The PAX diversity lounge vs the benefit of the doubt

According to an Indiestatik report on some leaked documents today, PAX is introducing a special “Roll for Diversity hub and lounge” at events – a place “to provide a resource hub for PAX attendees in relation to marginalized communities within the gaming audience”. According to the post, “It will be a hub for communication, networking and, hopefully, an increased understanding of issues facing these communities every day and the promotion of a tolerant, safe space within PAX.” Which is… interesting.

From the post:

Despite the proposal documents mentioning these spaces to be part of a continued effort “to provide a safe and welcoming environment,” in labeling an entire, separate little village as the “diverse” space, I think you’re running into a lot of potential problems, even if the experience is supposed to be focused on non-judgmental learning. For instance, why can’t the entire PAX space be explicitly marked as a safe space? Why does it appear that this is going to be the only area where someone might not feel threatened because of their ‘biological gender?’

There are the added concerns about the “diversity specialists” on hand to teach people about diversity in the gaming industry. Who are they, and who is vetting them? Why have these individuals been chosen to specifically represent queer gamers or woman gamers, or gamers of color? And why does the promotional registration policy for the diversity lounge seem so draconian?

(Quick disclaimer: I’ve not been able to verify this story myself, so I’m relying on Indiestatik’s source & reporting for the facts here. I don’t have any reason to doubt them. If that changes, I’ll update this post.)

The diversity lounge isn’t just one tone-deaf response to the need to build an inclusive space and a diverse community at PAX – although it is remarkably tone-deaf, given that presumably one of the things this space will be safe from is the remarks of one of the company’s founders. The issue isn’t just that hiving diversity and safety off into a small space is strange when you control the rest of the space and could, presumably, decide to make it all safe and all inclusive. It’s not just one iffy approach that needs a bit of work. The problem is the context.

The context is that, since the start of the dickwolves stuff, there have been – what, five? six? – let’s say, a lot of incidents where Penny Arcade or at least one of its founders have gone through this cycle. It goes like this: do something dodgy, get called out, apologise (sometimes with a greater degree of sincerity than others). There’s an optional fourth step where they take back the apology or go on to do something else equally dodgy that demonstrates none of the criticism’s been taken on board.

And those are just the things they’ve been called out on – at some point presumably someone with some diversity training will take them up on their persistent use of “crazy-person level of attention to detail” in their job posts, for instance, but while that level of casual cluelessness remains on show it’s pretty much impossible to take their organisational approach to inclusivity very seriously.

This isn’t just one thing. It’s a pattern of behaviour – a hypocritical one that seeks the right to continue to do stupid, harmful stuff under a consumer-friendly cloak of vague respectability, as though the word “sorry” means more than not doing it again. Right now, none of PAX’s critics are going to take a half-hearted, tone-deaf “diversity lounge” as anything other than a hilariously bad joke at best and a disaster waiting to happen at worst. Even if it’s well intentioned. Because that’s what so many of their other half-hearted, tone-deaf approaches to diversity have turned out to be.

For this to work the way it needs to work, for it to be a positive space that can provide practical benefits for people traditionally excluded by events like PAX, it needs a lot of goodwill from the same people who’ve been hurt by PAX in the past – the devs, the game designers, the public speakers, those with personal knowledge and professional expertise, the people who’ve been put off and dismissed in public by the event’s founders.  The people who say they won’t be there at all, never mind corralled in a small safe space.

PAX needs to prove that it’s broken the pattern. It needs the benefit of the doubt. The problem is that Penny Arcade has never once proved that it deserves it.

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Mary Hamilton

I'm an operations specialist, analytics nerd, recovering journalist, consultant, writer, game designer, company founder, and highly efficient pedant.

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