Zaewen

Feminist gaming blog with a heaping dash of science and politics

PAX Prime 2013: A review in bullet points

I’ve got so many words to write about PAX and only so few fingers to type. So I’m going to do away with the flowery prose of getting from point A to B to C and just do, well, points A, B, and C. Maybe even all the way to Z. We’ll see. (Is it just me or is this oddly rhyming as well?)

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Also your IT lady and the whole of accounting and HR. Basically all your nerds are here and having way more fun than y’all folk stuck in the office.

So point the first: This PAX was kinda disappointing when held up to the memories of my last two PAXes. There weren’t really that many games there that I was interested in. Of the big booths, it seemed like most of them were dedicated to DOTA, League of Legends, Wargaming, Smite, etc. Ya know, competitive gaming games. Which while great for those who like that sorta of thing, don’t really do that great a job of show casing new games. I mean Smite was there in 2011 as a new game. Seeing it back in 2013 as a competitive game was just annoying. The only big new games I saw, or rather that interested me, where ESO and the Bethesda booth, Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, and Wildstar was there with a playable demo. I’m not going to count EQNext because that was more of an easter egg presentation than anything else. As for smaller games, like Indie Row, there were a lot there but Indie Games tend to be very hit or miss for me. Either they’re trying too hard to emulate the big companies but with smaller budgets, or they’re striking off into the wild unknown and sometimes that can go badly or boringly.

Point B: This PAX was way over crowded, and not just with people. The exhibition hall has gotten bigger but it doesn’t feel like I’m getting to see more. The lines are longer, even with better line management, and the freaking theaters are off site now and are usually full to capacity. I didn’t get to see a single panel this year, partially because I suck at reading times (sorry Brinstar!) and partially because leaving the expo hall and convention center an hour early just to get to and wait in line for a panel is just too much. Especially when your feet hurt from standing in line for two hours and everything seems to be uphill and a bajillion blocks away. Perhaps they should think about live streaming panels and/or recording them all and hosting them on a site.

Point 3: Why is PAX both larger than ever and yet more disappointing? Well probably a couple of reasons. Two of the consoles are in between generations right now and the other major console still has a small library on its newest generation, so we’re left mostly with PC games (not that I’m complaining as a PC gamer). We’re also now in an age where there are multiple gaming con’s. PAX might be one of the biggest cons open to the general public, but it’s not the only one anymore and so game companies are having to shill out for multiple booths in multiple cons. Which leads to smaller booths, only certain games being highlighted, and even some game companies, like ArenaNet, forgoing the convention altogether and just hosting a side party nearby. Which makes sense: its a lot cheaper, can be condensed into just one day of amazing events, and you’re mostly just going to get your hardcore fans. Not so good for selling new games, but great for keep excitement up for already released games.

Point now lets talk about feminism: This PAX was a LOT better than my last PAX which was slathered in literally half naked female engineers from Firefall. However, it still had it’s issues. Such as this lady.

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This is the statue that greeted us at the queue room.

Ya know, I’m not even sure what game she’s from. She’s just your standard sexy lady ranger/elf/rogue/strongfemalecharacter.  I’m going to take a wild stab and say she’s from League of Legends. But who knows, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her or her twin in other games. *Insert some more snarky snark about how so many female game characters are carbon copies of the same sexually objectified heteronormative male sex fantasy we’ve been stuck with for decades now*. Speaking of which, a trend I noticed whilst wandering around the expo hall is that game companies have realized that gamers like female characters being in their games. However they merged this with their warped understanding of the ‘sex sells’ mantra and have decided the best way to sell games is to ignore the presence of their female characters up until its time to show diversity in which case they whip em out and go “See we’re diverse, we think about the womenz, look at all these boobies as proof!” Thus why we got ambiguous statue lady, Wonder Woman with boobs front and center, and Bayonetta mixing things up by showing us her leather wedgied butt instead. Among other. Even though none of these women were headlining a big release game present at the convention. We’re allowed to be in the games, and we’re even allowed to sell the games, but only with our ‘assets’ and we’re most certainly not allowed to have our own games starring us as full people and not just a collection of tits and butt cheeks.

