The PAX Vibe

After three weeks of reminiscing over gaming's past, I figured I'd take a break from that this week.  Sadly, as many of you have heard, the Luchazine has shut down operations.  A great deal of work in both the writing and the visual design went into the four issues that made it to "print."  Unfortunately, there were several people whose work never made it to public view when issue #5 was officially cancelled.  I am one of those people.  So, I'm using my blog to go ahead and publish the article I wrote a couple months ago.  The end of November isn't typically a time of year when people are thinking about the Penny Arcade Expo, but it's important to keep it in mind if you are even vaguely thinking about going because you need to be saving your money now.  Anyway, here's the lost article I wrote for Luchazine #5.  


The PAX Vibe

Wil Wheaton
Starting in 2004, the Penny Arcade Expo has become home to upwards of 70,000 gamers, nerds, and geeks of all ages, races, religions, political views, and platform allegiances.  The thing that most people take away from PAX is the vibe.  Spending three days in the midst of so many like-minded people is an experience that will stick with anyone who attends the show.  Wil Wheaton said it best in his keynote address at PAX East 2010

“All of the things that make us weird and strange in the real world.  Those things that people tease us for loving.  Those things that we seem to care about more than anyone else at work and school.  Those things make us who we are.  And when we are at PAX, we don’t have to hide them, or explain them, or justify them to anyone.  We have come here this weekend because just playing games isn’t nearly as fun as playing them together, surrounded by thousands of people who love them just as much as we do.”


Yeah, my employer was "PlayStation Owner"
For comparison, I began attending E3 in 1997 at the age of sixteen thanks to a friendship with the producer of PlayStation Underground.  I attended E3 for ten straight years either for my website or simply because I could.  A common misconception about E3 is that it was once open to public.  Obtaining a pass was much easier in the past, but it has never been open to everyone.  While E3 was the biggest thing I looked forward to every year and I enjoyed it immensely, I never felt a sense of community.  But, admittedly, that’s not what E3 is supposed to be about.  E3 is intended to be trade show for business and press, not fans.  

Handheld Lounge
So, when HeavyDuty32, ultgmr, and I decided to go to PAX 2008, I wasn’t sure what to expect aside from being able to play a slew of games before release.  I was shocked after the first day by how different the experience was compared to E3.  While it was relatively crowded, everyone was inexplicably nice.  Virtually every person, whether they were an attendee, enforcer, exhibitor, or panelist, had a permanent smile affixed to their faces.  I quickly realized that I could barely even compare PAX with E3.  The constant, frantic pace of E3 was nowhere to be found.  While thousands wandered the expo hall, hundreds just chilled in beanbag chairs playing their DS’s, and others spent hours playing tabletop games or even teaching random strangers how to play card games.  

The Hidden Level
A topic of discussion that I heard multiple times at PAX Prime 2010, most notably by the members of Giant Bomb and Garnett Lee, was the question as to whether or not PAX was becoming exorbitant and losing some of the vibe that made the show special.  The expo hall portion of the show has doubled in size since 2008 and now portions of the con are held several blocks away from the convention center.  Some feel that the indie-esque nature of PAX is quickly becoming overshadowed by massive E3-style booths and long lines for closed off demos. 

Weekend Confirmed
I understand this concern, but I have to agree with what Shane Bettenhausen said during the Weekend Confirmed panel.  The indie games are still there, mostly in one area, and not hidden away.  The handheld lounges full of beanbags are still there.  The tabletop and card game rooms are still there.  And the dozens of panels that allow the public to meet and interact with industry professionals and Internet celebrities are all still there.  The exponential growth of the expo has not eliminated any of the key features of PAX.  Would we rather have fewer games to see and play in the expo hall in favor of having the main theater not being several blocks away?  I doubt many attendees would be in favor of that.  

If you have not been to PAX, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Start saving your money now for Boston in March 2011 or Seattle next August.  Get some friends to split the cost and book your hotels and/or flights early to save money.  Play some games, see some panels, attend a concert, and just hang out with thousands of people who love the same things you do.  You won’t regret it.

The Expo Hall

This is the first half of a 20 minute video I shot weaving through the entirety of the PAX 2010 Expo Hall.  I ran into another Oscar Mike shirt near the end of this portion of the video. 

