On Labour Day weekend I ended going to Pacificon. It was a last-minute decision at Edmund’s request; I had intended to stay home, do lots of writing, keep the cats company, and straighten up the house a bit. On Thursday I agreed to go to the convention instead although I did set aside some time for writing.
To be honest, I’m not finding Pacificon as interesting as some other conventions; it’s great if you’re into historical board games and miniatures, but skinny on the fantasy and science fiction gaming sides, Euro board games, and especially role-playing other than Pathfinder and D&D. Nevertheless, I signed up for a number of games, some of which were cancelled at the last moment, alas. In the end, I played nothing but d20 variants, even though I don’t find the base system enjoyable at all: Mutants & Masterminds 2nd edition, one game advertised as Spycraft 2.0 that seemed heavily home-brewed (we didn’t even have the right character sheets!) and three Pathfinder games, one where we played dragons and two where we played goblins. Except for the M&M game, which was a lot of fun (thank you to game-master Cyrus Harris and player Chris Angelini, Jon Robertson and Edmund Metheny!), the games were lacklustre; Edmund has told the story here and here already so I won’t repeat it.
But amidst this, I found a reason to be hopeful.
In the last few weeks we have had two new shining examples in geekdom of the rampant sexism that can be found in some quarters: the nastiness which Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian have been subjected to. We’ve also witnessed some uncomfortable conversations on racism in the wake of the disgraceful events in Ferguson, Missouri, which have splashed everywhere including geekdom. Some days, it’s easy to think that the geek world is filled with assholes. At the convention, I was reminded that while there are assholes everywhere, things can get better, inch by inch.
First, I noticed that there was a bit more diversity than I remember seeing a decade ago: a variety of age groups were represented, families showed up together, there were a few more non-white participants, openly gay couples were not rare, and everybody I saw behaved courteously towards disabled gamers that had more visible challenges (e.g. with speech or fine motor control.) Historically that has been the norm at the conventions I’ve attended in the last quarter of a century, but visible diversity is increasing, which is good.
On the feminism front, I was pleased that all GMs, whatever their failings, offered a range of female and male characters among their pre-generated character sheets. Our M&M GM had male and female miniatures available for each character; the female characters in the Spycraft game were generally good action characters; and the dragons and goblins were not obviously gendered in terms of roles. In addition, the Pathfinder GMs that used canon material from the official story line used numerous prominent female non-player characters in positions of authority. Paizo Publishing has put in a good deal of effort to make its setting gender-balanced. While there is still progress to be made, I want to salute the effort and recognize its results.
Old stories of the role-playing game world: I remember how, a few years ago, Evil Hat Productions took some flak for insufficient attention to female and non-white characters. I mostly watched from the sidelines because I could at the same time recognize the validity of some of the criticism and see the effort that EHP had already made in being more inclusive; by the time I encountered the discussion, it had already turned flamey enough that I didn’t think I could add much value. I know it was hard and even hurtful for some of the EHP writers, but they did something great and amazing: they shut up after the initial defensiveness, mulled over the topic for a good long while, and learned from the experience. They’ve been trying hard to do better, and this act of recognizing imperfection and doing something about it has increased my respect for them.
Heck, a few years ago, the kind of treatment Quinn and Sarkeesian and many others have received from jackasses would not have received much notice; even most men and women of good will would have shrugged and said this was just the way things are. The fact that so many of my fellow nerds are furious about it tells me we have turned a corner. We’re not post-feminist or post-racial or anything like that, and may never be; but just like with marriage equality, we can see the day where the jackasses will be a festering minority and will be shunned when they use threats, violence, slurs, and general dickery.