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Sorry for the glare on some of these… kinda hard to take decent pictures of things 20 feet above you with stage lights on them with an iPhone.

Point positive: Now that’s not to say all the female characters I saw on the exhibition floor were negative representations. Indie row has several great examples of how to showcase a female main character or supporting character. Even some really great examples of ways to anthropomorphize animals without resorting to gendered constructs. A couple of bigger games had some great female art, too, like Extraction and the Magic: the Gathering art that was spread around.

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I’m pretty sure the one on the left is from Magic, but it didn’t really have a game title attached to it.The other’s I kept the name of the game or company attached because I want them to get traffic to support better diversity in female representations.

And that brings us to our last point: PAX is well known for their booth babe policy. Which is no booth babes. This has had some varying levels of success over the last couple of years with some exhibitors trying to bend the limits of what counts as a booth babe and what doesn’t, This year the only obvious booth babe I saw was at the Wildstar booth where they had a model dressed up as a female Aurin wearing fairly revealing clothing. It’s a rather tame example of the booth babe phenomena, but its still an example of a gaming company hiring and paying a model to dress in revealing clothing so that gamers, specifically heterosexual male gamers, will be drawn to their booth to take pictures of/with her. It’s a disturbing trend in gaming and it gives female gamers the distinct message that they are not the target demographic and that they are in fact seen as little more than sell-able ornamentation or sexual objects by game companies because of their gender.

Which brings me to the somewhat murkier topic of female booth crew members that seem to have been hired for their looks and paid to stand around, sometimes in revealing but normal clothing, as a draw to heterosexual male gamers. It’s a much harder trend to pin down because it’s frankly rather sexist and problematic to just assume that a pretty woman at a game booth couldn’t possibly be a game developer because she’s wearing heels, makeup, and its conventionally attractive. Women are free agents are can wear whatever they please. But what happens when you’re hired as a temp to work a show, or you are a game developer that has to go to the con for your job, and the boss people are pressuring you to wear revealing clothes and such so you can get your paycheck/keep your job? At the Bethesda booth this year they basically color coded the team shirts into developers, company staff, and hired hands. It wasn’t that hard really to see the underlying message that, “Hey we hired these pretty ladies who are all wearing size 0 short shorts, wedged sandal high heels, and red Bethesda shirts to make your visit more pleasant, dear heterosexual male gamer”. Especially when on day three I saw one of the women in those heels with two gauze bandages wrapped around her toes. I would much rather like to believe she is just a die hard adherent to the torturous fashion device known as the high heel than that Bethesda is pressuring their female employees, game developer or not, to injure themselves for the sake of a few fanboy lust stares. However, when it comes to video game marketing I do not give the benefit of the doubt.

So that was my PAX review. All in all it was a decent PAX, could have been better, could have been worse. This is, of course, not touching at all on the crap the Penny Arcade guys decided to finish the weekend off with, but I’ve already made a post about my feelings on that over here. To finish us up, here’s a really cool video of the PAX cosplayers (my brother-in-law and one of his friends are two of the business suited HALO cosplayers):

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One response to “PAX Prime 2013: A review in bullet points

  1. Roseanna Quinlan September 9, 2013 at 5:26 am

    So it seems from yor blog post that PAX has some serious event planning issues.

    First with booths and games being presented this years were not spectatular.
    Second, because of their past reputation for having the best and brightest of the games represented, the crowds were larger but without a good flow to the lines.
    Third, panels were not properly allowed the space for the folks who wanted to see them.
    Fourth, the whole T&A issues still reigns supreme!

    These are all issues that the planning committee of PAX needs to consider and rectifiy before the next expo. From my experience in event planning (and I do have some) these issues can have a serious impact on future PAX. They need to be aware of your view of their program. Have you sent the planning committee a review of the expo? Without feedback – whether gushing about how good it is or bashing all that is wrong and all points in between, PAX needs to know.

    Keep posting!

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