For A Culture At War, PAX Australia Was The Perfect Antidote

I don’t think I was the only journalist harbouring a little trepidation.

In the context, in the midst of the culture war that is #gamergate (hashtag ‘Gamergate’) I wasn’t sure what to expect. A bludgeoning? Verbal assaults? This was PAX Australia. This was to be a congregation filled with people who play video games seriously, who take video games seriously. At the very least I expected to be cornered at some point and asked that question turned statement turned meme:

“What about ethics in video game journalism?”

And at one point during the show I was asked that question.

Correction: we were asked that question – the ‘we’ being a group of Australian game journalists taking part in a panel titled “The Realities of Games Writing”. I was a late replacement in the panel. I was, perhaps ‘worried’ is the wrong word — but I did feel akin to a battered barramundi being lowered into a deep fat fryer. I wondered how the panel would be received in the current climate.

And the panelists: we all felt it. Conversation beforehand was mostly made up of the ‘baaas’ of lambs being led to slaughter. But the panel’s intention, I think, was to dispel some of the grander misconceptions surrounding what we actually do for a living on a day-to-day basis, so feelings were mixed. Some were stressed, some felt confident. I was looking forward to it in the way a boxer looks forward to a 12-round title fight.

Anyway. Eventually the question came. And it was framed exactly as written above: “what about ethics in video game journalism?”

It was asked by a stern-looking young man who had had his hand up for quite some time. The question at the time felt vague, ill-formed and very non-specific. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. ‘What about ethics in game journalism?’ What about them? How do I feel about them? Sure, they should exist. All journalists should be bound to a certain code of ethics. Do I think game journalism has issues in that area? Absolutely – we can always improve and we should always be looking to improve. But that wasn’t the question really. The question was a loaded gun aimed directly at the panel. That question was: how do you feel about #gamergate? Hashtag ‘Gamergate’.

The other panelists spoke. They said things. Not patronising things, confronting things certainly, but not patronising. Daniel Wilks of Hyper stated unequivocally that if you are going to accuse someone of behaving unethically you had better name names and you had better back up your accusations with hard evidence – absolutely correct. Tim Colwill of was, as always, articulate about his views. He insisted he has never himself seen any breaches of ethics during his time as a games journalist.

Then something strange happened.

As I began to address the question, looking the man directly in the eye as I spoke, he calmly decided to stand up out of his chair, turn his back on me and walk out of the theatre. He actually turned his back on me and walked out on the panel as I was speaking directly to him.

I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it.

But then another strange thing happened.

The rest of the crowd attending the panel completely and ironically applauded him as he walked out of the panel, having asked a question he clearly didn’t want an answer for.

And, lo and behold, the rest of the panel turned out to be a complete and utter joy.

In fact the rest of PAX Australia turned out to be a complete and utter joy.

I was overwhelmed by the amount of friendly faces who approached me: people who wanted to talk to me about Kotaku Australia, about my work on the site. Uniformly positive. One girl in particular stood out. She approached me after the panel to tell me me that, some months back, after a particularly bad Kotaku comments day, I had reached out to her on email, that I told her to ignore the negative comments, that games culture needed her voice. I don’t remember writing this specific email — I’ve written a handful like it — but she told me that when things got tough, as they invariably have over the past few months, she often revisited that email to remind herself that it was worth sticking around. She then asked me for a hug and I was legitimately almost in tears.

That was the moment that defined PAX Australia for me.

At PAX Australia the positivity was tangible, and I wasn’t alone in that feeling. As the whitest man I know, you might argue that of course a convention like PAX, being catered almost entirely to my specific wants, would feel positive – but my conversations with other female journalists, and my time speaking to gamers from all backgrounds at the Diversity Lounge, convinced me this feeling was widespread and near-ubiquitous. And it was beautiful.

I fully understand that Penny Arcade Expo has a problematic history. I understand it traditionally hasn’t been the most inclusive space for women and minority groups. I can only say that during the weekend that was, PAX Australia felt like a place where the overwhelming negativity of the previous few months was quashed. It made a mild squeak of protest and was henceforth vanquished by a group of people who wanted to move together as an inclusive collective.

And as someone who loathes the sweatbox that is the modern games convention, as someone who resents defining himself by his hobby, that was a real revelation. I came to PAX Australia weary and tired. I left energised and optimistic.

Most of all it was reassuring to find that, face-to-face with the people who make up gaming culture, the negative element was absolutely a small group making a nasty unruly noise. It confirmed to me what I had suspected all along: the people who want to tear it all down, the people who want to harass and prod and bully: they are in the minority.

And we can all applaud ironically as they finally leave the building.

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