"Aw C'mon! Your Shit Is Weak! Where's Your Grouping?"

With some downtime at PAX East 2012 I decided to check out the arcade freeplay area. The week before PAX, Ryan tweeted about almost nothing but his damn Ms. Pac-Man machine and I thought I'd indulge myself and give it a try. See what the fuss was about.

Soon after playing (and not being very good mind you), I hear those words shouted from behind, cutting through the noise and music of the ACAM room. It was a moment in a PAX full of the greatest moments when who but Ryan Davis himself arrived at that very instant, saw two Whiskey member shirts, and decided to say hey in the way only he could. It's been said already many times but it bears repeating many times over: Ryan was masterful at bringing loving sincerity and a larger than life sarcastic wit wherever he was. My time with Ryan in that arcade (the first 6 minutes of the embedded video below) is something that almost immediately came to me after hearing the news.

How could it not? It was such a quintessentially Ryan moment. Swearing profusely at the machine, giving it the double middle finger by the end, and telling us that he knew he could approach us as a friend once he spotted our member shirts. If nothing else, then with my drop into this magnificent pond of love and respect from friends and community members, I can at least give 6 more minutes of Ryan Davis being Ryan Davis.

I followed Ryan for something around 9 years. That's somewhere about half of my waking life. I remarked to myself how long I've been following Jeff, Ryan and the rest but it wasn't until Ryan passed away that number somehow took on a different meaning. Somehow became hard, concrete, meaningful in way it was only a badge of honor before. Those who knew him or of him far less are having a devastated time of things all the same, which only speaks to the quality of person that gave so much of himself for people to enjoy.

But even so, 9 years. It was then put into sharp relief not only how much Ryan and his friends mean to me, but how constant they've been a part of my life. How for the past 9 years, I haven't gone a week without them. I've loved video games since I was very young but as soon as I began visiting GameSpot in earnest so many years ago, my love for video games, and why I know so much, and care so much, cannot be separated from the weeks, months, years, I spent taking in everything Ryan and the rest had to say. More than just his amazing personality and intelligence, his passion for games was something I was more than proud to follow along, to be a part of, however small, for as long as I could. For as long as 9 years sounds, I never thought the ride would end so soon. Too soon.

It would be one thing if I was an enthusiastic viewer and community member, week in, week out, happy and proud to be part of Giant Bomb as soon as the doors opened. To see the truly special things that this site has done in the past unfold. Being in that position for so long even then, my chance would come to close the loop and finally meet them. Talk with them, thank them and show my support. Little did I know I would have Ryan to thank for so much more.

Now Ryan was not exclusively responsible for all the great people who have become friends of the site but if the wonderful Harmonix Livestream about Ryan hit home with anything, it's that Ryan was central to so much in that regard. Hearing John Drake tell it, John knew of the chuckleheads supreme Johnny V and Adam Boyes before but Ryan made sure they were close friends. Ryan's enthusiasm and wit brought in the unflappably :D Brad Muir which, as a result of Ryan's handiwork, has now become friends with Giant Bomb, the Chicago posse, and the Harmonix crew. In particular it was when John said that he "got to meet Max Temkin because of Ryan" that I instantly said to myself, "I met Max Temkin because of Ryan" and it made me realize what I need to talk about in remembrance of his passing. What for me, someone so lucky and grateful to know the likes of Eric Pope, John Drake, Dave Lang, Jeff Green and many more as friends, made Ryan's passing that much harder and the love and sense of community after the announcement that much more meaningful.

It was the very first year I attended PAX East, the first year it was made available, that things were more than just about the staff. Sure, I waited as best I could in a panicked state to make Jeff's panel (he was the only one from the staff that went in 2010) after the seats got filled. To my relief, they had some extra chairs in the back. It was then I shook his hand and finally got to meet someone I followed for as long as I've recounted here. It was also the year I bought the full run of Penny Arcade books, which included a rather large hard cover book I decided would be good enough in the moment for autographs. More on that book in a bit. For that year however, it was a damn dream come true, finally meeting Jeff and more importantly, some other people I recognized. My favorite being Paul Barnett, who not only drew me a great Ork in my book but I saw freezing near the front door of the Hynes Convention center. From that point on, PAX became more than just seeing Giant Bomb. It became about meeting and giving love to the people that Giant Bomb considered its friends. The least I could do, I thought, was make them feel welcomed and know the community is right there with them.

