The PAX Vibe
By Marino 8 Comments
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 VibeStarting 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.