The Greatness of Gamer Culture – Reflections On PAX East 2011

Posted: March 31, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

Hey, all.

This is obviously a ways past PAX East 2011 discussion in most of the world, and in this blog as well (Cynthia’s talked about PAX East 2011 quite extensively.).  I, however, want to talk about both what I feel is the core theme of PAX and the greatest message/lesson I took away from PAX East 2011 (my first convention, PAX or otherwise).  In the last couple months, I’ve had dozens of people end up asking the question of “What’s PAX?” when I try to tell them what I was doing over spring-break.  My answer almost always ended up with “it’s the geek culture convention.”  That is the essence of PAX for me: it’s a place where all geeks/nerds/gamers/whatever can come together and talk about those things we love, principally: gaming.  Whether you’re a tabletop gamer, a video gamer, a card gamer, a LARPer, a wargamer, a cosplayer…  it is the place where you can find others who share that beloved hobby and even more that are anxiously willing to learn about that type of gaming.  It is a culture where people work together, succeed together, play together.  My fellow PAXers were friendly, polite, and earnest in our shared enjoyment.  I could look across the writhing sea of 65,000 attendees (quite a sight for me, when my highschool graduating class was 32 people… Yes, I’m from a truly small town.) and know “These are my people.” It’s strange, even to me, to use this sort of ethnographic terms, but I can’t adequately express it in any other ways.  These are my comrades in arms, my compatriots in crime, my fellow players of games…  I could strike up a conversation with any random passerby and we could, within the first minute, be talking about an aspect of gaming we both loved.  Hell, there were even other White Wolf lovers there.  I’m an introvert by nature, though perhaps not as bad as the old stereotypes of geeks and gamers, but there was this nearly palpable air of commonality that allowed me to be an extrovert for the weekend.  It let, from my observations, everyone be an extrovert for the weekend.  We wore our gaming-hearts on our sleeves, shirts, hats, scarves, everything.  We were ready to be together in this corporeal way that is often so distant from our hobby, but lent an arcane vitality to the orchestration of Great Meta-Being That Is PAX-Attendees.

The message I gained, the lesson I learned, from PAX East 2011 was one that directly connects to this “geek culture.”  Let me first start out by stating, in case I haven’t before, that I am a Philosophy and Religion major at my university, graduating this May.  As a lover-of-wisdom, I’ve had extensive exposure to all sorts of perspectives, particularly ones that deal with social justice (my specialty is Ethics, which I feel is very connected).  I do not, however, always see everything I do in that social-justice light, something I always endeavor to remedy.  Cynthia and I attended several incredibly interesting panels at PAX that brought up issues that I had either never considered or never contemplated in appropriate depth.  Two I will directly discuss here “The ‘Other’ Us: If We’re All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter? and “One of Us.”  The former was about (obviously) gender in gaming and feminism.  The later was about various marginalized groups (represented on the panel by gaygamer.net and ablegamers.com and a feminist site I can’t recall off the top of my head, but will put in the comments soon).

The first and most shocking thing about “The ‘Other’ Us: If We’re All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter?” was in its description: They asserted that “feminism” was being used as a “bad word,” and, honestly, I have to agree that it often is.  This is perhaps my biggest “what the fuck” moment.  I told you earlier that I was a philosophy major for this very reason.  Feminism is a broad field, containing many different perspectives.  “Feminism” at its heart, however, refers to the belief that women are equals and should be treated as such.  Radical, I know.  If you disagree with that basic premise, I’m tempted to just say “f.o.a.d.”, but will try to just say… “Really?”  Women are a growing percentage of the gaming community, one that needs to be represented in the content that the industry produce.  Strong male and strong female characters are great.  Something like Dead or Alive volleyball is just a pile of garbage.  I expect better.  We as gamers should all expect more.

The latter panel, “One of Us,” was principally about those gamers which do not fit remotely into the typical image of a gamer.  Though I am rather close to the typical image (lanky, dark-haired, bespectacled, introverted, wordy, big into reading), my interest in social justice philosophy and practice made it highly alluring.  Essentially: as gamers, we often identify only as gamers and don’t necessarily associate as disabled gamers or homosexual gamers or female gamers or a number of other marginalized groups.  We, I would like to think, don’t generally like when people throw around language like “fag,” “cripple,” etc.   We do, however, (and, yes, even I, unfortunately, do this) put up with it, silently accepting it.  We need to speak up when this language is used and point out that this behavior isn’t something we’re willing to standby passively and allow anymore.  Those who utilize it will be educated, ostracized, or whatever it takes to make it clear that we will not tolerate that sort of intolerance.  “F.O.A.D.” isn’t the best reaction in the long run, but often ostracization is needed to create the motivation for them to accept the education in why these things aren’t acceptable.

I would like to personally ask anyone reading this: If you see me use marginalizing/derogatory language, call me on it.  None of us can see all of our embedded, ingrained prejudices, we need others to help us make those initial realizations.  I am, by this post, resolving to more actively call people on their poor practices.  I won’t accept it in my guild, in my friends, in my games.  I’m not going to ignore the reality of such things as sexism or racism, they exist and important messages about them need to be discussed.  I’m not going to instantly /boot anyone who crosses a line, but I am going to make it clear, once they do, that I don’t find that acceptable behavior and, subsequently, explain why.  Education is the best weapon against ignorance; compassion the greatest weapon against hatred.  This doesn’t mean, however, that we should passively let the “trolls” of our culture dictate our public image as gamers, geeks, nerds, human beings.

Keep on fighting,

~ Mr. Pacman

(William/Raparth)

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