Searching for PAX in All the Wrong Places

[Thor and I were not the only ones who went to PAX East, of course.  According to estimates, over 60,000 PAXers were in attendance.  OTF guest contributor, Jay (3eeve), shares his thoughts on the inaugural East Coast gaming convention, both inside and outside the doors of the Hynes. –Ed.]

The Penny Arcade Expo. PAX. These words are synonymous with the gaming industry. The most important companies in electronic and tabletop gaming are all here, displaying their newest and most polished demos. Gaming rock stars like Chris Avellone happily imparted wisdom from one of many panels. Perhaps even more importantly, indie developers get a shot to strut their stuff. You can see real instruments, modified for use in Rock Band. You can find the most stunning Xbox Live Arcade titles. And more so than any other industry event, this one is for the fans. Basically, if there’s some sort of gaming medium you enjoy, there is a reason for you to attend. If E3 is the Mecca for our people, PAX is surely Medina.

This year marked the very first PAX East. Held in the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik brought their unique, wonderful, and influential event to the other side of the continent. They did not disappoint. The weekend kicked off with a stirring keynote speech by Wil Wheaton, followed by an immediate Q & A session for Gabe and Tycho. Then we were off to the races. Massive rooms of console and PC freeplay for all. Sign-ups for Dungeons & Dragons on two floors. Demos everywhere. Entire hallways devoted to tabletop games both famous and obscure. Any number of panels about all aspects of the industry.

I saw almost none of it.

First, we arrived about 30 minutes before the keynote began. The theater was already full. There were humongous lines for every panel, set up at least an hour in advance. The freeplay rooms were packed. Hordes of people crowded around Red Dead Redemption and APB, ready to strangle for a chance at a controller. Signups for tabletop play were snapped up immediately. In short, it was overwhelming, and frankly not the kind of experience I usually go for. Yet, despite all this, I had the time of my life. Why? The same reason the whole thing might’ve failed utterly: the people.

About a month before the con I’d signed up on Penny Arcade’s forums to join a group of them for dinner and drinks. Anyone who is familiar with the PA forums knows what they’re like—a place filled with sharp motherfuckers who will absolutely rip you to shreds if you make a fool of yourself. Like Something Awful without the porn. (Ok, there is some porn.) The newcomer had best tread lightly, lest he find himself devoured by sharks. Logic sharks. Being a semi-lurker myself, I felt like I was intruding, but quite frankly they were more than happy to have me and my fiancée along. Still, I remained apprehensive. The entire thing was organized by a man whose alias is “Irond Will.” I could only picture a man whose will is so iron, it’s ferrous nature could not be contained by the traditional spelling. Maybe you can see why I might have been nervous. But let me tell you, my fears were entirely unfounded.

The meeting was a semi-formal affair at a “Malaysian style” restaurant. “Malaysian style” means “You will have frog heads.” The less adventurous eaters bonded over such shenanigans—fast friendships are forged in the trenches. My fiancée hit it off immediately with her stories about Edward James Olmos and what a weird dude he actually is. Being a successful social leech, I was able to latch on to her achievements and ride them for most of the night. It is a formula that has worked before and did not disappoint this evening.

On to drinking at a little place called Kingston Station. I did not know Kingston, or anything about his Station, but I discovered that this place serves beer in glasses as long as my forearm. With this knowledge, I felt like he had done something positive for the community. Whatever social walls there may have been crumbled after one of these monumental beverages. I won’t bore you with what was said or what happened, because it probably is not interesting to anyone else. But if you’ve ever imbibed with acquaintances of a common purpose, you know that things get a little smoother and wackier. So I will just boil it down for you: hanging out with these people was awesome.

We did manage to sit in on a few panels, play a few games, and even meet Mr. Wheaton on Saturday, but nothing at PAX proper could top the previous night’s adventures. I had already climbed the top of the mountain; where else could I go? The answer: Courtside Karaoke, a townie bar so dive it may as well be 20,000 leagues under the sea. Apparently, the PA Forumers were not only ones with this bright idea. We ran into a big gang from Destructoid and shared a few tunes with them as well.

PAX is a great for its status in the gaming industry, but that is not what makes the experience truly unique. Gabe and Tycho—two honest, hilarious, and humble men—are the diplomats of the gaming industry, but perhaps more importantly, they have created things that connect disparate and different peoples. A web comic, a forum, a multimillion-dollar charity, a convention: all this brought us together, gave us openings, social gambits to play, and allowed us to dig deeper with one another. We laughed about the latest comic or raved about the newest game. Then we bonded over food, beer, and conversation. These are people I am not likely to see often, and yet I look forward to seeing them again. Hopefully for many years to come.

Jay Imhoff spends at least 12 hours a day attempting to please his professors with the usual tricks:  sit, roll over, play dead, dissect these complex fact patterns.  In his free time, he likes to imagine strange worlds, write, and play the occasional video game.  You can follow him on Twitter or email him at 3eeve -at- openthefridge -dot- net.

Written by: Jay Imhoff

No comments yet.

Leave Your Reply