An unidentified source leaked documents of an upcoming plan for future Penny Arcade Expos called The Roll for Diversity Hub and Lounge, which was confirmed by Robert Khoo of Penny Arcade. The purpose of this lounge is to provide a space that will “exist as a resource for PAX Attendees to find information related to issues surrounding women, LGBTQ, people of colour, disabled people, and mental health issues in gaming.” It also promises to be a setting focused on diversity with Safe Zone training and for attendees to “meet people from diverse communities.”
At first, this seems like an excellent step, considering the reputation of Penny Arcade’s co-founder Mike Krahulik, whose stated transphobic opinions on his Twitter and encouraged rape jokes with the “Dickwolves” controversy.
The details of the Diversity Lounge are troubling from the document alone, but even after clarification from Robert Khoo I still have concerns over the Lounge.
For starters, this attempt at promoting inclusivity calls for the opposite. It separates attendees into a binary, further othering marginalized groups who already feel uncomfortable in corporate gaming culture. It also raises questions about the environment of the main space at PAX. Does the main event not have room for discussing social concerns and identity politics?
These myriad of problems come to a head when it comes to discussing social spaces. We have to ask ourselves: what constitutes as space, and who owns it?
A lot of rhetoric about including marginalized groups in gaming assumes that the space does not initially belong to them, and that is part of the problem. It’s a conditioned response to want to include others into environments without realizing that they are already a part of that environment, and that assumption can be exceptionally toxic to them. There have always been people with different identities and bodies creating and playing games, and they’ve always been a part of this culture, whether by presence alone or by controversies surrounding their presence.
We’ve all been sharing the same space, but it’s riddled with parasitic language and harassment. Creating a safe space for people isn’t about physically shoving them into their own bubble and hoping for the best; it’s about changing the space you’re already sharing with them to be safer.
Integrating the “diverse” games, speakers, panels, booths, and tables to the main event is essential for PAX to start moving towards the right direction. This pushes diversity into visibility rather than tucking it away to sort out its own problems. The co-founders and organizers of PAX should be rebuilding the broken space they already have, and that takes more than implementing policies and special lounges. Some critics have already come up with great ideas on Twitter with the hashtag #HowToFixPAX, including anti-oppression seminars and hiring diversity consultants.
Change is active and requires everyone to constantly work at it to see the differences. Placing people in a bubble to talk amongst themselves about why they already hate being in a bubble is hardly a step forward; it’s a few steps back. We have to be accountable for our peers in this space, and that includes shifting our behaviours and interactions so that everyone can safely play.