Monday, April 14, 2014

A Bit of Recap: PAX East 2014

PAX East had me leaving this year with even more pride and happiness than I have in years past. I think that much of this enthusiasm is prompted by being in close spaces with my nerdy brethren, but also question how much is because, as I grow older, I become more entrenched in "the scene." This scene doesn't necessarily just mean playing all of the latest greatest games, but is also camaraderie, companionship, learning and drinking highly-priced beer while playing board games with friends new and old. Here's my post about some findings from this year's PAX East.

This was my first year cosplaying. Despite a number of issues that I ran into including theft of my packages and difficulty maintaining the structural integrity of some of my pieces, I did end up going to PAX as Lucca from Chrono Trigger. The feeling of cosplaying is really something different from anything I've ever felt. While it is definitely nice to feel recognized and have numbers of individuals asking to take your picture or take pictures with you, it is also immensely encouraging to have the reverse happen. There were many individuals who were, I could tell, like me: awkward, not certain of how to approach individuals with common interests. With that in mind, when a stranger approached me and simply said "Hi, Lucca. How are you?" quickly before walking off, it made me feel even better than when a professional photographer asked to take my photo. I wouldn't know, really, how to approach a cosplayer I truly admired—and they don't either.

Along with that, there were two very intensely human and introspective moments that came out of my cosplay. First, after leaving a panel on Gender Inequality in Gaming, a young girl ran up to me screaming my character's name before swallowing me in a gigantic bear hug. "You are my favorite. I mean, you're a lot of people's favorite, but seriously mine," she said, with a huge smile on her face. It gave me great pride to both be representing a strong female character in gaming as well as to have such an obviously strong connection with another person. I also met one of the individuals that I had used as a reference for my own cosplay—another Lucca named Carly. She found me on my first day and, later, won the cosplay contest at the SquareEnix booth. She, in the ultimate small-world-moment, mentioned that she had even read my blog, and had wished that she could have left a comment prior to her internet cutting out. It made me feel like it was really something that I had been meant to do, as silly as that sounds.

If you plan on cosplaying in the future, or are even a little bit interested in it, I would say that you should. It is something that everyone should do at least once. I know that next year I will be cosplaying, though I don't know as what yet (recommendations welcome!), and keeping my very first hand-built cosplay for special occasions. If you do decide that you want to cosplay, plan on fixing your costume a few different times. Though on my second day I didn't really need any fixes, on the first day I needed a few applications of superglue to get me through. Luckily, League of Legends actually put a full room together to support the repair needs of the cosplayers at PAX. It was great, and I wish I'd known about it sooner. Don't be discouraged if your stuff breaks, just fix it and carry on! People bump into other people in cramped spaces and things that are handmade break—no use crying over spilt milk just throw some glitter on it and keep your head up!

This was also my first year going to any real panels. While I didn't go to many of them, the ones that I did go to were significantly different from the keynotes that I'd attended in the past. Not only were the panels interesting, but they helped me feel more connected with community members with similar interests to my own. The two most memorable and well-conducted panels, in my opinion were: "Why It's Awesome to be Female in the Gaming Industry" and "Sex, Sexy, and Sexism: Fixing Gender Inequality in Gaming." Not only were the panelists all amazing, compelling and unique in their opinions, but it opened my eyes up to some great new communities and content to pay attention to. One of the super cool things I'd love to bring attention to is this image here, referenced by Ken Gagne but originally from Tumblr user Bryce, aka Robot Hyena.

The other panelists, listed by panel, are:
  • From "Females": Dianna Lora from DualShockers, Karen of Pixelitist, Maylene of Nickelodeon, Tatjana of, Susan of Joystiq, and Sarah of The Escapist.
  • From "Sexism": Ken of GameBits, Brianna of Giant Spacekat, Tifa of Lady Planeswalkers Society, Duane of HowManly, and Susan of Joystiq again (I had the privilege of seeing this lady twice!)
It bears noting that both of these were amazing panels with great content. I was even more excited to see that the population of the panels were basically half-and-half between the sexes whereas I had, potentially baselessly, assumed that there would be mostly female-identifying individuals occupying the seats. Along with that, the panelists that were male handled the topic with the respect that it was due and spoke eloquently about a topic which can pretty quickly go sour. Specifically raised in the "Sexism" discussion was the fear of some males of being a "white knight" and potentially stirring up something that they wouldn't be able to fix. While I appreciated this (and hadn't heard that phrase used as an adjective before), I also think that Duane and Ken both did excellent jobs as debunking that as a potential fear. Overall, I felt more learned and with a more worldly perspective on the gaming world than when I had come. A specifically astute post on the Sexism and Gender Inequality Panel, by Samit Sarkar on Polygon is here. I have yet to be able to find a post or footage of the first panel that I went to, but have heard that there should be footage of both of these available in the future. It is possible that I will do a more thorough write up on my thoughts and speculations about both of these topics in the future, but for right now I'll leave that to the pros.

Geeks/Nerds/Gamers/Whatever are the friendliest. This isn't really news to me, but PAX always serves as a great reminder that there are people other than the aggressive individuals that my husband plays with in GTAV. Behind the walls of our computer screens we are all still fragile, uncomfortable and very nervous people that may choose to be defensive over being friendly as it is how we learned to interact when we were younger. I know from first hand experience that it is easier to argue than it is to try to understand someone's perspective—a really great point that was made by Karen in the "Females" panel. Striking up conversation with someone after finding one random point to bond over is amazing, and reminds me how fantastic it is to be a part of this community. PAX, for as much flack as it gets in the media for being a breeding ground for inequality and harassment, has never served as such for me. Instead, it reminds me that there is a safe haven to be had if we can all just put down our fists and stop assuming everyone is attacking us. An example of this which, again, kind of relates to cosplay: a very harried older gentleman with two smaller sons who looked to be about 9 or 10 stopped me out of nowhere with a huge smile on his face. "Is that...Chrono Trigger? I racked my brain for a few seconds and then realized that that's who it had to be. Can I take your picture?" Where before had stood a guy pretty intent on herding his kids from one booth to another to get the day over with now stood someone with something very much in common with me. Without the arguably necessary crutch of video games, we may not have ever talked and my day may not have been quite so bright. This is the power of video games.

For the weekend I strapped a GoPro to my patient, loving and understanding husband in the hopes of capturing what day to day at PAX was like. Because of the potentially troubling or "trigger" content in the panels that I went to, I did not film them, but I did film every other interaction I had: taking photos of cosplayers, having my photo taken, going to booths, waiting in lines, and meandering the expo hall floors are all included. I hope that this may serve as a memory of this awesome year and give some of my friends who may not understand why my fandom runs so deep a bit of a taste. I have also decided to try to be an enforcer next year, if they will have me.

For those of you that I met at PAX, or I didn't meet but came across this some how: let's keep in touch. You are all amazing people, and we need to do the best we can to keep the awesomeness that we (or maybe just I?) feel after this event rolling throughout the year and make the world of video games, gaming, and fandom an even better place.

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