By Moving Online, PAX Diversifies and Gets New Funding

Convention cancellations across the world rocked the games industry this year. In the era of COVID-19, gamers and developers alike have had to find new and creative ways of coming together to play games, share their stories, and shine a light on the opportunities the industry has to make positive, collaborative change.

We miss the convention floor, but gamers are still coming together to celebrate with PAX Online. (Image Credit: Penny Arcade Expo)

In lieu of PAX West, PAX Australia, and EGX — three of the biggest games conventions in the world, cancelled this year because of COVID-19 — PAX Online offers 12 days of nonstop, 24-hour gaming content, streamed through the PAX website. From September 12 to September 20, the online event provides all the fun of panels, workshops, game demos, competitions, and more, from the comfort of our living rooms instead of the aggressively air conditioned convention halls. Even more exciting, the event is completely free, bringing the convention experience to an enormous international community of gamers, developers, and funders.

I won’t lie — I miss the show floor. But there’s something exciting and inspiring about seeing the games world come together to celebrate, pandemics be damned. What’s more, the unique structure of PAX Online offers new opportunities for diversifying the makeup of attendees, panelists, speakers, and exhibitors who would usually face barriers to entry (like time zones, air fare, and hotel costs).

The event runs through the end of the week, and registration is free. Be sure to sign up online and make the most out of this unique online convention!

Spotlight on Diversity: PAX Together Highlights Minority and Marginalized Voices

In a new program called PAX Together, the Penny Arcade team created “a curated selection of games and groups meant to celebrate a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences within gaming, especially from marginalized or minority groups.”

While many of the selected organizations have attended in-person PAX events as exhibitors or sponsors, this online selection is the first time PAX has put such a specific focus on marginalized and minority voices in gaming.

For example, a large number of the PAX Together selections are groups focused on advocating for and improving the experience of the LGBT community within games. Boston Gaymers, Geeks OUT, GaymerX, Melbourne Gaymers, and Minus 18 all offer safe spaces for queer people to celebrate the games and characters they love. Meanwhile, Queerly Represent Me is a research organization and consultancy agency focused on improving representation and company culture in developers, event organizers, and workplaces in the games industry.

In addition, a number of PAX Together groups focus on uplifting marginalized voices, not just on providing safe spaces. PMS Clan, a video game community devoted to empowering female gamers, works to provide opportunities for competitive female gamers while breaking down stereotypes attributed to “gamer girls.” Black in Gaming and Latinx in Gaming are two organizations focused on connecting, promoting, and empowering the voices of people of color within the gaming sphere. Both organizations further their mission through education, outreach, funding, and entrepreneurial options.

Encouragingly, PAX is also focusing a good amount of energy on mental health resources for gamers. For example, the Games and Online Harassment Hotline, led by Executive Director Anita Sarkeesian, offers free, text-based emotional support for people experiencing stress, harassment, or abuse in the games industry. Another critical offering, Trans Lifeline is a trans-led organization that offers numerous resources for the trans community, particularly through their entirely trans-staffed peer support and crisis hotline, a microgrant program (for updating ID cards), and specialized support for trans people who are incarcerated, detained by ICE, or in the immigration process.

These are just a few of the initiatives and organizations highlighted in PAX Together. The full list of PAX Together selections is available here.

Spotlight on Funders: What’s Happening with #MeToo in Games?

PAX is traditionally funded by a large range of exhibitors and corporate sponsors, including big industry names like EA, Microsoft, and Dolby. This year, PAX Online sponsors and exhibitors include industry giants like Discord and Virgin Media.

In light of the #MeToo movement, which is still affecting the games industry on a regular basis, funders and nonprofits alike are hard at work to create safe, inclusive spaces for gamers and developers. Not all of the below are present at PAX Online, but the conversations started by these movements and organizations are continuing in the panels, discussions, and presentations in this unique event:

  • Humble Games recently created the Black Game Developer Fund, a $1 million annual program designed to help Black devs publish and promote their games through the Humble label.
  • Gay Gaming Professionals (GGP) created the GGP Virtual Pride Festival to celebrate Pride Month and fundraise for the GGP Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to queer students pursuing careers in the games industry.
  • Wizards of the Coast, in response to criticism of racist portrayals in Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons announced the removal of seven Magic cards from sanctioned play that contain racist imagery and text. (It’s important to note here that Wizards has been widely criticized for their lackluster responses to racism in Dungeons & Dragons. As of a June 17th update, however, the company made a new commitment to stamping out racist text and images, stating, “If we make mistakes, our priority is to make things right.”)
  • The Anti-Defamation Leage (ADL), an organization that fights Antisemitism and hate in a variety of industries, published a report titled, “Free to Play? Hate, Harassment, and Positive Social Experiences in Online Games.” The report compiles harassment statistics in online games, and will be helpful research going forward.
  • The ESA Foundation introduced a new Computer and Video Game Arts Scholarship (co-presented with GGP) to support diverse professionals pursuing careers in games.
  • Women in Games (WIGJ) introduced 24 new members of its Ambassador program, which supports women and girls in understanding the games industry and the opportunities within it.

