Everyone goes to PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) for varying reasons: the tournaments, the swag, the demos, the panels, the amazing cosplay, or even just the overall gaming community. Yet every single person is there because of their love for video games.
This was my first PAX, I will admit, yet I am a seasoned veteran of conventions. Like most conventions, the show floor was crowded with bodies, lines, and experiences on every floor. Yet the highlight of PAX West wasn’t the AAA demo titles; it was by far the diversity-focused panels and indie games.
Sequestered away from the main dimly lit hub of PAX, on the top floor of the Washington Convention Center, was the indie games section. Though there were some indie booths on the main hub, there were fewer amounts, hidden away in the poor lighting of the floor. The majority of games showcased by big studios at PAX were nothing we haven’t seen all over the internet already, and so the indie section stole the show with their innovative and diverse showcase of games. Below are a few that caught my attention, where I took the time to discuss the game with the team present.
Falcon Age (Outerloop Games)
Falcon Age is a first-person, single-player action-adventure. As Ara, players learn to hunt, gather, and fight to reclaim her cultural legacy in the lost art of falcon hunting against a force of automated colonizers.
Prey for the Gods (No Matter Studios)
Prey for the Gods is a brutal journey set on a desolate frozen island, where your only chance of survival is to destroy the very gods you believe in.
Cat Lady (Rose City Games)
A side-scrolling dungeon crawler. With the help of her cats, Ally must find a way to turn the house back to normal by defeating the demons lurking in the mansion.
Touch Type Tale (Pumpernickel Studio)
A boy is wanted for his nimble fingers by four rivaling dukes and duchesses of a kingdom in turmoil. A real-time strategy game controlled by typing.
Luna the Shadow Dust (Lantern Studio)
Point and click. Together with our main character and his mystery friend, players will experience a unique adventure that requires both courage and determination. Enter the ancient tower that stands at the edge of world, help the character bring back his lost memories, and find out the darkest secret beyond the tower itself.
Acron Attack of the Squirrels (Resolution Games)
One player in VR takes on the role of a large, ancient tree that is the sole protector of the golden acorns. Meanwhile, two-to-eight frenemies can then grab their iOS and Android devices to become rebel squirrels that’ll do anything to steal the golden acorns using an arsenal of unique abilities.
Greak: Memories of Azur (Bromio)
A side scrolling single-player game with traditional hand drawn animation. In this adventure, the player will take the role of three siblings: Greak, Adara, and Raydel, whom you will need to guide through the lands of Azur. They will be able to alternate control between them at any moment and use their unique abilities to escape from the Urlag invasion.
Beyond Blue (E-Line)
Set in the near future, players will explore the mysteries of our ocean through the eyes of Mirai, the lead on a newly-formed research team that will use groundbreaking technologies to see, hear, and sense the ocean in a more meaningful way than has ever been attempted.
Outside the floor itself, past the crowds and long lines, was where the real conversations were held. PAX West arguably had the biggest list of diverse panels I had seen at a public event like this before. That said, things certainly aren’t perfect in the gaming industry. Various panels only hinted at the lengths the industry still needs to go.
These panels were insightful and so incredibly important to see at PAX. It was disappointing that through all the “diversity” panels I attended, only one was part of the PAX streaming program. It was a missed opportunity not to have these panels recorded and streamed online for consumption outside of the PAX attendees. Engaging with diverse consumers and creators is the first step we can make towards properly reflecting the diverse audiences that we see at PAX and all over the world. Voices from people of color, LGBTQ+, and those with mental health disorders need to be heard.
PAX West thankfully was willing to open their doors for such panels and start the conversation, but it’s a shame they couldn’t be shared elsewhere. Panels, such as “Gaming While Other: accessibility, diversity, representation” is a small step into having those voices heard, and I would encourage others to attend such panels, if anything, just to understand how to be a proper ally. We all might just learn a little more about the world and people around us.
Gaming tech in healthcare was an example of how people have taken a sequestered population and been able to bring games to them, especially those with disabilities that may not have otherwise had access to video games. It was through pushes in technology and gamer advocates that they were able to introduce games to various populations that were in the hospital.
PAX could have easily felt like another convention to me, but between the indie games and the panels, it quickly became a memorable experience. I’ll never forget the stories I heard–the good and bad experiences of trying to find yourself in games when you don’t match the status quo. It reminded me of why games are so important to an individual person and how “different” is exactly what we need.