Why PAX is better than the internet
Where are all the assholes? I’ve been in Seattle for a few hours now, a few blocks from the convention center where PAX Prime will start tomorrow, and I haven’t seen a single violent shouting match about feminism or indie games or Call of Duty or which kind of cloud is the dumbest (I say cirrus). I thought this was a convention for gamers.
Going to PAX is my once or twice-a-year reminder that assholes on the internet prefer to be assholes on the internet, and that their assholery is amplified by its flaws. I’m sure there are some lurking around here, but the same people who would tell you to die before listening to your point-of-view just squish around like jellyfish in real conversations; spineless, weak, swept away quivering without landing a sting. They won't, for the most part, belch out the abuse they freely express online—to other gamers, to developers, to whoever expresses an opinion. It’s not so easy to be vile out in the three-dimensional world, where people have faces and smiles. Decency is expected. Shouting is not. Nuance is allowed. Empathy happens.
And maybe if they keep hiding among all the kind and welcoming people I meet at PAX every year, they’ll start to change. Those are the gamers I want to be around, here and online. They make the hobby fun, and they make the discourse better. They’re why I have so many great memories from PAX, none of which involve being yelled at by strangers.
Take PAX East a few years ago: I stayed out until 4 a.m. exploring Boston with an internet friend. I had the best sandwich I’ve ever had, and I peed in the ocean—first time in the Atlantic. I imagine my pee has traveled all over the world by now. The world is my pee globe.
The world should be everyone's pee globe, but not everyone gets to feel so welcome and safe at PAX. There’s an electromagnetic stink of hate in the air. Gamers and game makers are harassed and threatened all the time. It doesn’t take much to trigger an attack—an opinion, a balance change, a conspiracy theory—and it’s reprehensible.
The good news is that jellyfish mobs don’t form so readily on land. There are nasty people in the world, and surely at PAX—I know harassment happens here too—but so many people here are smiling and having fun and celebrating our hobby. They’re not forming into gangs and charging at each other. They’re peeing in the ocean. Or at least I am.
My experience, of course, is a skyful of dumb cirrus clouds away from those who have been threatened. They don’t get to have all this fun. They aren’t happy. This is the hobby or career they want and they’re being shoved to the curb. If they’re here at PAX, they have courage, and that shouldn’t be a prerequisite.
We should all be part of changing that. There’s a lot to do, but gathering and talking with our flappy mouths instead of our typey fingers is part of it. We need better communication and more listening to combat the internet’s dehumanization, anger, and bitterness. The internet is great and powerful, but we need to make it better. Gathering here makes a difference, and I hope everyone at this year’s show comes away better understanding each other.
I recommend attending one and going to a few panels if you can—or watching some livestreams. I’m not saying that admission to the hobby requires a pilgrimage to Seattle, of course, or that PAX is even the best place for one—it has problems. But it's here, it starts tomorrow, and I'm hopeful. I’m going to talk to a lot of interesting people about a lot of interesting games, but most of all, I look forward to being reminded that despite how ugly this hobby can get, the world really is full of great people who love games. And also my pee.