The GamerParents of PAX

I shopped this around but it was held and deemed too personal by one site – deemed now out of date by other sites – which is why I never write on spec. But this needed to be written. Some of you know this remarkable story but maybe people will link it around some. It’s a great tale and all about GamerDad and my special relationship with Penny-Arcade, Child’s Play Charity, and PAX.

The GamerParents of PAX
GamerDad has more than a few connections with Penny-Arcade and their awesome annual convention, The Penny Arcade Expo.

Three years ago I ran into the man best known as Tycho (real name Jerry) at E3. He’d just become a dad himself and he surprised me by not only knowing about GamerDad, he had checked it out and knew what I was trying to do with the concept. He told me I had to come to the Penny-Arcade Expo. His reason?

“You’ll find a lot of GamerParents at PAX.”

Long story short: I went three years ago and Tycho was right.

At PAX I met plenty of teenagers, and saw more than a few toddlers and infants. While I don’t recommend kids younger than 10 attend these kinds of shows, PAX has a unique audience of polite gamers. Basically all those trolls that populate the Penny-Arcade Forums are Billy Goats in person. Probably has something to do with what’s become known as “Gabe’s Internet Theory” (anonymity + audience = (pardon me) f*ckwad).  But the short of it was obvious. The rise of GamerParenting and gaming with children was easy to spot in the American Northwest come August.

I came back last year, this time doing one-man shows. I covered for Hal Halpin of  the ECA, tackling games and politics and I did my main “Gaming with Children” speech. I found even more parents, an even bigger response. Tycho was right, it was happening at PAX and it was growing.

This isn’t surprising. The GamerParent phenomenon (my term for it) is growing. It’s happening everywhere and you don’t need polls and studies to see it. 5 years ago the idea of a column like this in a hardcore website was unheard of but the demographics prove it to be true. The average gamer is 33, the average parent of a video game playing child is roughly the same. Meanwhile, the average gamer is a GamerParent – or will be one day.

As GamerParents become more prevalent they’ll gain power. Influence developers and producers of games to make kid friendlier fare (and ensuring they keep making Grand Theft Auto too – fact:  GamerParents play GTA when the kids are a’snooze). Five years ago reporters I’d talk to generally had a bias, a bone to pick, with video games. They assumed that virtual violence must lead to real violence, that games were horrible addictive, and that gamers weren’t to be trusted. That’s changed. Now gamers are becoming reporters, soon GamerParents will be their bosses.  When everyone games, everyone wins. There is lots of gaming at PAX.

On a personal note, I returned to PAX this year more nervous and apprehensive than before. It was an emotional trip. As some of you might remember I suffered a Quadruple Bypass a mere week after PAX last year. Gabe (Mike), the artist half of the PA duo, help lead the charge to raise funds for me and my family. With every dollar that rolled in came also notes begging, telling and demanding me to continue. In that way I returned because I had to, I just had to say “thank you!” I delivered that speech in a too-large auditorium featuring dim lighting, cavernous sound, but space for well over 700 people. I delivered it just for them, as a thank you. I mean, I spoke on Sunday and my operation anniversary was the following Tuesday. I had my heart on my mind, on my sleeve and in my throat when speaking, but the audience couldn’t have been kinder too me.

This year was different – I wasn’t alone.  A group of intrepid game developers teamed up to deliver a panel on raising kids with video games, from a game developers perspective. There were more and better panels than ever. And I saw more parents and more gross/icky young geek love proving more kids are on the way. I’ve enjoyed a virtual monopoly on this topic; PAX showed me I’m more than ready to share the burden.

PAX isn’t a great place to bring kids (there are much worse of course), but it is a very interesting way to take the gaming’s temperature, get an idea of what’s happening and where it’s going. Speaking there is like preaching to the choir – but where else can a GamerDad do that? Everywhere else I have to convince people gaming is great – at PAX, it’s understood, it’s accepted, and I get cheered for saying so. No wonder I come back every year – it’s the best place in the world for a gamer to get their enthusiasm, idealism, and activism re-charged.

No Responses to “The GamerParents of PAX”

  1. Great story – and whoever didn’t take it lost a gem!

  2. I agree that PAX is not necessarily the most kid-friendly convention, and Penny Arcade does little if anything to hide its adult themes beyond referring to “Fruit Friends” instead of the alternative. However, I think that PAX represents the ultimate opportunity for parents to connect with their children and understand the culture of gaming. Would I let a child run around unsupervised at PAX? Absolutely not. Is a kid necessarily going to appreciate having his/her mom/dad/both hanging around all the time? Probably not. But that doesn’t take away the potential to make it an overwhelmingly positive experience. Parents need to see the true nature of social gaming, and not the garbage fed to them by overtly paranoid sensationalists and profit-mongers.

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