The PAX East gaming convention starts today in Boston. You probably already know if you’re going or not—tickets to these things usually sell out months in advance. If you had a badge or ticket but were somehow still on the fence, though, let Paste guide you. PAX has become a controversial event over the last few years, and there are good reasons not to go to it. There are also reasons you should maybe attend, too, though, if you are the kind of person who wants to go to a show like PAX. Elsewhere today we discuss why PAX East might be worth checking out, but right now let’s look at five reasons why you might not want to go to PAX East.
PAX East is run by the company behind the web comic Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade is a bad comic that has inordinate influence among the sort of people who willingly self-identify as “gamers.” When Penny Arcade makes a joke about something, that joke will be repeated throughout the internet so often that it will be remembered as the truth. You don’t have to spend all day reading game sites or message boards to understand Penny Arcade, but you have to if you want to trick yourself into thinking the comic is actually funny.
Last year Penny Arcade put up a job listing for an IT position. The listing basically said that the right candidate would be somebody who didn’t mind working overtime to fill multiple different IT roles for less-than-competitive rates. (The listing also made a joke about number two below.) When you support PAX you support a bad comic that has traded on its undue influence to underpay prospective employees.
In 2011 a Penny Arcade strip referenced rape in its punchline. Some readers pointed out that rape isn’t funny and that they maybe should’ve used a trigger warning, and the creators of Penny Arcade responded by mocking and antagonizing anybody who disagreed with them. This is a real thing that happened. When members of their audience pointed out that this comic could cause some people pain, the official Penny Arcade response wasn’t to empathize with their polite critics, but to try to make those readers feel more pain. PAX has always touted its supposed inclusivity, but one of the company’s founders has a history of reacting with hostility and derision when people point out their lack of respect for others. That attitude influences some of their fans, and it’s now impossible to tell a difference between a vocal portion of the Penny Arcade fanbase and typical conservative talk radio listeners. They both like to smugly explain why people they don’t know and know nothing about aren’t entitled to their own emotions, opinions or personal experiences. Why would you want to support people that engage in and endorse this kind of behavior?
PAX bills itself as a convention for the fans, promising anybody who buys a ticket a hands-on, shrunk-down version of the industry-only E3 trade show. That promise translates to spending an hour in line to play a few minutes of a game that’ll be out in six months, and probably sold back to GameStop in six and a half months. And that’s assuming the demo you’re in line for is actually playable and not just a PR guy talking while a developer plays the game on a big screen. PAX brings people together to gawk at would-be blockbusters and their unnecessarily elaborate booths. Maybe you’ll have a conversation in line, or maybe you’ll whip out your 3DS or Vita and lock hard onto one screen while waiting for another – either way you’re just killing time while waiting for an ad pitch. PAX creates a makeshift community out of a shared affinity for game commercials.
The concept of gaming as a lifestyle might be the downfall of videogames. It prioritizes the trappings of being into games and so-called gamer culture over the actual games themselves, leading to easy stereotypes and hard looks at the choices we’ve made in our lives. Most people at PAX probably live full, productive, satisfying lives, with a variety of interests and hobbies. Dipping into the echo chamber of PAX inevitably suspends that for an entire weekend, reducing us to single-minded obsessives, the stereotypes that advertisers and marketers try to turn us into but that we normally refute every day. They tell us to wear game shirts, listen to game music, eat and drink from gas stations and fast food drive-throughs, and during PAX we do. PAX is Neogaf actualized, a videogame blog comment section given corporeal form, and much like we wouldn’t spend eight hours a day commenting at N4G.com, we shouldn’t spend eight hours a day fully immersed in marketing campaigns that seek to dehumanize us. We should let our day jobs dehumanize us, like good citizens.
The Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Massachusetts, calls itself “America’s oldest agricultural fair.” Every year, amid the livestock competitions and 4H dioramas and hot tub sales tents, there’s a small shotgun shack with a few adult pigs and many little piglets. The stench is overpowering, but the piglets are adorable, so the small shack is always packed full of people. The pig shack at the Topsfield Fair smells better and is more comfortable than PAX. Save your PAX money and go to Topsfield in October. You won’t regret it.
Also see our list of five reasons to go to PAX East.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games section. He’d like to be in Boston this weekend but not necessarily for PAX East.