This will not likely surprise those who knows me, but an angry old man living inside really came out at the latest incarnation of PAX East. I mean, I’m not that old. I just turned 32. But I’ve never felt more like an old man in a movie yelling “Get off my lawn, you damn kids!” than when I walked around the show floor this year.
Despite Andrew’s best efforts, I have not been able to get excited about MOBAs. This is perhaps somewhat strange since I love sports and sports video games. Maybe eSports seem contrived to me since they are not based on sports like baseball or football I already know and love. But my disinterest probably has more to do with not wanting to be called every homophobic slur imaginable by a ten-year-old while I try and learn to play. So when I stepped foot on the show floor for the first time to discover a massive amount of space previously devoted to the bring your own computer and tabletop gaming areas was now devoted to two eSports stages and audience seating, I felt like games were no longer for me. PAX was my lawn, and I wanted these kids off it.
But it really isn’t a MOBA or eSports thing. It is a multiplayer thing. This is a “feature” that has infected more than just games that want to be labeled as eSports. There was a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex on the show floor. People were waiting in line to get on top of it and have a picture taken. It was for a competitive multiplayer online game. In fact, most of the AAA space at PAX was devoted to such games. What happened to a good single player campaign I could work through at my own pace? I have a job and am trying to complete a Ph.D. I don’t have hundreds or thousands of hours to develop the skill to compete in these. And I also don’t want to be called every homophobic slur imaginable by a ten-year-old while I try and learn to play.
Well maybe it is just a AAA thing, I thought to myself. And while there were promising single-player games in the Indie MEGABOOTH (I finally got to play Below, and it looks amazing), I discovered a different version of the multiplayer problem: local multiplayer; couch co-op. At least with the internet coordinating schedules gets slightly easier. But now not only am I expected to find time in my schedule to develop skills in a competitive game, but my friends who also have jobs and advanced degrees to complete are expected to do the same. And we have to somehow coordinate work, school, and kid’s schedules so we can all be in the same room to play. And, let’s be honest, I’d still be called every homophobic slur imaginable while I try and learn to play. GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU DAMN KIDS!
But you know what? Even if I’m feeling left behind by gaming trends, gamers are still awesome. Maybe it is because I was less interested in the games on the show floor, but I spent more time thinking about video game culture as reflected in PAX. And it is awesome. I just had a three-day pass, no media credentials. But I basically transitioned from fan attendee to someone covering the show as people who could not have been nicer kept agreeing to record interviews with me for the podcast. Some of these people have recognizable names in the industry, but they could not have been humbler, nicer, or more approachable. They are just people who love games and could not have been happier to help someone else who loves games.
And as much as Andrew and I talk about problems with bullying and diversity in video games, most gamers are simply amazing. In fact, gaming may be ahead of society on several issues. PAX converted several bathrooms to gender neutral bathrooms for the length of the convention. Press XY always has a panel or two about transgender issues in gaming, and there were present this year as well. When a transgender games writer got choked up because she does not often talk publicly about her identity, everyone attending clapped and cheered her on. Gamers in that room were awesome and on board with something that certain segments of the United States population have decided to argue about. Good job gamers!
In fact, I was impressed by the overall awareness of privilege and care directed toward others. Once I stepped back from the hustle and bustle of the convention, I found it everywhere. I attended a panel in which a gay black man noted he, as a man, enjoys certain kinds of privilege compared with women and transgender individuals in the industry. In response, a woman on the panel noted she, as a straight cis woman, has a certain kind of privilege compared with him. Yes they were both correct, but the fact that they were openly and astutely discussing complex dynamics of privilege in such a public setting made me smile. Good luck getting athletes, actors, or politicians to show such awareness when they speak publicly. Gamers are diverse, kind, and really pay attention to one another’s concerns.
So while PAX East 2016 made me feel thirty years older, it made me love games more than ever. My visceral reaction to the show may have been to yell at all the kids to get their online eSports hands off my games, to get off my lawn, but I don’t really want anyone to leave. Gamers are beautiful people and form a wonderful community I’ll never leave. Video games, I can’t quit you.