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Daily Reaction: Penny Arcade and the Diversity Initiative…Initiative

December 18, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

dicklounge

Late last night, images leaked showing that future Penny Arcade Expos are set to include ‘diversity lounges’ to highlight the wide range of gamers out there. But after the news hit the web, people immediately began to criticize the decision. Where do Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan stand on the matter? Find out below.

Seb: Yeesh. This whole thing sounds like a joke, it’s hard to accept that it’s actually real, but bizarrely it is. When Indie Statik released the leaked document describing the ‘Roll for Diversity Hub and Lounge’, a lot of commentators thought it was fake, but PA’s Robert Khoo quickly told Kotaku:

Our goal was to highlight diverse groups (and organizations that represent diverse groups) in the industry that might not necessarily get exposure otherwise. We have a limited number of slots, and the booths are free. In addition, since all of our content is spread out at the show rather than ‘tracked’, the hub will also be a resource for people to find the diverse sessions, events, and exhibitors.

Ok, so I see what they were hoping to achieve here. PA have quite an image problem after the whole ‘dickwolves’ debacle, where Penny Arcade made a highly debatable rape joke comic, then made a comic making fun of the critics, then merchandised the joke, then removed the merchandise and then said they shouldn’t have removed the merchandise, all while PA’s Mike Krahulik made increasingly risque comments on his Twitter feed about rape and trangenderism, including:

If thinking that all women have a vagina makes me a monster [then] yes I am a monster.

Meanwhile, a community-chosen PAX Australia panel gained notoriety after its description made light of the whole problem – “Why So Serious? Has the Industry Forgotten That Games Are Supposed to Be Fun?”

PAaustraliapanel

After all the controversies and bizarre comments, many of which I left out to stop this post being a mile long, developer of the critically acclaimed Gone Home, The Fullbright Company, pulled out of the show, while Cards Against Humanity’s co-founder publicly criticized PAX, saying:

We try harder and harder to do cool stuff at PAX and all anyone remembers after the convention is the drama. It’s also incredibly demoralizing for us; when Penny Arcade upsets people we get tagged too.

Boycotting PAX creates a huge problem as well: If all of the progressive people boycott PAX it will just become a carnival of rape culture and there will be no cool game show to go to.

So… basically, we could say that PAX has a bit of a problem when it comes to ‘diversity’, and it’s understandable that they desperately want to do something to fix their image. Sadly, this is not the answer.

The reason why everyone is up in arms is because PAX is essentially segregating ‘diversity’ into its own little corner, which almost sounds like a punchline to a bad webcomic. To be more inclusive, they are forcing people into set areas.

They have essentially turned diversity into a sideshow – the lounges will serve as a “resource for for industry professionals and fans to interface in a setting focused on diversity, receive diversity training, learn more about diversity, and meet people from diverse communities”.

‘Enforcers’ will also be on hand to ensure that everyone is diverse, or at least accepts diversity (I guess Krahulik will have to hide from them).

I really don’t know what more to say, it’s a terrible idea, hopefully created with good intentions. True diversity doesn’t come from creating a special area for it – this is an incredibly diverse medium, and minorities don’t need special treatment that only serves to marginalize them further. We can’t be more inclusive by separating people.

Dan: Well, Seb pretty much got everything covered, so I can’t do much more than give my own impressions on the matter. In all honesty, I feel that this is little more than a reaction to the number of conflicts that Penny Arcade have been getting from the more disenfranchised groups over the last year. The basic idea is great, as an indie dominated convention really should make sure to include developers of all backgrounds and introduce less mainstream concepts. But, the problem is more in the execution and how it does little more than highlight differences that really should not matter to anyone.

In a response to the original release, PA’s Robert Khoo said:

So we carved out a large room at the show in a high traffic area that highlighted some of these great organizations and offered tables to them for free.

This is basically saying that since these groups are ‘different’ they are getting special treatment and that they will now be on display and segregated. Simply stating that this is someway to raise “awareness of different, underrepresented gamer groups” does not mean that they can’t simply be integrated with the rest of the show. If the idea is about diversity, why label anything and not just say that this upcoming PAX will have more for people to learn about gamers from all types of backgrounds? Even though I am not a white male, I still don’t feel like this is something designed for me, as this doesn’t feel like it is meant to bring people together, only to pander to a segment of the audience – and I’m not on the list.

The other issue is that what most of this really means, besides having a ‘pen’ for people to feel extra safe for being somehow different, is that pushing societal issues at a gaming convention seems misplaced. No matter what a gamer’s background, we should all understand that we all just want to do the same thing: play games and/or enjoy the culture. The fact that there needs to be be some forced version of tolerance is incredibly odd, and probably the reason that many people are looking at PAX’s new initiative in a negative light.

Never has there been a moment where I had personally saw a game developer’s booth and questioned their background, only if their game seemed interesting. Never had I met someone at an event and wondered what random classification they adhered to. The reality is, gaming as a whole should be open to everyone and if taking extra steps to make sure we all feel comfortable does that, great. But, there is no need to make it some major fanfare, so that the world understands just how awesome you are.

What do you think about PAX’s Diversity Lounges? Are they a step forward, or a step backwards? Share your thoughts in the comments below, but if you are a minority, make sure to reply to the ‘Diversity Thread’. While you’re at it, be sure to send us rapey webcomics to DailyReaction@PlayStationLifeStyle.net and try to work out our genders by following us at Seb and Dan.

Roll on.