Ben Chicka: Gaming Journalist?

May 19, 2016

I went to PAX East 2016 on Friday like almost everyone else. I had my badge (my awesome wife manages to get a three-day badge every year before they sell out), my backpack, and excitement. By the end of the weekend I had effectively transitioned into covering the event for this website. I wasn’t getting hot scoops on newly announced games or churning out stories describing the mechanics of games I played on the show floor. I was finding stories that relate to our little niche here at TheoNerd, the intersection of philosophy, theology, and video games (in this case). But even though it wasn’t traditional games reporting, there was no doubt that I had mentally shifted from attending PAX East to covering it during the show. This is an amazing testament to the industry.

I have no video game credentials. Yes, Andrew and I had our panel at PAX east last year. But I don’t have a long history of covering video games for outlets or as a freelance writer. I just have a perspective coming from philosophy of religion and theology. The fact that my perspective comes from years of graduate education about to culminate in a Ph.D. doesn’t even matter in this case. That degree doesn’t get me through the door of video game coverage unless I can make a case for applying that academic background in an interesting way to video games. And that is why I claim the fact that I had so many amazing people agree to interviews at PAX East is a testament to the industry. They were not hung up on titles, as if not having one meant you did not belong. And in my case, my academic titles were irrelevant to why they would walk to record an interview. They just saw excitement, honesty, and an interesting idea worth discussing.

I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as amazing. Too often I see people getting rewarded for having credentials instead of good ideas or a productive body of work. Instead of listening to a novel idea, too many structures in our society ask people to show requirements before that idea will ever be heard. The video game industry is by no means a level playing field. Andrew and I have talked about problems on the podcast, and some interviews from the show also touch upon problems facing the industry. But it seems to me that an idea and putting in the work can at least get you a hearing. That seems more fair than many other industries.

So I just want to say a few things about each person I interviewed at PAX East this year and what impressed me about our conversation. This is also a convenient reason to put all the PAX East content in one place, creating a handy resource for you in case you missed the podcasts as they were posted. I’ll proceed in the order I recorded.

Christina Wilson – Emerson Engagement Lab

This made too much sense to not record. This website and the Engagement Lab both exist to engage academic work and popular audiences in an effort to make the world better. As soon as I described the podcast to Christina I noticed an expression of recognition; we are up to different yet similar things. It was a joy talking with someone who shares the belief that games deeply matter in a way that can directly change the world.

Courtney Toder and Dylan Mayerchak – Threads

I only recorded two interviews with students at the Pre-PAX MassDigi Made in MA party. They were both fun. It is hard to make games. It is harder to make them commercially successful. Courtney and Dylan were so excited to talk with anyone about their game, I was more than happy to give them whatever extra exposure the podcast makes possible. It is people like them that give me hope for the future. Being open and honest about gender identity and expression was so obvious to them that it had to show up in their game. Here’s to more of them and fewer Republicans making bathroom bills.

Francesca Carletto-Leon – Revolver Rebound

Francesca is involved in a lot of game projects, but I listed the one I played next to her name. It is SUPERHOT meets a spaghetti western. But enough about the game, Francesca is an amazing interview. Seriously, she has a natural talent for podcasting. She was my other student interview, and this was also her first year showing a game on the PAX show floor. I went by the booth. There was a crowd and things seemed to be going well. I hope the event was viewed as a success. Also, I actually met her in 2015 at Ken Gagne’s (yes, the Ken Gagne who has been on the show twice) Friendsgiving. It was wonderful connecting again, and I hope she continues doing podcasts so they world can be blessed with her amazing interviews.

Susan Arendt – GamesRadar+

I now understand why so many people on panels at PAX mention Susan’s name. She would never say this about herself, but she matters in the industry. She is humble, smart, and incredibly nice. The person I was sure would give me no more than five minutes (obviously someone as well-known as Susan Arendt won’t have time in her schedule for me) gave me the longest interview of the weekend. I hope she reads this just so she knows how many people credit her with advice that got them into the industry, and continuing support that kept them in it. They don’t even use her full name at all names. Sometimes they just say “Oh, Susan is the best. Ask Susan. She knows.” It is like saying Obama. Everyone knows who you are talking about. And after our conversation, it all makes complete sense.

Justin Amirkhani – Vagabond Dog

Justin is a gentle giant. Seriously, he is tall. I was only near the middle of my pitch about the podcast and why I wanted to speak with him and he was already shaking my hand, nodding affirmatively, and walking me to a nice quiet spot for the interview. He is so approachable. Of course that applies to everyone I spoke with at PAX East, but it really came through in Justin’s personality. He didn’t even show the slightest hint of disdain after I screwed up his last name a few times. Our conversation also got into some not obvious reasons such a diverse cast of characters made its way into Always Sometimes Monsters. So I got a small amateur journalistic scoop from him as well. Thanks Justin!

Patrick Klepek – Kotaku

Besides Susan Arendt, Patrick is the other name out of my PAX East interviews with which the most people are probably familiar. I was really honored that he made almost twenty minutes to chat with me about a topic he has already touched upon elsewhere. He was covering PAX for Kotaku, participating in several panels, and was not at all put off that some unknown guy wanted to talk about online bullying for a podcast. And I’m glad he did. My conversation with him was the most personally valuable. As another cis white ally who has been thinking about bullying and promoting diversity in video games for longer than I have, I welcomed his insights.

Princess DeJesus – AbleGamers

Besides clearly having the most awesome name out of everyone I interviewed, Princess is doing some of the most valuable and least appreciated work in video games. I learned so much from our brief conversation: there is an entire convention structured around accessibility for those with disabilities; their website reviews games in terms of accessibility; most of the amazing people like Princess are VOLUNTEERS! I enjoyed hearing her story of getting involved with AbleGamers, and hope I exposed their work to a few more people. Keep it up Princess!

Ken Gagne – Gamebits

Ken is a friend. Ken is a friend of the show. And he has other projects going on, but start with Gamebits on YouTube and you’ll be able to find his podcasts. As mentioned, I met Francesca Carletto-Leon at his Friendsgiving party last year. And he agreed to be on the podcast after having met only once before at Boston GameLoop. I call him a champion of independent games and someone who does all he can to highlight the local (we both live around Boston) gaming scene. He is also a great listener. His devotion to greater diversity in the video game industry stems from his general principle to learn all he can about something with which he is not familiar. Imagine that, learning about something instead of condemning it. Thanks for being such a nice guy Ken. Seriously, how are you so nice?

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