The morning before the official start of PAX, I flew out the hostel door with camera gear and Tomodachi Life in tow. My first stop was Volunteer Park, a small park set back behind the carefully manicured homes of Capitol Hill. I wandered the brief paths for a couple hours, occasionally passed by runners (none of them Chris Evans, unfortunately) and cheerful pit bulls.
I’m a male gamer, and according to what I learned at PAX, I’m also a feminist. Being the Renaissance man that I am, I believe in equality for all gamers, male, female, and everyone in between. Conventions have a lot to offer, blisters, PAX pox, stickers, and… inspiration? The “Other” Us panel at PAX East was one of the most moving and inspirational panels I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing… Maybe the Earth isn’t doomed after all?
I’ve been to more conventions than I can count; from Wizard World to SDCC, I Iove ’em all. Most panels are informative, some are good for a laugh, but very few offer inspiration and hope. Like most nerds I cherish my con-memories but none of them measured up to the amazing display of community that I saw during The “Other” Us.
The “Other” Us: If We’re All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter? Was a panel created and moderated by Alli Thresher [Harmonix Music Systems, Inc], to address the issue of gender in gaming. Abbie Heppe [Community Manager, Respawn Entertainment], Eric Pope [Community Moderator, Harmonix Music Systems, Inc.], Yesenia Cisneros [Games Tester, Excell], Jennifer Kye [Company Blogger, Social Media Editor, Gameloft] and Justin McElroy [Joystiq] were also on hand.
The Naga ballroom quickly filled to capacity, and looking across the crowd I could see that there just as many females as there were males. The topic at hand was gender, but more than that, equality in the world of gaming. The panel began with a discussion of Abbie Heppe’s now infamous review of Metroid: The Other M. The review polarized the community and Abbie ended up taking a lot of heat for writing a piece of “feminist” propaganda… their words… not mine.
The “Other” M
When Abbie’s review went live, the bulk of the journalistic community put their head in the sand and waited for the shit storm to blow over. You see, Abbie’s review pulled no punches. In The Other M, Samus, a professional bounty hunter, had to get the permission of her male superior in order to use some of her key abilities (which she had access to early in the game). Abbie also argued that Samus was portrayed as weak, scared, and generally subservient. This was not the Samus that ANY of us wanted to see, male or female. It was a great review, but … well… it pissed a lot of people off. The community backlash was substantial, and people went as far as attacking Abbie with comments such as, “I hope you get breast cancer” (Yes, someone actually wrote that). You can read the review in its entirety here.
Gender in gaming
The ladies on the panel told a variety of stories proving that we, as gamers, have a long way to go as a community in order to reach true equality. From the stories that were told, gender bias and sexism are very much still alive in the gaming community. With the number of female gamers growing each and every day, the misogynistic mentality of old is on its way out, but until then, female gamers will have to continue being tough.
It’s not easy to get up in front of a room of people and speak your mind, you have hundreds, if not thousands, of people judging what you’re saying as your saying it. “The Other Us” housed some of the most insightful, courageous, and articulate, people I’ve ever seen at a panel. Where the hell did these people come from? Females, males, and everyone in-between made their way to the microphone in order to share their stories and experiences on how gender impacted their own personal gaming world. Seated next next to the microphone I could see how excited and nervous people were as they addressed incredibly real topics. For a brief hour we weren’t gamers at a convention discussing graphics and game-play, but real people discussing real life. Some of the stories were moving, and others, terrifying. We have a long way to go.
People can be cowards. While not the majority, a great number of gamers use their headsets and gamertags as a shield from which they hide behind. While in their little protective anonymous bubble, they launch their own personal campaigns of hate. Maybe one day they’ll realize that threatening to kill someone over Xbox live is still threatening to kill someone. As sane gamers what can we do? As Abbie stated “Report them… every fucking time”, and eventually they’ll get banned.
I was under the impression that PAX had a strict “no booth babes” philosophy and was surprised to see booth babes everywhere. I have to admit that I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Every “nerd” convention has them, so why all the fuss? Ali Thresher summed it up perfectly when she stated that as a female game developer, the presence of “booth babes” undermines her professionalism as a developer. It clicked for me. Women that work in the male dominated world of gaming want to be respected for their skill and intellect, not their curves. Having T+A readily on display is a step in the wrong direction (I can’t believe I just wrote that). Alli even mentioned that she was once groped by a male attendee who believed she was in fact a “booth babe”, because that’s okay right? I get it now, and so should PAX.
As gamers we all have something in common, our love of electronic entertainment. Sadly, after hearing all the stories presented during The “Other” Us, it was clear that as a community we have a long way to go. Hats off to Alli Threser, Abbie Heppe, Eric Pope, and everyone else that contributed to one of the best panels I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through. Looking forward to giving you all a high 5 one of these days soon. -Ash
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Watch the panel HERE thanks to G4TV.