I'm not going to recount the full story of 2011 and 2012 because I already wrote up those up in another long blog post but in brief, as the years went on, each PAX East became another year when I finally got to personally meet a new staff member or a friend of the site. In the first few years I would shake hands and chat with everyone from Giant Bomb and get to know John Drake, Eric Pope, Dave Lang, and Jeff Green among others. Sure these were first meetings but each year would build on the last and of course bring new people. As time went on, PAX became less and less about the panels (since I've felt like I saw most of them already) and more and more about catching up with old friends. It's a bit of an exaggeration for me to call Pope, Drake, Lang, Green, and the GB staff "old friends" and yet not. I probably spent the most time at East this year just walking around booths, shaking hands, catching up with those aforementioned and making new friends. As much as I regret saying I'm "the Lang Zone guy" to people for potentially sounding self-important, it was worth that risk when Giant Bomb and its friends can be so loving, compassionate, funny, and welcoming. Luck and making opportunities is certainly part of it but at some point it was all them and I merely pushed over the first domino.

I tell this story now because when John Drake talked about how Ryan was pretty much responsible for bringing all those people together in the first place, I hadn't realized until then how much the relationships I enjoy with those people was Ryan all along. Even now I can't imagine how I would have gotten through the first day without the people Ryan has brought together. In retrospect I shouldn't be surprised, given how much the panel guests for shows like E3 have been amazing and become the highlight of the show each year.

Right now and for as long as I hope to live, I will look back at Ryan's legacy for not only his personality and humor. Not only his unique and incredibly meaningful insight in video games. But how he took all of what he was and put that into bringing so many great people together which I and the entire community now enjoy. More than thank you will ever do Ryan Davis, but that's all I got.

I will miss you so much. Here's to you Ryan, from all those who will miss him. I still can't believe you're gone.

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The Origins (and legacy) of the Lang Zone

[This is version 2 because I accidentally pressed backspace and my entire post went away. I was nearly finished too :( I was luckily able to recover what I wrote up until the second picture.]

I sort of languished on the task of writing this up after PAX East this year but after seeing the extent to which the Lang Zone (and its sole resident Dave Lang) were prominent at this year's PAX Prime, it gives me a good excuse. Even at East there were only a small number of people who know the full story. A story I was at the center of and one that made PAX East 2012 one of the best (and most emotionally dramatic) weekends of my life.

First a bit of background. I've attended every year of PAX East since it began in 2010 and I've taken to running around like an energetic son of a gun to meet anyone and everyone I knew or admired in gaming development and editorial. During East I took it upon myself to get autographs and I thought it no better than to use the wide swaths of empty space afforded by my Penny Arcade 11 1/2 year anniversary book. My favorite moment in 2010 was finding Paul Barnett sitting on a bench at the then used Hynes Convention Center freezing his ass off near the door. Naturally he drew me a "WAAAAAGGHH' Ork face. Anyway the upshot is this book was filled with autographs from damn near every dev familiar to me as a Giant Bomb fan as well as Jeff and some others who attended East in 2010. 2011 is the same story but even better when I got to meet the whole staff and more friends of the site.

My favorite picture from PAX East 2011.
My favorite picture from PAX East 2011.

Fast forward to 2012, the year in which I was disproportionately pumped because I knew that certain people would be there I had not met yet, specifically Adam Boyes. Thanks to this Xbox event video, I knew that I would also be running into Dave Lang and I thought it would fun to run up to him and give him daps for being cool with Giant Bomb. In walking around I hit the Xbox booth and see a friend from past PAX Easts, Mike Wilford of Twisted Pixel, demoing stuff. I ask him where Dave Lang was and he graciously pointed me in the right direction. Lo and behold demoing Wreckateer is the big man himself. So I run up to him, shake his hand and mention something about Giant Bomb, but I can't remember specifics. I do recall vividly however asking him where Adam Boyes was. This was the first surreal moment of PAX for me because the next thing Dave does is ask my friend and I "you want me to call him?". I couldn't say yes fast enough as I was still falling over my own bewilderment. The conversation was priceless. Dave said "yeah I've got a couple of friends I'm sending over, they'll be there in a minute". Already this was great but it got better and this is the critical moment that started it all. When I asked for his autograph, he seemed a bit embarrassed and dismissed me saying to go meet Adam. I thought nothing of it and moved on, thanking Dave and trying to find Adam.