The Omegathon 

The Omegathon is a tournament that takes place over the course of the entire weekend where randomly chosen attendees face off in a series of games until all comes down to two players.  The final game is always held secret until the last moment so that not even the players know what's coming.  Previous finals include Pong, Tetris, and Excitebike Vs.  Where else in your life are you going to be among 4000+ fellow gamers cheering and screaming as two people you don't know square off in a game of Skeeball?  Or what about this... (Jump to 2:45 for the big reveal)

The Concerts 

On Friday and Saturday nights, concerts are held in the main hall.  Whether you've heard of any of the acts or not, you should still check them out.  The usual suspects include MC Frontalot, Jonathan Coulton, Metroid Metal, Freezepop, Paul & Storm, Anamanaguchi, and others.  Where else in the world are you going to have a symphony hall packed to the rafters singing along with "Double Rainbow?"  Don't believe me?  Check out MC Frontalot's "Diseases of Yore" (joined by Jonathan Coulton and Paul & Storm) as it suddenly breaks into an interlude that is so intense
8 Comments Refresh
Posted by natetodamax

I'm going to PAX East 2011 and I'm bringing my dad with me. Should be a blast.

Posted by Trace

PAX is a truly wonderful experience, and I'd definitely encourage anyone with the resources and ability to attend to do so. I'm going to try to attend PAX East 2011, provided I can put enough money together and drag enough friends/Race Night regulars/Giant Bomb duders into the mix. Not a guarantee, but I'm sure as hell going to try, since I'd hate to cancel on the hotel and flight.
As a PAX 2005 attendee, my only advice is to try to bring a friend or find someone to meet up with, and have a plan beforehand of things you want to do and talks you want to attend. You'll enjoy yourself regardless, but I went alone without any solid plans back then, and I probably could've had more fun had I brought friends or not wandered around aimlessly as much. Now that PAX is much bigger, this is even more important.
Oh, and having a DS, PSP, and/or simple dice or card game (credit to Magicallystoopid for that last bit) to play wouldn't hurt. Waiting in lines can be pretty dull otherwise.

Posted by Marino
@PsEG I'd be interested to hear your feedback after going next year if you haven't been since '05. Just between '08 and '10 it's changes alot.
Posted by fwylo

I went for ''08 and '09.  I had a ticket for '10 but unfortunately I couldn't attend.   PAX is definitely an amazingly unique experience and I plan on attending Prime '11 for sure.  Recommended for all gamers. 

Posted by Magicallystoopid

Going to PAX from 06 to 09 were all grand experiences with stories to yap about for days.  Really to me the best thing to do in PAX is bring stuff to do, and be ready to try and make friends.  Because I've made a ton of friends there that I still talk to from time to time.  Not to mention getting to meet guys like Shane Bettenhausen and the Giant Bomb crew.  I mean to this day I'm still upset I missed going back in August due to general broked-tude.
This upcoming PAX East in Boston though I hope to go and stay with PsEG... my race night brotha from a different motha.  Also I was thinking of making a Creeper from Minecraft costume to cosplay at the convention, it's not something I've ever thought I would do,  do any cosplay myself, but the PAX air just makes you want to go experiment with the gaming and convention things out there.  Plus the idea of dressing up as a Creeper and walking up to people before going "HHHHSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS" just sounds like fun.

Posted by Marino
@Magicallystoopid: I'm hoping to be there in Boston as well.  I've never cosplayed either, but I might buy a gold bike helmet to go along with a Legends of the Hidden Temple t-shirt just to be funny. 
It's going to be interesting to see what the second PAX East is like considering it's already in a larger venue.
Posted by melcene

The hubby and I went single-day in '08 and Prime in '10.  The first time we went, we were so completely overwhelmed that we swore up and down that next time we'd get a 3 day pass.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to do that, as those sold out pretty quick this year.  Hopefully next year we'll get the 3 day pass, and rent a room downtown rather than driving up from Tacoma. 
All that being said, I remember hearing about PAX back when it was still held in Bellevue.  I even wanted to go back then, but Bellevue... ugh.  Although I haven't gone to the early years of PAX, I've been amazed at how much it's grown.  Heck, I was amazed how much it grew just between 2008 and 2010.   
Unfortunately my husband and I aren't really the types to just strike it up with people we don't know.  So we haven't really gotten to experience the how nice people are thing.  But it doesn't surprise me.  Everyone is there to have fun.  And of course, to try out games :)

Posted by hexx462

Went to this year's prime and it was my first despite the fact that I live very close to it. I waited too long to book a hotel so I could only afford to stay one night, but it was completely and utterly worth it. The Giant Bomb panel is what got me interested in going, and I probably would have had fun if it were the only thing I saw there, but the whole expo was loaded and I was never bored.
I'll be going back next year for sure.