I’d either say too much of the wrong things or not say enough at all. For the Girls and Games panel in particular, I was seated next to three women, [1] each with far more industry experience than I’ve got, all the while wondering what I could possibly say that wouldn’t get me classed as an overly-idealistic raving madwoman or worse. Nevertheless, the fact that we managed to attract a packed house was somewhat comforting; there are people out there who actually care about issues surrounding women in games, so I guess that’s something.

One interesting point that was brought up during the Q&A was that of creating games for women in an activist sense versus creating games for women in a business sense. I found this fascinating, considering that most industry talk on the subject falls squarely in the latter category, in the sense of “there’s this whole untapped market of women that we need to target in juuust the right way, and once we do, we’ll be swimming in a pool of cash of Scrooge McDuck proportions” and while I’m in no way opposed to making money, I’ve always thought that the reason for games being created by and for women ought to be, first and foremost, because women are human beings and therefore deserve to have their voices heard in the gaming world. This is the sentiment I also see on a lot of feminist gamer blogs, and I hope I managed to give it its due representation.

Another thought that came to mind as I was speaking was the question of why there aren’t very many women writing indie games, a question I’m still trying to wrap my head around, in all honesty. [2] After all, I myself got my start in the industry through the indie scene, and while not everyone who does the indie thing winds up in the world of commercial game development, it’s still, in my opinion, the easiest means of self-expression through gameplay that we’ve got at this point in time. Is it that girls and women don’t have a desire to develop indie games in the first place, or that they do and simply don’t know where to find the tools and resources to do so, or is it simply a matter of not having enough free time, whether due to other, more important commitments or to society’s expectations of how a woman must spend her free time? Or is it some other reason entirely? One thing’s for sure: I’d most certainly like to find out, and try my best to do whatever I can to help others down this path.

The Murder, Sex, & Drugs panel was also a jolly lark, and kudos to my friend and object of fandom Corvus Elrod for putting it all together. I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable at first about the idea of speaking alongside a guy who works for Playboy, but I managed to give it a shot regardless, and as it turns out, Damon Brown is a lovely, soft-spoken, thoughtful man with plenty of interesting things to say. [3] The other panelists were my long-time internet forum buddy Max Battcher, my coworker Nels Anderson, and the legendary former game journalist N’Gai Croal, all of whom did a fantastic job of discussing mature subject matter in games and how it can be dealt with more effectively.

There was a point that Nels (I think) made about how, for games to be more maturely-themed — and by this we mean really mature, not superficial M-for-Mature blood ‘n boobies — gamers themselves need to demand more of the content in the games they play; after all, the excuses developers and publishers make are all about them supplying whatever the demand is. While I’m slightly sceptical of this being the entire answer, particularly considering that marketing types have a certain myopic tendency to dismiss data that doesn’t fit their expectations as “flukes” or “outliers”, [4] I’m glad to see that this sort of grassroots movement for taking games seriously is already happening to a degree on blogs, forums, and the Twitterverse. Gaming hasn’t yet reached that renaissance many of us have been itching for, but we’re certainly getting closer and closer.

The DeathSpank booth wound up impressing the vast majority of PAX-goers as well, a pleasant added surprise for me. When you work on a project full-time for long enough, it becomes very easy to forget about its good points and fixate on all of its problems. Watching people seeing the game for the first time and gaping in awe helped remind me why I wanted to work on it so badly in the first place. Well, that and Ron‘s keynote, which I had the pleasure of watching backstage as I ran his slideshow presentation. It’s comforting to know that at least one industry bigwig believes in the whole games as art thing.

I also had the opportunity to watch a concert featuring the illustrious Jonathan Coulton, managed to have a variant of Corvus’s Honeycomb Engine partially named after me, and even had a cute little photo op with my newest fan club. Of course, what truly made my weekend was, above all else, the people I got to talk to and spend time with both during the con and after hours. From friends I already knew in meatspace but hadn’t seen enough of in a while, to friends whose words I’d only read on the internet and could up until then only admire from afar, to complete strangers who somehow resonated enough with what I had to say on stage or amongst the company of others to come over and chat, simply knowing that there are other people out there who share a passion for emotionally meaningful video games and a hope for a brighter future for our industry makes the road I walk feel like a far less lonely one. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, one I already know I’d be more than happy to relive over and over again.

Well, except for the getting sick part, anyway.

  1. Namely, Annie Vandermeer Carlson of DoubleBear Productions, Cindy Armstrong of WebWars, and Senta Jakobsen of DICE.
  2. This question was actually brought up by MusEditions in the comments to a previous post, and I’ve been chewing on it ever since.
  3. There was a point when Damon started referring to Custer’s Revenge for the Atari 2600 as the first sex game. I forcefully interrupted him saying “Not sex. RAPE. Of a NATIVE AMERICAN WOMAN.” He then nodded deferentially and said “Yes.” I couldn’t have asked for a better response.
  4. See, for instance, how film execs rationalise unexpected box office successes such as Titanic.
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7 Responses to The Rather Lengthy PAX Recap

  1. I felt the same way in that I was starting to get discouraged at the state of the game industry until meeting lots of like-minded folks at PAX. There’s so much I want to write about, but will first have to wait for my sickness to subside.

  2. Heh, I’ll own the quip, yeah ;) PAX was definitely epic this year. Sorry I missed your other panel, but someone had to keep that DS booth rockin’.

    Feel better!

  3. Vince Twelve says:

    A lovely round up! Thanks Deirdra! Hope you’re back on your feet soon!

  4. Lee says:

    Sounds like it was a fantastic event. Glad you had such a great weekend. I told you there were people out there waiting for you.

    Hope you get better soon, dear.


  5. Brinstar says:

    I thought you made a lot of good points on the Murder Sex and Drugs panel, and I’m so glad you pointed out the rape thing when someone brought up Custer’s Last Stand. I hate it when people don’t call rape out for what it really is.

    Glad you had a good time at PAX. Sorry we didn’t get any time to speak at all, but it was good to meet you. :-)

  6. Brinstar says:

    Custer’s Revenge, my apologies. BTW, I was the one who started off the rounds of applause after you corrected Damon. ;)

  7. Rikard says:

    Fun hat! (I saw you in Old Grandma Hardcore’s PAX report.) Also, get well soon.