I do in fact run into Adam a few minutes later and was an absolute delight at the show. I immediately told him about Lang and his refusal and naturally Adam ate it up. Almost from the start the incident inflated way beyond its humble beginnings. I go on for another hour or so and I make my way around the Harmonix booth for the second or third time. By this point I was eager to tell anyone this story because of how much fun Adam's reaction was. John Drake being the prince among men that he is, naturally did this:

No Caption Provided

Hanging out a bit more with Drake, getting his autograph, and thanking him for that and the antics, I wanted to find Adam as soon as possible. This was quickly escalating into something great and I was too excited not to help it along. Finding Adam at the Capcom booth, I tell him to "check twitter" because of something about Lang. He immediately busts out laughing upon seeing Drake's post, which was also retweeted by Ryan soon after. My friend and I stick around and have another nice conversation with Adam in which he shows me the famous Johnny V laptop burn picture. He swears I have to keep this a secret but astute observers will note that picture being joked about at the Harmonix panel that Sunday.

Having something to point to when talking to people, I left the show floor and the pace mellowed out turning back into a pretty typical fun but chill time at PAX. Going home that night I reminisced on the craziness but little did I know it had just begun.

The next day, Saturday, after my first round of panels I get back to the show floor to maybe run into some more friends of the site or the staff themselves. Lo and behold in front of the Gearbox booth I happen upon Patrick, Jeff, Brad, and Drew. Seeing my member shirt they knew I was friendly and said hi. Focusing on Patrick I tell him about Dave Lang and the autograph and he instantly lights up saying, "oh so you're the guy who Dave Lang refused to give an autograph". Patrick then turns and lets everyone know I'm "that guy" and they laugh and we exchange a few words. I learned that Dave and others started telling the story and it became a thing overnight. It must have been told when the staff were all at a bar someplace Friday night, or maybe having dinner, hard to say. I distinctly remember giving Patrick my autograph book to sign and he obliged and took it further writing in it something to the effect of "fuck Dave Lang". Knowing that some little encounter I initiated became something like this was just too much. Honestly though it really was such a joy to see all these personalities from the site we know and love play off of each other. Throughout the show signatures from various devs associated with the site talked shit to each other in my autograph book. This never really happened in past years and the tone of that shit talking would come to define the fun atmosphere I was somehow responsible for.

The rabble-rouser himself: Adam Boyes giving at demo at the Capcom booth
The rabble-rouser himself: Adam Boyes giving at demo at the Capcom booth

Later on in the afternoon I decide to check out the American Arcade Museum freeplay area to play Ms. Pac-Man. Ryan was tweeting a lot about it at the time and I wanted to give it a shot on a real machine. After about a minute or so, who else but Ryan Davis starts shit talking my Ms. Pac-Man play over my shoulder! My friend and I freak out because goddamnit Ryan just did that and he's right there. Naturally I finished up the game to Ryan's heckling and he had a go (which you can see in the video at the end.) He said he saw my member shirt and knew he could approach me as a friend of the site. I quickly got down to talking about Dave Lang and all that and Ryan hinted at taking that idea and running with it somehow but I can't confirm if Ryan did in fact relay to me some sort of hint. Either way I would soon learn more to that end.

After the last panel of the day before the Bombcast panel that night, I run back to the show floor and run around some more, talking to people like Dan Amrich, Jeff Green (which I visted a lot as well) and a bunch of others. Honestly there's no better time at PAX that getting the opportunity to meet cool people you only get to see on the internet. Anyway, I end up back at the Capcom booth looking for Adam and find him again. (Side note: I'm also fuzzy in the order of the events, can't remember if Ryan or the Patrick conversation happened first on Saturday). Adam talks again about Lang and how I "started the meme!" about Dave. This is when Adam drops a bomb on me and tells me that they're going to have Dave Lang at the front of the stage during the panel signing autographs for people. Equal parts unbelief and excitement, I sat there mouth practically agape at the thought that this is going to be featured in the Bombcast panel. Me! My running around having fun at PAX and knowing people from the site resulting in who knows what! After leaving the show floor I slowly became more and more nervous about the endeavor. It came from not knowing what to expect, what Dave's reactions would be (I deliberately avoided him on Saturday to let the dominoes fall further), and what they would have me do at the panel. Would I go up to the front? The thought was too much to bear and I tried my best to relax while waiting in line with my friend.