Spotlight on Representation: Events You Can’t Miss

This 12-day convention is unique in that it offers events around the clock. Catering to a truly international audience, PAX Online offers a wide range of panels, competitions, and workshops focusing on everything from “Dungeons & Drag Queens” to the importance of neurodiversity and accessibility in games–and legitimately, everything in between.

Here are a few events in the funding and representation sphere that you don’t want to miss:

  • Mission: Diversity and Inclusion Within Geek Culture: (Monday, September 14th, 6:15pm – 7:15pm ET) This panel focuses on how we, as people, can attend to diversity and inclusion best practices in our lives, professional environments, and around the world. 
  • A Hero for All: A Chat on Diversity with the Cast of Overwatch: (Tuesday, September 15th, 2:15pm – 3:15pm ET) Since its launch in 2016, Blizzard’s Overwatch cast of varied and memorable characters has only grown with the game’s popularity. Hear from the equally diverse cast of talented voice actors in this pre-recorded roundtable session, where they’ll share stories from their industry, and experiences in portraying their characters in a game known for its growing lore and passionate fanbase.
  • We’re Here, We’re Queer, Now What? LGBTQ in the industry: (Tuesday, September 15th, 5:00pm – 6:00pm ET) We’re here, we’re queer, what’s next? Being queer in the games industry means navigating a lot of things—and sometimes even publicly! From game developers to journalists and entertainers, we’re here to explore the world of queerness in games in (and out) of the workplace.
  • Go Get Em Girl! Enter the World of Gaming as a Woman: (Wednesday, September 16th, 3:00 am – 4:00 am ET) Women are underrepresented in the gaming industry and in tech more broadly. There’s pay gaps, discrimination, hate, and so much more. But that doesn’t need to stop you taking up the career of your dreams. This panel, presented by leading ladies of the games world, offers up-and-coming female developers and games aficionados a leg up.
  • Designing for Divergence: Making mentally accessible games: (Thursday, September 17th, 7:45pm – 8:45pm ET) Button remapping. Difficulty settings. Colorblind mode. UI text you can read. These are all accessibility settings we know and love, but what happens when you have ADHD? What about anxiety? PTSD? How do we make games more accessible for folks with an assortment of mental health conditions? Come join industry veterans from across the neurodivergent spectrum as they talk about games that have treated them well, how they’ve incorporated mental wellness lessons into their work, and what games should do going forward to be as loving and accessible as possible.
  • Diversity is Not a Gimmick—Prioritizing Inclusion in Tabletop (Thursday, September 17th, 8:45pm – 9:45pm): Come join Skybound Tabletop and friends as they discuss the need for diversity in the industry. Diversity and inclusion are necessities that are vital to our community and require thoughtful consideration. It is not right to watch the community grow and not let the content and makers of our games grow as well. Our industry has been treating diversity like a gimmick, and that just makes it ten times harder for others to take this seriously. Let’s talk about what we’ve been doing already and what more we can do in the future to expand our games, people, and community in general.
  • Inclusion and Sensitivities of Indigenous Culture in Games (Sunday, September 20th, 4:15am – 5:15am ET) During this talk Phoebe Watson, a proud Yarrer Gunditj woman, will speak about her experience in the processes she takes to include Aboriginal Culture into the game InnChanted. Highlighting the benefits of including Aboriginal culture in games and the importance of it along the way. She will also discuss how to approach this for developers who are uncertain about how to begin the process and what to keep in mind.
  • Beyond 101: Representation in Indies, the Industry, and Beyond (Sunday, September 20th, 2:30pm – 3:30pm): How can we move beyond 101 levels of representation? Let’s talk a bit about how to make the game industry more inclusive, diverse, and just. Indie games can create shifts in the industry from the ground up, so we’ll discuss what’s being done successfully in terms of representation in indie games, how the industry as a whole has responded to increased diversity, and what we—as a community of game makers, industry members, and fans—can do to ensure that we affect change for the better.
  • BIPOC: There’s Room for All of Us (Sunday, September 20th, 7:30pm – 8:30pm): There are many underrepresented groups that work within the gaming industry. These groups are diverse and unique and have issues and concerns unique to them. This panel is not just about these concerns but how the BIPOC community can come together as strong allies for each other and uplift each other’s communities.

Are you attending PAX Online? See if you can catch our team in the panels!


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist headquartered in Annapolis, MD and Philadelphia, PA. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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