Last weekend, I had the immense pleasure of attending the 2013 PAX East Video Game Expo. This was not only my first PAX, but also my first convention. Sure, I’d hung out with nerds before, but never in such numbers. After three days of video games, cosplay, little sleep and swag bags, I came out a wisher man, and one with a new purpose: to keep going to conventions.
It all started Thursday afternoon. Waiting for the bus South to Boston, I was approached by a man of about my age, perhaps a year or two younger. Taking a long swig of his carbonated beverage, he asked a simple question: “Is this where the bus to Boston is loading?” Being a polite guy, I said that it was. With a grin, he thanked me. Not wanting to appear anti-social I asked him what he was going to Boston for:
” Oh, theres a big convention in town this weekend, me and my two friends…”
“PAX?” I asked with anticipation.
This was going to be a good weekend. There were at least 6 people on the bus to Boston who were going to Boston, and it was immediately apparent that there was something different about hanging out with this group of people as opposed to some of my other friends I heard at least 4 references to video games in the first 2 minutes. Internet memes were being dropped left and right. People actually GOT my references to obscure television shows and movie.
I arrived in Boston that night, met a few of the guys I was going to spending PAX with for drinks, and then retired, wanting to get some sleep in before the weekend in which I would inevitably be getting very little. (total: 7 Hours by the end of things)
I awoke early on Friday morning, before my alarm had even gone off, eager to begin the day. I knew that I had no idea what to expect, and was eager to actually see what all the humbug was about. When the cab drove over the bridge toward the Boston convention center, I was overjoyed, and then heartbroken to see a massive line, stretching out to the end of the block….
…luckily, I had managed to snag a press pass, granting me early access, and thank god for this. Press had access to the floor an hour before everyone else, and I can sincerely say that I wasted that hour. Upon first walking into the exhibition hall, I was blown away. There was Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, and there was The Elder Scrolls Online! Holy SHIT, there’s Supergiant Games! It was all just too much to take in. I was overwhelmed and I knew it. AND THEN THE PEOPLE CAME IN.
I’ve never seen crowd like there were at this convention. I come from a pretty small city and went to University in a town with a single stop light, so calling me a “big city guy” would be a horrible lie. Hell, my idea of perfection would be living in the middle of the woods as long as I could get a stable internet connection. So, i was a little taken aback by the sheer number of people. These people were, however, fricken awesome. Some of the cosplay was phenomenal. I had legitimate conversations with people using internet memes to prove a point (You may be sensing a trend…). PAX East has used the phrase “Welcome Home” as part of their marketing, and I have to say, I felt that this was surprisingly true.
However, the weekend was not all sunshine, homecomings and unicorns (though I did see a few bronies). I learned a collection of lessons about commercialization that I had never seen in action at the level they were in play that weekend. Walking through the Indie game Showcase was a heartwarming experience, where you could easily talk to any one of few developers, shoot the breeze and learn about the game they have created though. However, head to the Square Enix or Ubisoft booth, and you get an entirely different experience. Instead of deep discussions of the purpose of a game’s features, you were instead greeted to merchandising and booth babes. Not that I didn’t buy more merchandise than I should have, but still, it was a rather obvious dichotomy that I had never seen so clearly.
The highlight of the week however had nothing to do with PAX, nor did it even take place in the confines of the Boston Convention Center. Saturday evening, a friend and I, realizing we had neglected t eat all day, wandered to the Westin next door to grab a bite to eat. Having received our Burgers and Beers, we launched into them voraciously while discussing the days exploits. We were shortly joined by a member of the Blizzard CM team who we had met that day. Shortly, he recognized a group of Firefall Developers, who quickly snagged a table next to ours. They in turn noticed a group of people from PopCap Games, who also joined us.
Then, someone pulled out Cards Against Humanity.
What followed was a three hour session of the best card game in existence in which we easily ruined the dinner of every one else in that restaurant. It. Was. Awesome.
IN the end, PAX was not really about the games, the convention, or the horrendously over-priced convention center food. It was about the people. Games are more fun in a crowd, and it is particularly fun when you are able to sit down and discuss the politics of Skyrim or the artistic value of 8-bit, and NOT have people look at you like you are a complete loon is really, really nice.
My PAX journey ultimately ended the way it began. Waiting in line for the bus bakc north, I saw four people wearing PAX shirts. Once the bus was loaded, I immediately sat in the row in front of them, turned around and said “So, good PAX East?” Come to find out, these guys ran the largest fighting game group in the state. We talked about the nature of the fighting game scene the entire way home. PAX may give you Swag and show you games, but the real reward if the connections and freindships you make.
Oh, screw that, I got a motherfucking Bastion Shirt and Print! Mission Successful!