In line, I struck up a conversation with two duders who came together and played a few rounds of the Metagame with them using my deck. Coming up on 9:00 pm, we're finally ushered in to get seated. The four of us sit down on the right side, about the first third of the rows. Still a little nervous, once the music began I let all that go and started to enjoy the show. The music, the prelim jokes, I had a time as I imagine nearly all did with me. The panel begins and I am waiting for the moment and then Ryan starts talking about outsourcing the panel and autographs around the 5 minute mark. The rest is PAX Panel history:

As the panel progressed the Lang Zone got its name from the staff and was forever codified as a meme on the site. I get happy and nostalgic ever time I continue to hear or see a reference to the Lang Zone. Its quite surreal to consider how far and wide the Lang Zone joke continues to go knowing its all because of something I did. I'm not saying this to brag, quite the opposite. In fact it comes from a place of immense gratitude that such a small effort on my part was rewarded with so much in the end. I'll say it again later but thank you all so much for the time and opportunity to make that PAX so memorable. Seeing this was just the icing on the cake:

No Caption Provided

Hold on though, that's not the end. I talked to Dave after the panel and, in addition hugging it out and squashing the beef in jest, I learned what that was all about. Since I asked about Adam Boyes immediately before the autograph, he thought I was a joke sent by Adam or someone he knew. Frankly he said though, he was a bit surprised and embarrassed and was too humble to give something like an autograph so he sent me along. Never let it be said Dave Lang isn't a really nice person, especially given all jibes he was at the center of all weekend. Naturally he took it in stride and more so and for that I have to thank him the most.

Sunday...the panel the previous night was a culmination of everything that came before it and then some, so naturally I had to hit the floor one last time to talk to everybody. That morning we had donuts but there were a few leftover so we thought it would be nice to give some to Dave at the booth for being such a good sport. I swear my luck was unbelievable because I also happen to find Jeff and Ryan talking to Dave on Sunday morning:

My favorite picture from PAX East 2012
My favorite picture from PAX East 2012

Man I wish my smile wasn't so crappy and understated. After taking that picture Ryan told me they were happy I ran around and started all this because they almost had nothing else to put in the panel. So, the thread was complete and I was ready to write off the show as the best PAX ever by a long mile. Still half a day left I go on and visit the Harmonix booth to say hi again and take pictures with Pope, Drake, and Navarro. Little did I know that visit would result in one of the most soul crushing moments of my life. I put my all-black string backpack down on the carpet at the Harmonix booth to take some pictures. A few minutes later I go back for the bag and it was gone...

I was frantic, telling John and Pope about the bag and how it had my autograph book in it. Aaron from Harmonix as well as the others were incredibly generous in helping me look for the bag all across the booth for what seemed like a long time. They even went on the Rock Band stage and asked people if they've seen the bag. For them to do that for me, especially knowing how important the bag was, is beyond simple words. I still eagerly await seeing Harmonix at East 2013 to thank them again personally.

I scramble around to no avail. I finally decide to run back up to the front entrance and inform the enforcers and ask them to keep an eye out for my bag in the lost and found. For the rest of the show, my last four hours of what should have been the best PAX ever was spent looking for the bag. Telling security, checking lost and found for what must have been the 10th time, I was losing my confidence in finding it. I also managed to inform Dave and others about the loss of the book but by that time the GB staff had already left. Nearing the end of the show, I had spent the time I should have been enjoying myself instead looking for my bag and helplessly asking enforcers instead.

Getting my coat from the check-in area I decide to say goodbye and as I was walking use the opportunity to cope with the situation the only way I know how: talk about it. You see all that and more below:

(There are a few typos in the credits, and I cut that together as it says, two weeks after the show)

A long ways out from East I can definitely say I've moved on from the loss of the book. I have to thank Jeff Green for expressing sympathy on twitter and encouraging me to "get all those signatures back" soon after getting back home. I do plan to obtain a book better suited for the purpose (the old one was a pain in the ass to carry and take out) and refuse anything less than a full recovery of all those signatures. Luckily I have a list of all the people who were in the book before so its not a total loss and its another opportunity (or excuse :D) to meet all those wonderful people again. Still though, the loss will forever be a part of my memory and experience with the show and I'm very much okay with that.

With this post I wanted to let people know not only the story behind the Lang Zone, which I see continues to grow thanks to using the same joke at Prime this year, but what it means to me as the one who set it off and saw it all unfold. For me the legacy of the Lang Zone on the site is not only a reminder of the experience of that weekend but the best consolation a fan could ask for. Thank you Giant Bomb, see you next year at PAX East 2013!

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