Some interesting, possibly very positive news has leaked our way from Penny Arcade. We received some documents showing their plans to create something called the Roll For Diversity Hub & Lounge for forthcoming PAXes. A place where people can get information and support about all manner of topics, issues relating to “women, LGBTQ, people of color, disabled people, and mental health issues in gaming”. It’s obviously a move in response to the extremely strong criticism PAX events have received in the past, and an attempt to make it clear that they wish the event to be more tolerant and inclusive. Great stuff.
Obviously we welcome this news, while being aware that this is a leak, not something Penny Arcade has announced. (Although they have confirmed these documents are theirs.) A deliberate effort to both promote and educate about diversity within gaming is a splendid thing. The space will be used both to offer information and support, and also for developers to promote games that relate to the topics. However, very smartly, they don’t get to do that unless they have a paid stall outside the hub too. This way it stops it from becoming purely a free advertising opportunity, and puts the emphasis on dialogue. It also means that such games aren’t ghettoised into one area.
I love that rather than making claims of enforcing stricter somethings, or putting up bigger signs, this is a proactive response to a serious issue, with a deliberate aim to provide education to those who seek it. That’s superb.
What’s less than superb is then calling that area a “safe space”, and in doing so, directly implying that the rest of your convention be designated an “unsafe space”. Let’s be fair – right now this is an internal document, and not a declared policy. But it’s a semantic matter that’s pretty damned important. Penny Arcade needs to be thinking of PAX in its entirety as a “safe space”, rather than one cordoned off area. If that’s their thinking, then things are still pretty bad. It needs to be considering this hub as literally that – the hub of the convention, from which its principles radiate. PAX has one hell of a reputation for being the province of the self-described “norm”, and reversing that begins in a vocabulary that conflicts with it. Let’s hope that terminology is soon dropped in favour of something slightly more astute.
Having decided to avoid PAX events in future, due to our distaste for how they’re run, this is clearly extremely welcome news. It looks like a very positive step forward for an event that last year in Australia scheduled a talk on how, “Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic, and involve any antagonist race aside from Anglo-Saxon and you’re called a racist. It’s gone too far and when will it all end?” Where we’ve too often seen hollow apologies being tripped over by the next bigoted remark, this is a genuine attempt to do things right. In fact, it’s a model all other gaming events would do well to copy. It’s certainly a good day when PAX looks like it’s leading the way for recognising and promoting diversity within gaming.
Edit: It’s been brought up in the comments that the term “safe zone” is one used by college campuses and the like to describe initiatives like this. It’s not a term any of us at RPS have come across before, and I’d continue to argue remains an extremely poor choice of terminology, with its implicit suggestion that outside that zone is unsafe. However, it does appear that PA were using a known term that describes what they’re attempting to do. (Those attempting to hang us on this point might perhaps want to read the words around it and think harder.)