Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

You can enjoy PAX without supporting Penny Arcade

Posted by Ben Zeigler on September 8, 2013

There’s been a lot of interesting pieces written about Penny Arcade over the last week, and it’s been a good conversation that I’m glad is happening. I don’t support at all the kinds of things that Mike/Gabe has said about… well most things. But, I do not feel morally obligated to boycott the Penny Arcade Expo. My main reasoning is best explained by this great essay:  How to be a fan of problematic things. But, what about PAX specifically?

There are 3 related but distinct entities here: Mike Krahulik, Penny Arcade the corporation, and Penny Arcade Expo the event. Mike Krahulik is the artist and part owner of Penny Arcade, and Penny Arcade is the originator and organizer of Penny Arcade Expo. If you strongly object to something Mike does or says, obviously you should not support him. But, should your opinion extend to Penny Arcade the corporate entity? Considering that every other member of Penny Arcade has been silent or supportive of Mike, it probably should. I personally don’t feel comfortable supporting Penny Arcade financially and I would not consider funding their kickstarter or buying their merchandise given the way that company acts.

But, does this mean that I should boycott PAX because of my feelings towards PA? This is a more complex question, but for me it rests on the question of what PAX really is. Is PAX a corporate event primarily built to push the company’s agenda (say, something like the D23 Disney Expo), or is it attempting to be an authentic community-driven event? I think PAX is more owned by the overall gaming community than it is by Penny Arcade itself, and it’s been deliberately designed that way.

The policies and activities of PAX itself are managed by a collective of volunteer Enforcers, who as a group have far more say about how the show runs than anyone in Penny Arcade. The entrance fees are low enough that PA isn’t getting rich off those, and it sells out every year so buying your ticket doesn’t affect their bottom line in any way. The proper Penny Arcade influence on the show consists of a few merchandise booths and some panels, much less presence than Firefall had the last time I was there (that booth was huge). At this point PAX really is it’s own entity that could drop any official PA associations with no loss of prestige or attendance. Penny Arcade sets some policy directions and has broad control over logistics, but it has nothing to do with 90% of the experience.

So, I have no problem supporting PAX while not supporting Penny Arcade. PAX has been a positive influence on my own happiness and on that of others, and has done a lot to encourage positive interactions within a community that is often poisonously negative. I have no problem supporting something that I view as 80% positive and 20% negative. If I see something that is mostly positive but could use some reform, I feel engagement and communication are more likely to be useful than boycott. In the end I’m glad these discussions are happening, and hopefully it leads to a better PAX in the future that sheds more of its poisonous Penny Arcade connection.

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