How the ‘PAX Together’ Initiative Gave Diverse Developers a Seat at the PAX South Table

PAX Together brought developers to the convention that otherwise wouldn't have made it.

The common thread between the people I spoke to about PAX’s “PAX Together” initiative was that, without it, they wouldn’t have been at PAX South 2020 at all.

PAX Together is a Red Bull-sponsored joint effort between local LGBTQ community Houston Gaymers and Gay Gaming Professionals to spotlight diversity in game development, whether that was in a game that specifically included diverse characters and themes or if developers working on the game were part of queer communities, people of color, and women.

According to Eric Hulsey, president of Houston Gaymers, the inception of the idea began through working on the group’s annual PAX South party, which has been held at local venues for the past five years. Along with drinks and dancing, the party also gives a platform for independent developers to showcase their games, especially if they’re unable to attend PAX proper.

“I think working with the indie devs we realized that sometimes they just needed more resources,” Hulsey said. “So looking at specifically indie devs that are supportive of the LGBT community, we wanted to find a way of  working with GGP and using their network to find games and helping boost them up into the spotlight.”

Hulsey said PAX was very receptive to the idea, and wanted to ensure it would have a place on the showfloor. Once it was approved, it was about finding the right games and developers to showcase. The final list included the following:

Even though each developer had a different story to tell about how they found their way into PAX Together’s line-of-sight, several said that something like PAX Together was the difference between having their boots on the ground at PAX South and reading about the show online.

The mission statement of PAX Together shown on signs surrounding the booth. (Photo by Kenneth Shepard)

Jenny Windom, community developer for Rose City Games, said she found out about PAX Together through Twitter, and as Picogram, the developer of the RPG Garden Story, is non-binary, she figured it would be a perfect fit to showcase the game.

“I reached out, sent an email asking if this was still open, and I submitted and we got in,” Windom said. “And really, what has allowed us to come here, especially with me being the only one here, is that they have a team that’s been so supportive throughout the entire process.”

For Seagull Fish Entertainment, getting the attention of the organizers was thanks to persistent promotion and perhaps a bit of luck. Chief Executive Officer Jason Moriarty said that getting the company’s mobile platformer Enter the Reveries into the PAX Together line-up was thanks to the company casting a wide net of social media promotions, which eventually caught the eye of Houston Gaymers and GGP.

“We do a lot of Facebook postings that I’m sure a lot of companies do,” Moriarty said. “We’ve got our game on every Facebook group and channel and social media. Everywhere we can. Houston Gaymers was one of the groups that we posted the game in. PAX Together noticed us through Houston Gaymers so Gordon [Bellamy, event organizer] reached out and said ‘hey, I saw your post on Facebook. Do you want to be part of PAX South?’ We were like ‘sure.’ He said ‘yeah, we’ll do everything for you, just find a way to get here and we’ll have a lot of fun.’”

Each developer at PAX Together said that there were several barriers to showing their game at PAX South, typically associated with the costs of travel and maintaining a booth, but through the support of PAX Together and Red Bull’s sponsorship, each of them were able to bring their games while also presenting them on the showfloor with a budget behind them.

“Red Bull’s helped it make a lot more legit being able to sponsor printing, being able to sponsor a big sign, an LED wall, everything helping attract and make some of the teams that might not have been able to afford the high-end marketing look polished and fresh and a good showcase on the floor,” Hulsey said.

With the support of Red Bull, Houston Gaymers, and Gay Gaming Professionals, the developers had a chance to showcase their games to people who might not find equivalent experiences anywhere else on the showfloor. While showing Garden Story to attendees, Windom met several non-binary players who latched onto the game for its representation.

Windom discussing Garden Story with PAX South attendees. (Photo by Kenneth Shepard)

“What’s really been touching is people have picked up on— so in Garden Story all of the characters are non-binary,” Windom said. “What’s been really, really cool is I think at other events people might have picked up on that and not spoken about it to me, but this is probably one of the first times when I’ve had many people come up to me after playing the demo and say ‘this is really exciting and not just because it’s a really cute game, but I noticed, are these characters non-binary?’ And I was like ‘yes, they are. That’s part of why we’re here.’ Seeing people being excited because they’re finally seeing non-binary representation in a game, even if it’s just like a whimsical little story, it means a lot.”

For Gary Adrian Randall, chief creative officer for Seagull Fish Entertainment, PAX Together has been a chance to connect with other members of the queer community through gaming and beyond.

“For me, I’ve been thinking a lot about the LGBT community, and how we’re really one family, especially given the political climate lately,” Randall said. “Seeing this place and our people— and by ‘our people’ I just mean LGBT people in general, non gender-binary, whatever it is, people coming and just seeing that there’s a dedicated space for these games and seeing that there are gay gamers out there and gay creators, it’s been really great and really gratifying. I feel like, these people are not only our tribe in life, but in gaming too.”

Moriarty at the Enter the Reveries booth at PAX Together. (Photo by Kenneth Shepard)

Beyond that connection, Moriarty hopes that seeing PAX Together and all the games and developers it features will help queer players and developers feel like part of the industry.

“There’s been a lot of, even like pre-teens who identify as something that’s not straight coming over and just seeing this,” Moriarty said. “I’m almost 37 now, and just thinking back to our childhood and how there were no gay television shows. You couldn’t even talk about it. But then coming here to PAX Together where it’s celebrated is such a huge leap in such a small amount of time since we’ve been alive and it’s just heartwarming to see all of it.”

While PAX Together has given these developers a chance to connect with their audience in an intimate way, Windom says that working with the people within PAX Together was a way for her to find another community, one just as invested in showcasing the diversity of the industry whenever given the chance.

“It’s been really nice to be a part of a group of developers and people who all have the same goal,” Windom said. “We all want indie games to succeed but almost I don’t want to say more so, but we want to also make sure to highlight these voices that would not be represented elsewhere or have not been traditionally represented. So to see that we are not only highlighting great indie games but indie games made by people of color, people of different genders and sexual orientations, and women who typically aren’t seen in leadership positions or dev positions in games. I think having a space where we’re all on the same page about that and we know all of us are here because of that is very comforting.”

Whether PAX Together becomes a staple of PAX shows beyond PAX South like PAX East in Boston or PAX West in Seattle is up in the air at this point, but Hulsey says he hopes the success of this first showcase will prove to anyone who doubted its necessity that the hunger for these types of games is not just present, but growing.

“The concept is there,” Hulsey said. “This was the ‘beta test,’ if you will. We wanted to see what goes into it, and I definitely think we’re going to want to do it again next year for PAX South, for sure. It’s all up to PAX on whether or not they want to have this at the other stuff, but from PAX’s perspective, at least from what we’ve seen, they’re completely receptive and supportive and see it as a huge addition to the event. I would love to see PAX Together at all the other PAXes. If there’s room and space and resources to do it, I would think that it would be a great addition to any con.”