Monday, September 1, 2014

PAX Prime 2014: Diversity and Handheld Lounges

There'll be further posts on some panels, like Dragon Age: Inquisition, statistics about the video game industry, and some board games that I played that were neat, but today I will be talking about lounges: specifically the diversity and handheld lounges.
The Incredible Shrinking Handheld Lounge
One of the big pros of PAX has traditionally been a lot of space to sit down on a beanbag and decompress with your 3DS, iPhone, tablet, whatever, or even nap. But there's been a curious trend occurring at PAX Prime where the space set aside for the lounge has been shrinking every year, continually being displaced by Nintendo demo booths.
Two small sections. That's it.
It's ridiculous to think that the space given in the photo above is even remotely sufficient for the sheer number of tired attendees. I realize that the AFK space is available if you're overwhelmed, but if you just want to veg and play your DS?
This was early in the morning, and represents about 60% of the space available.
PAX Aus admittedly didn't have many beanbags, but the space set aside was generally full after 1 PM nonetheless, and a much bigger area than PAX Prime, with a third of the population. I really don't understand how the PAX organizers can justify taking away the space, especially given the event is supposed to be for the attendees, not the businesses, no?
Absolutely glorious. Place beanbags, and they will come.
PAX East is the nirvana of handheld lounges, though. Beanbags as far as the eye can see, and yet still full! Which only proves that given the space, the gamers will fill it. Otherwise you see hallways of people on the cold, hard floor leaning against the wall to play their games. Uncomfortable at best, underfoot and in the way at worst.
To be able to get that moment to sit down and get my energy back, I had to go home! So my plea to the PAX organizers is to get rid of the Nintendo demo stations, leave them on the Expo hall floor where they belong, and to bring back the handheld lounge. We need the ability to have downtime and just play our games.
Making the Saving Throw for Diversity
Some may remember my piece on the Diversity Lounge from PAX East 2014. Well, the organizers took another shot at it for PAX Prime, and I daresay it went over a bit better this time.

The "lounge" on the right, about 10 booths.
It had a couple more booths than East, but the location was much, much better in my humble opinion. Rather than being in a room, it was at the top of the primary escalators to get to the top floor of the Expo Hall. A prime spot to get people's attention, and to get a lot of foot traffic. I ended up chatting with some folks from a couple booths that were at both PAX East and PAX Prime to get their opinions.
One of the booths was for AbleGamers, who describe themselves thusly:
The AbleGamers Foundation, also known as AbleGamers Charity, is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit public charity that aims to improve the overall quality of life for those with disabilities through the power of video games.
Another booth I chatted with extensively was Press XY: Exploring Transgender Issues in Gaming.

The prevailing opinion was PAX East was a great first try. On the first day, the doors were mostly shut, meaning it didn't have much visibility into the hallway, whereas once the doors were open, they had a fair bit of foot traffic, and despite not being on the path to the Expo hall, at East they were still on the first floor around a major thoroughfare.

Prime, on the other hand, was a fantastic space because it's just up the escalator before the Expo hall. It's super high visibility and out in the open. People didn't need to walk through any doors to check it out.

The downside to Prime's location, however, was that it was a bit too noisy. There was nowhere really to relax and just chat, or sit on some beanbags and decompress (I'm sensing a theme here for PAX Prime as a whole), or to get away. While there were a couple of tables with chairs in the lounge area, the location really wasn't conducive to using those effectively. And to be fair, again, the AFK Lounge was billed as the place to go if you're overwhelmed, but I think the organizers really underestimate the need for those spaces to just sit down and take a load off.

Finally, it was noticed that while there were a number of booths for LGBT and Women in gaming (hooray!), they still lacked that racial diversity that should also be represented. It was, as one person put it, still pretty white. Regardless, it seemed like Prime was better executed than East, and the feeling was that East was a good jumping off point.

All of which really just feeds into my theory that education spaces and "safe" or relaxation spaces are mutually exclusive. You can't be both without sacrificing something, as people who need to escape aren't in the right mindset to be providing explanations.

Education is incredibly important in my mind because if we aren't teaching folks these things, they'll never really learn. Despite those who decry it as "common sense" and that people should "just know" how to treat people right, I don't think they truly understand until someone shows them why the status quo isn't a good thing. But if you're rightfully angry because you've been treated so poorly your whole life, in real life and on the Internet, you may not be capable of providing that education. That's okay, other people can do that job. Which is why you need to have education as a separate thing from a "relaxation" space.

I think that with Prime really embracing the education side of things, they're truly focusing on the right aspect. While the entire convention should be a "safe space", there's still a need for a place to have some downtime to escape from the hustle and bustle of the convention. But separating the diversity lounge from that relaxation space is, in my mind, the correct thing to do. Focus the lens of the diversity lounge, and truly set the tone for treating other people so much better.

#Diversity, #PAX

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