Recently, I got to attend the first annual PAX South Convention in San Antonio, Texas thanks to the generosity of Lucas Lopera who was not able to go and sold his tickets to me, for which I am eternally grateful. Admittedly, I was both excited and a little nervous. This would be my first gaming convention and my second fandom convention in the 25+ years I have been alive. The last time I was at a fandom convention, I was 17 years old attending the anime convention Tekko (formerly known as Tekkoshocon) in Pittsburgh, where I am originally from. While I enjoyed Tekko, it was definitely during a time I was starting to get out of anime, and I spent a lot of time by myself because my friends were in cosplay competitions. I had pretty much decided at this point that I was not going to invest in conventions, and would just enjoy myself as a “fan away from fans.” But now that I am older, wiser, and surprisingly have more of my own money than I did when I was 17, I decided to give this convention thing another go.
As an academic in Game Studies, I was excited by the potential research opportunities that panels offer, the opportunity to check out new games, and most important of all, that I would buy all of the fun geeky things I could get my hands on! So when the opportunity arose for one of the biggest gaming conventions in the country to be right in my backyard, I jumped on the opportunity. Was it worth it? What did I think? Will I go back? If you were watching my Twitter feed, you probably know the answer to most of these questions, but I shall give you a detailed report on my experiences at PAX.
The first thing I did when I arrived at PAX was to attend the Women in Geek Girl Media panel. The panelists were Katey Houseman [Owner, Bitch Team Alpha], Brittney Brombacher [Creator, BlondeNerd.com], Danni Danger [Contributor, Weird Girls], Melissa Kay [Content Creator, Can’t Talk Media], Asia al-Massari [Content Creator, Bitch Team Alpha, and Set Phasers to Blog], and Mia Moore [Creator, XO Mia]. As someone who is starting to get into geek blogging with a potential podcast and Twitch stream in the future, I was extremely excited for this panel and thought the information learned here would be extremely valuable in the future. There was just one thing I had to conquer: waiting in line.
I should have remembered from the last time I went to a convention that standing and waiting in line for long periods of time was a thing, but the experience was so traumatic I must have blocked it from my memory. I had gotten to the panel room about an hour early just to stake it out for when the time came, and quickly realized a line was forming. So there I was, standing/sitting in line for an hour, waiting for an hour panel. Typically, for panels, the only reason you want to wait in line is because you want to sit in the front row or guarantee a seat for a panel event that will fill up real fast. I don’t really care about being in the front, but I do care about getting a seat. I have a bad case of severe plantar fasciitis, which will factor into the experience later. The EXPO Hall had already closed by the time I got there, so I just decided to wait in line since I didn’t know what else to do. This was the only panel I stood in line for, and even if I didn’t I still would have been given a seat, but I did get to be up front, which was pretty awesome.
As a newbie blogger and contributor, this panel was awesome and inspiring. Katey, Brittney, Danni, Melissa, Asia, and Mia are all fantastic women who produce awesome content and deal with a lot of crap from stupid people, particularly with the current state of gamer culture. Best of all, nobody was disrespectful to their work or harassed them during questioning, although it would have been very stupid for somebody to do so, considering the room was packed with supportive individuals. Mostly, the panel talked about their humble beginnings—the stage I am currently in right now–the importance of interacting with your audience, and branding. I am also pretty sure Asia al-Massari is my long lost friend in terms of personality. (For reals, Asia, if you’re reading this, we should be BFFs.) But all in all, it was a great reminder that despite the controversy of Gamergate and misogynistic gamer culture, there is definitely a strong support system for women, and there are a group of women who are helping to pave the way for young girl gamers everywhere.
On Saturday, I spent most of my time in the Expo Hall, checking out the potential new games. This is where I had a few problems because in order to play and participate at the Expo Hall, you had to stand in line for a long time. Because PAX South is so new, the average line time was 1.5 to 2 hours long. From what I understand, at PAX Prime and PAX East you can spend 8 hours in line. I like video games and all, but I really cannot think of anything that I would stand 8 hours in line for. Yes, I realize you do spend most of your time sitting in the line, but it’s still rough. As stated before, I have plantar fasciitis (I have crappy arches and an affinity for uncomfortable, but adorable shoes), so if I am going to be standing for a while, I do a lot of stretching and foot massaging exercises to prepare for the long haul—and even then it’s not enough.
For PAX South, I was woefully unprepared even though I had comfortable shoes on. Moreover, I cannot sit on the floor for very long either because my legs fall asleep very fast, so I decided at this PAX, I would observe from a distance while also getting my walking in. Of course, I did a lot of geeky shopping and was pretty satisfied with my purchases. My particular favorite was a TARDIS top hat I bought from The Blonde Swan. I am seriously considering wearing it to class one day for my students. I know for sure I am wearing it on my birthday.
