The Diversity Lounge – PAX East 2017

Note: This is another LONG post.

There’s an experience I failed to mention in my post about PAX East, and I felt that I really owed it to the Diversity Lounge to give it its own post. I’ve worked in the Diversity Lounge selling my wares at three PAX conventions now (South 2016, East 2016, and East 2017), and while I have enjoyed my time selling at the previous two, I feel like I actually took the time to be a part of the Lounge this time. My time spent there was unique to that room, and has made me more determined to become a more active voice for representation in the community.

I’ll preface this by talking a little bit about my own identity, which I am super public about on my less professional platforms such as twitter and tumblr, but less so on my website or fanpage. I’ve been identifying and out as bisexual since 2004. It feels a little silly to me to realize you like girls because of a video game, but seeing Morrigan from Darkstalkers when I was 10 was the first time I’d really considered it. It wasn’t until high school that I learned that bisexuality was a thing and it had a word. Even still, while out, I didn’t become largely vocal about my sexuality until my 20s, when my friend group changed again and suddenly almost everyone I knew was not-straight.

Ooo dang, those pixels

My gender is a different issue. A few years ago, if you’d asked me, I would’ve told you I was a woman without hesitation. Questioning my own gender wasn’t something I’d really considered. As my friend circle continued to grow, so did my awareness of gender not as a binary but more of a spectrum. People did not have to fit into “man” or “woman.” Last spring I started coming out as a “demigirl” (partially identifying as a woman/girl/feminine, but not wholly). I felt that word pretty much described how I felt in my body and as a person. Kind-of a girl? But also not a girl. More of…not a binary gender. Girl/agender. And it worked, for a while. More and more I found I was just referring to myself as “nonbinary,” or “nonbinary femme,” and that felt more right. And then for National Coming Out Day, I made an Instagram post about being bisexual and nonbinary, and have been coming out (again) since.

Because asari are also nonbinary and bi, yeah?

What does this have to do with the Diversity Lounge? If you’ve never been to the Lounge at any of the PAX events, it’s a place for those who don’t quite fit the expected demographic of gaming events (cis straight able-bodied white men) to share their creations, events, and ideas. It’s a safe space for those who might not necessarily feel safe in spaces that are heavily dominated by that demographic. It’s PAX telling marginalized people that they are trying to be more inclusive. My role in the Diversity Lounge is usually to sell my things as a queer creator, and (try to) talk to people about LGBT HQ on behalf of Jay Justice when she’s not there. While that part didn’t change, I did also make an effort to talk to other creators in the room, and also to…sort-of exist as an openly queer individual at this event.

What does that mean? For starters, I actually talked to the folks at the Toronto Gaymers, who I’ve seen at a few events but for some reason, despite being from Toronto, I’ve never really approached them or attended their events. I bought a shirt! It’s pretty great. I spoke to the AbleGamers and learned what they’re about, and signed up to be apart of their fundraising initiatives to purchase special controllers for disabled gamers. And I sat behind the table and talked to the people who came by. If you Google the Diversity Lounge, some of the first results are talking about whether or not there’s actually a need for it. I want to respond with a resounding YES. There is no other place at the convention where I saw people of all genders, of all races, of all ages, of varying levels of ability, more or less OUT and comfortable. Maybe on the showfloor someone might hide part of their identity because, let’s face it, the gaming community can be pretty unwelcoming. But in the Lounge, these were their people. They were welcome, they were home. And I felt that connection with so many of the people that walked in the doors. And it was just so good. And so important.

It’s a good shirt.

The Diversity Lounge is a necessary and meaningful space. I’d love to see more spaces like it at other conventions. You can’t guarantee a convention is going to be safe for everyone. You can try, and you absolutely should, but unfortunately, shit happens. Give marginalized people a place they can exist without fear of violence.

PAX East 2017 Writeup

Note: This is a LONG post.

Travelling 700 miles by bus is a task. I’ve been told that I must really like the event to spend 17 hours on several different buses to attend, but that’s not entirely true. The weekend prior to PAX East, when many of my friends were attending Emerald City Comicon, I was filled with so much longing. The last time I saw many of them was PAX South at the end of January. ECCC is my favourite convention. I love the people, the location (Seattle!), and the event itself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it happen. Instead, watching my friends have a blast through their social media feeds, I became determined to make PAX East work. And I did.

The weekend started with a hiccup, as they do sometimes. Being unable to connect with anyone to hang out with when my bus arrived, I panicked. I immediately wondered if it was worth it, and my brain started working through backup plans. I finished changing at the bus station, deciding that I would check my bags there and wander the city alone, when I received a message from friends who’d just gotten in. I didn’t have to spend the day before con alone.

At the event itself, I spent a decent amount of time on the show floor, looking at merchandise and the demos available. A few that caught my eye that I wasn’t able to play were Rain World, Dauntless, The American Dream, and A Cat’s Manor. I kept eyeing the Brawlhalla booth, which I’d tried at PAX South and absolutely loved, but it was busy every time I went by. Fortunately, it’s free on Steam, so I definitely recommend checking it out.

I made a Nug kigu so Jayuna wore her Leliana with me. Perfect!

I attended two panels that weekend: the highly anticipated Mass Effect: Andromeda panel, which was Bioware’s return to the convention panel rooms, and Foreplay: Romance in Games which is a crowd favourite (though only my first time attending it).

