Why I Didn't Attend PAX East

I imagine it should be apparent from my blog that I ended up going to Anime Boston a little over a month ago. Of course, there was another convention in Boston that same weekend, one that no small amount of my friends ended up going to. I was tempted, myself, to drop by PAX East, even if only to go talk to the Riot Games people about League of Legends. In the end, though, I ended up skipping PAX East this past April, and I don't regret that decision.

Part of that was simple apathy. I had a limited amount of time that weekend anyway, and it was easier for me to sit around the Hynes Convention Center at Anime Boston than it was to hike across Boston to the convention center in which PAX East was being held. Part of that was finances; it's not like I couldn't have spared the $35 to get in, but I just didn't have enough of a desire to get in to make spending the money worthwhile.

The largest part of it, though, was the fact that I am not really a fan of Penny Arcade, and never have been. Because I have never really bothered to read the comic, my knowledge of Penny Arcade is shaped by incidents like this one. Yes, I know, the dickwolves incident is almost two years ago now. Unfortunately for Penny Arcade, it's what I remember of their comic, and when friends of mine asked me if I was going to PAX East, it's what I thought of.

And perhaps I would be being a little unfair if it was an isolated incident, if you can even call an extended pattern of responses and arguments an "isolated incident" (you can't)... now what's this?

For the record, yes, he has every right to support whatever he likes, even a game that takes a tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at a particularly problematic genre. Just as I have every right to condemn him, Penny Arcade, and PAX for it. In short, "but free speech!" will not fly here.

For the record, yes, liking problematic things doesn't make you a terrible person. Not automatically, anyway. The blog post at that link there is really the best breakdown (that I know of) of how not to become a terrible person when talking about problematic things, even ones you like. I certainly can't do any better.

Speaking personally, I am no stranger to hentai, although I usually shy away from tentacle porn and any depictions of rape or assault. I don't find seuxal assault to be arousing or interesting, and playing games that end up trivializing or glossing over it isn't something I really want to do. What hentai I do look at is usually in the form of visual novels, a particular type of computer game that I find to have engaging stories (that do include sex scenes) and characters who actually have their own feelings and desires, who don't exist solely for the pleasure of the (assumed male) protagonist or player.

That isn't to say they're not problematic, because they are. Some of the sex scenes depicted in those works are still highly questionable (whether by playing the "rape-as-plot-element" card, or otherwise by uncritically presenting sexual assault), and some elements of the stories are also problematic, or at least unrealistic. I'm not really prepared to go into the details here; a detailed analysis of the story of, say, Kanon, would probably be an entirely separate post. For the moment, I will leave it with this: that usually the stories and characters involved are interesting and engaging enough for me to find these things worthwhile, despite their very real problems.

Call it satire if you like - a game like the one he's promoting there doesn't actually say anything worthwhile about those problems, in my opinion. I don't think hentai should have to involve rape, and I think laughing at the prevalence of rape in hentai is counterproductive at best. I think it's possible to create games, whether card games like this one or computer games like my visual novels, that can be sexual or erotic and yet not involve sexual assault.

And the fact that the people who run Penny Arcade and PAX East don't seem to share my concerns is a problem. It is, in fact, a problem that has kept me away from PAX East this last spring, and will likely do so for many years to come. Condemn me for that decision if you will, but I have the ability to choose who and what I want to support. Until I believe that PAX East is more in line with the way I want the world to be, I won't be supporting them.

ETA: Shakesville linked to my post in their own coverage of this particular incident. I highly recommend going and checking out that post, because it's an excellent summary of the situation and collection of other posts on the matter.

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