One of the games I got to try out on the Expo floor was Nonadecimal’s indie game Social Justice Warrior. An 8-bit game, the player battles the trolls of the Internet who attempt to crush your reputation and your sanity. In typical video game fantasy style, you can play as a Social Justice Warrior, Social Justice Paladin, Social Justice Mage, or Social Justice Rouge. The different categories have different power ups and I highly recommend you try all four of them rather than stick to your typical fantasy class. The statements used by the trolls are actual quotations taken from social media (Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, 4chan, 8chan, etc.) and you must battle them one by one.
The game is extremely tongue-in-cheek, which I love, and I think it is an overall good representation of what battling trolls does to one’s sanity. One factor I really liked was the use of fallacies in the game. As a public speaking instructor, we actually talk about fallacies in my class, and I am considering using this game to teach them. I provided the game designers with a website that details a list of fallacies and descriptions in hopes that they will expand their repertoire. I also offered my services as a former speech and debate coach with any help in argumentation.
Social Justice Warrior has just been recently green lit for the Steam OS, but you can also buy the game from Nonadecimal’s website for only $3.00 (with a tip if you would like—I ended up paying $8.00 for the game to support them). Any FemHype reader would love this game (yes, I am aware that this is a fallacy, but you should play it anyway).
Another thing I got to try out for the first time was the Oculus Rift at the Louisiana State University Media Design and Engineering booth. As stated before, I don’t really stand in lines because of major foot pain, but this I was willing. I had a professor at a previous university explain to me the exceptionality of the Oculus Rift (she used it to explore the surroundings of Second Life), and was ecstatic to try it—even if I meant I would get motion sickness, which I unfortunately suffer from. However, on Saturday when I first wanted to try it out, I had to back out because my feet hurt so bad I was about to cry. I was determined to set a time for myself on Sunday where my feet would be well-rested and massaged to prepare for the arduous wait. So on Sunday, I spent about 45 minutes waiting in line for the Oculus Rift, which is still short for most gaming lines.
I am so glad I waited. The Oculus Rift is one of the most amazing technological devices I have used aside from my first smartphone! The experience of it was very surreal and I almost bought one online when I got home from PAX. One of the coolest things I got to do was explore the Moon and Mars, which, as a space and science geek, was like crack-mixed pixie sticks. If there were not a huge line waiting behind me, I would have stayed there for about ten more minutes exploring the Oculus Rift surroundings. Admittedly, I got a little woozy, but having control of where I was going helped out a lot.
I am already in talks with my professors to see if the department could possible fund one or two Oculus Rifts for our gaming lab on campus. I have learned recently that Microsoft is working on a prototype that will compete with the Oculus Rift, which makes me excited. It means other companies are seriously invested in this type of technology, which leads to more research in gaming development and technological application. Overall, the Oculus Rift gets an A+ and even if you are prone to motion sickness like me, I highly recommend giving it a try with a game or program where you have all of the control (perhaps a simulator where you move and nothing pops out).
After trying out the Oculus Rift on Sunday, I went to my second panel. Of three panels I attended at PAX, the Games Criticism panel was by far one of the most interesting and rewarding in terms of research. Panelists included Tyler Coleman [Creative Director, Retora Game Studios], Matthew Nowacki [Designer, DSGA], Alex Nichiporchik [CEO, Tiny Build], Tristan Moore [Creative Director, Broken Window Studios], Gordon Walton [Co-Founder, Art Craft Entertainment], and Omar L. Gallaga [Technology and Culture Reporter, Statesman]. By trade, I am an Organizational Rhetorician, which basically means I study the messages, narratives, and cultures of organizations. My interest lies in how gameful design (and the promotion of it) can potentially help organizational cultures, but I am also interested in the gaming industry as a whole. So a panel of this nature is like crack to me.
In fact, it was so fascinating that I attempted to live tweet it (‘attempt’ being the key word because I was abysmal and I humbly apologize to anybody who was following my tweets). The discussion mostly focused on how gamers and the industry primarily focus on reviews and gaming scores, particularly focusing on Metacritic as the be-all, end-all of gaming critique. It was concluded that most gamers rely on the feedback of friends, Twitch streamers, and YouTube gamers for their decision to buy a game, though having a binary score did supplement a decision. This takeaway meant that the “experience” of the gamer was by far a better judgment of a game than a score itself, and that gamers should take into the consideration the overall review of the game.
For example, this past week I downloaded and played Brianna Wu’s Revolution 60. As a person who doesn’t really play mobile games, I am already pretty biased, and based on the graphics and gameplay, I have to admit if I were reviewing Revolution 60, I would have probably given it a low score. However, the plot, characters, and acting are phenomenal! Seriously, it might be one of the better narratives I have seen in a game, and that was a huge part of the experience for me. I will probably write a bit more about Revolution 60 in another post, but it is the best example I can provide on how gamer experience can provide better understanding of a game.