I didn’t take too many notes during the Mass Effect panel, being totally enamoured with the content they were showing. The game looked stunning. Before attending the panel I was pretty excited for ME: A, but I didn’t have it pre-ordered and figured I would pick it up later. After the panel, my need for this game increased exponentially and I made a note to immediately pre-order it when I returned home. We got to see a bunch of Liam’s loyalty mission, and aside from being visually stunning, it brought back one of my favourite things about Bioware games: the banter. The character interactions between Ryder, Cora, and Liam were natural and entertaining. I have an undying love for witty character banter, and these scenes delivered. I’m so excited to play it myself, having made a single tweet during the panel: “So horny for this one.”

On the flip side, I took a page full of notes during the Romance in Games panel, most of which don’t make any cohesive sense. My favourite part of the panel was the very beginning, during the introductions, when fanfiction snuck its way into the conversation. The door swung open and a booming voice called out a greeting. Mike Laidlaw (creative director for Dragon Age at Bioware) had entered the room in the most dramatic fashion possible. He made his way onto the stage, saying he had one question for Arden, and pulled off his top shirt to reveal, “DO YOU EVEN RIFT BRO?” underneath. He posed triumphantly. The crowd went wild. It was the single greatest introduction to a panel I’d ever seen.

Taken by @emiliym

A few key concepts from the panel that I’m able to decipher from my scattered notes include data from a study on the three most important factors of video games to the two binary genders. Men prefer games with elements of Destruction, Competition, and Completion. Women prefer their games to have elements of Collection, Completion, and Customization. This data is important for figuring out where the similarities lie in order to market games to a wider audience. Another concept from my notes is the idea of stress reactions. We’re used to the idea of “Fight or Flight,” but there’s another key decision we make in situations, which is “Tend or Befriend.” You see a lot more video games giving you options that lean to that side, with a little more caring and a little more heart, and it’s really nice to see. “Romance in books is massive, why isn’t it in video games?”

The panelists mentioned a few of their favourite romances and relationships in video games such as Delilah of Firewatch, and the mentor/pop idol relationship in Yakuza 5. Much of the panel was currently playing My Horse Prince, which is a free dating game app where you…date a horse with a man’s face. Kind-of. They also had good things to say about the Kitty Powers Matchmaker series, which I’ve made a note to check out.

The aforementioned Arden is also the writer of Date or Die, which was demoing in the Visual Novel Room. I stopped by and picked up We Know the Devil, after having heard overwhelmingly positive reviews from my friends. And really, at $5, how could I not? They also had Ladykiller in a Bind, which I actually own and have started, and A Normal Lost Phone, which I had actually just received from the IndieBox booth (a monthly subscription box for Indie games, which sounds pretty cool).

I stopped by the Firewatch booth twice, despite having not played it yet (listen, my backlog is ridiculous). A friend of mine was working the booth, which was my original reason for stopping by, and they also had a photobooth. Photobooths are by far my favourite PAX activity, and the best way to get me to stop by your booth. The Assassin’s Creed movie booth also had a greenscreen for photos, which was super cool! The staff working it were super friendly, and even let me get into costume over my bulky Nug suit.

There’s always the moments after the convention where regret sets in, from not enough time spent with people you wanted to see, from the people you missed entirely, from the things you wanted to do but didn’t find time for. But when I look back at the weekend, it was perfect. It’s hard to make all the connections work, and we did our best, and it turned out great. For the first time since my first PAX East in 2012, I felt like I actually attended the convention.

I travelled 700 miles by bus because I was lonely. And it was totally worth it.

Shout out to Jayuna aka Jackie for being awesome!

New Year! Con o’clock!

I don’t have the highest of expectations for 2017. Let’s be real, the world as a whole is kinda going to hell. I keep looking on the bright side of things though, which is that the complete shock of 2016 being so so bad has prepared me for whatever 2017 throws at me. Go through hell, come out stronger. Nice.

I attended PAX South again this year, and had a complete blast. I mostly hung out with Sam, Mae, and Mike, and it was so chill? No big parties, which I do enjoy sometimes, but lots of dinners and drinks. I wore Pidge from Voltron on both Friday and Sunday, because it was just the perfect casual costume, and the idea of Pidge at a gaming convention brings me so much joy. Sam and I did up our Asari makeup on Saturday for a few hours (mostly for Mike’s panel and lunch). Costumes went over great and sorta made me feel a little more of the positivity I used to get from cosplay. Lots of people yelling out “PIDGE! YOU LOOK GREAT!” And otherwise general good feelings from people being excited to see the characters.

Pidge selfies. Me, Mae, and Sam, being super classy

I met some awesome new folk and got to talk a lot about Voltron, Yuri on Ice, and just general queerness in media which is definitely one of my favourite things. Also got to spend more time with people I only met briefly last year, and admire a lot (Hybrid Cosplay – check them out!), and actually played games on the con floor! (I recommend Brawlhalla. It’s easy to pick up and play, and it’s free! It’s on Steam right now and coming to PS4 soon with both local and online multiplayer? Nice.) I picked up some tabletop games I was looking forward to: Simon’s Cat, which I had tested last year, and One Deck Dungeon, which a friend worked on and features five different (ONLY) female characters of varying races.

I stayed an extra day after the con because of cheaper flights, and treated myself to a day out at the San Antonio Zoo. It was really great spending some alone time after a weekend of people, and doing things entirely at my own pace. I took HUNDREDS of pictures which I don’t know if I’ll ever get through, and I got to FEED A GIRAFFE. We took a selfie together.

One of the best con weekends I’ve ever had, and I don’t think I would’ve changed anything about it. I definitely needed that. <3