PAX East 2017—This One's for the Gamers

PAX East 2017: It sure did happen!

Which, incidentally, might not be the most convincing opening statement, but I assure you that PAX East sure did happen—in a good way, the way fun things happen. In an exciting way. And you may be saying, "Rachel, didn't PAX East happen last weekend? You're pretty late on this." Technically, sure, you're right, but I got a new job this week that I'm adjusting to, so maybe compliment me on my successes instead of pointing out my failures? Judgey.

PAX East opened its doors Friday, March 10, a day after the confirmation made by Jeffery Kaplan that Symmetra is autistic. Under that inclusive message, Overwatch emerged as the most visible fan base at the con through sheer cosplay alone. In fact, the only crossplays I saw were from Overwatch.

Now, we here at Geeks OUT try to focus on the more inclusive aspects of gaming, so if this post seems a little Overwatch heavy, well, Overwatch has made a point of making its characters more inclusive, which is not something that was seen in abundance at PAX East, unfortunately. I was, however, very happy to see two great booths on the con floor that definitely deserve a shout out: Girls Make Games, and the trans-friendly, all queer, Visual Novel Reading Room.

The Visual Novel Reading Room was an addition to PAX East's indie megabooth, and a major spot of queer visibility on the main con floor. Created by PAX East and Love Conquers All Games's Christine Love, The Visual Novel Reading Room combined the medium of Visual Novels with the inclusivity that so many of us have been longing for games to have. And the result was a wide variety of creative, colorful stories from great minds and creators.

Featured in the Visual Novel Reading Room were the already-released Ladykiller in a Bind by Love Conquers All Games and We Know the Devil by Date Nighto (check them out here!) Other great upcoming titles came from Arden Ripley's Date or Die, Accidental Queens's A Normal Lost Phone, and Lettuce Waltz's Spirit Parade. These are games I hope to see more of in the future, and hey Geeks OUT contributors, maybe we can get some reviews going? Wink!

Another win came from the Diversity in Gaming panel (featuring Steve Spohn [COO, AbleGamers], Rami Ismail [Founder, Vambleer], Cassandra Khaw [Author], Jake Baldino [Video Star, Gameranx], Andrea Rene [TV personality, Influencer]), which went the extra mile to discuss ableism and disability visibility in gaming, which is not a topic I've heard discussed much. Activist and gamer Steve Spohn said, "I don't see disability represented a lot. I don't even like Charles Xavier—he makes rash decisions and gets people hurt a lot." Which was an excellent and wonderful point, even more so when he followed up with, "Overwatch is amazingly inclusive of characters with disabilities. When you think about characters you need to think about more than one facet. You need to reach outside the box. Not just of what you'd expect, but what your audience would expect."

As Rami Ismail pointed out, in terms of inclusivity, he can not name more than two Arab characters that aren't villains in video games. "Most times I'm seeing myself in video games I'm getting shot at." And this was a key point of the Diversity panel: there is very little representation, and when it is there, it's done poorly. Overwatch is the outlier because it has characters that are both non-white and disabled, but even then, the Arabic signs on their stages are written incorrectly. There's not a lot of consideration for telling stories that aren't the author's own, even though, as the panel agreed that audiences clearly want to see more diverse stories. Which, incidentally: super pleased we all agreed on that, would've been really awkward if we hadn't.

Also, look at how cute Geeks OUT was at PAX East.

I'm not in this photo (because L to R: Josh, Blaine, Kyle), so it's not as cute as it could be, but also, more cosplay? More cosplay.

Final thoughts? On Saturday, my face was covered with glue and I made the sleeves of my costume too small, so I was super uncomfortable. But like, four stars.

Four stars.