As with the Women in Geek Girl Media panel, everybody was respectful to the panelist and had excellent attitudes. This panel also really helped with my research in terms of a future doctoral dissertation. The panelists were also very nice in talking with me after the panel, and a few of them have followed me on Twitter. I had a really excellent conversation with Matthew Nowacki about the video game Epic Mickey where he was one of the game designers. In college, I actually did a competitive speech on the game and the message it sends in re-creating the Mickey Mouse creator. I also made an argument in the speech that the game functioned as an interactive museum, which Matthew was really impressed with. My hope is to eventually make my speech into an academic paper, and Matthew has offered any help I might need, and to share my paper with Warren Spector, the creator of Epic Mickey, which is a huge “Achievement Unlocked” for me!
The final panel I went to—which ended up being the last thing I did at PAX—was attending a very small panel on how gaming can help with illness, presented by Joshua Adam Turner [Co-Administrator, Writer, PR Manager, and Community Manager, Christian Gamer]. Though small in terms of audience, I think everyone benefitted emotionally from this panel, and hearing Joshua’s story reminded us that there can be safe spaces in gaming, and there are people in the culture who are more than willing to support you, whatever the issue. I think what was very rewarding about Joshua’s panel is that during the Q&A portion, he offered up the opportunity to not only ask questions about his experiences and gaming, but to provide their own stories. Many gamers took this opportunity, a few admitting that they had experienced depression, physical illness, and thoughts of suicide. One participant admitted that they had considered suicide only weeks before, but used PAX as motivation to keep going. In a judgment-free zone, it was amazing to experience the vulnerability of these gamers, and a reminder that behind the avatars, Twitch chats, and tweets, there are living, breathing human beings with feelings, emotions, and ambitions. So often we get caught up in the fantasy and anonymity of gaming that we forget this, and I am glad I was able to be part of a panel that reminded us of the humanity in gaming. I only wish there were more people who attended.
The final area of note at PAX South was the inclusion of the Diversity Room, which has been the subject of controversy at previous PAX conventions (I have no idea what the plural of PAX is). There were only five exhibitors in the room, but all of them illustrated important facets of diversity in geek culture. Take This! and The AbleGamer Charity were in attendance (and I had an interesting conversation with one of the workers of AbleGamers on their recent DDoS attack), as well as HavenCon, the first LGBTQ+ gaming convention in Texas, which will take place over Easter weekend in Austin. The last exhibitor I got to talk to sold LGBTQ+ comics which were awesome—so awesome that I completely forgot the name of the exhibitor and I feel absolutely terrible, so if you are reading this article and know what organization I am talking about please email me so I can update this post.
In summary, for my first gaming convention I had an excellent time! San Antonio, by the way, is also an awesome city, and during the times I was not at the convention site, I spent the rest of it touring the area (the Alamo is walking distance from the convention center and the area as a whole is really inexpensive in comparison to similar sized cities). I am really glad to hear that PAX South will stay in San Antonio!
While at the convention, I really got to expand my network connections. Even though I was at the convention by myself, gamers were more than willing to hold conversations or go to lunch with me. I had an awesome lunch with tehbeardedgamer, who basically informed me how Twitch works and dealt with me being painfully shy when first meeting new people. I also got to meet the gaming club of Texas A&M, “Cepheid Variable,” who now know where I work and will be looking for me at AggieCon. Best of all, everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves and having a good time. Based on what I experienced, there was no big Gamergate rally that I know of (although I did hear of one fight that took place in the Expo Hall, but it was probably over a game), no harassment, and no checking geek credibility. PAX South seemed to be what every gaming convention should be: a place to celebrate gaming, regardless of your skill, knowledge, or even your interest.
I saw plenty of people bring their partners (or if they were younger, their parents) to the convention that had no interest in gaming. They also seemed to be having an excellent time! The diversity of attendees was stunning, and perhaps it can open the eyes of developers that cis, straight, white men is only one part of the industry. More importantly, it gave me hope for a brighter future in gaming culture. Gamer trolls, misogynists, racists, and bigots are desperate, small in size, and they know it. That is why they are so militant in their actions. When the Internet gets you down, the people that attended PAX can cheer you up. I am not saying PAX is perfect—it has had its own set of diversity troubles with Penny Arcade creators saying homophobic and transphobic arguments in the past, which forced Gone Home to drop out from PAX. However, in my experience, it brought a lot of diverse gamers together, and I only expect it to grow from here.
So, yes, next year I will be attending PAX South and I really hope you can make it as well. By then, my hope is to really have established a brand for myself as a blogger and Twitter geek. Perhaps by then I will have a podcast up and I might be called to speak on a panel. There is one thing though that I will be doing next PAX. Next time, I am bringing a camping chair to sit and wait in line. I don’t care if anybody calls me weak … they’re just jealous!