I’m still recovering from the cold I got at PAX East, so I might as well write a con report about it. To be fair, I probably actually got the cold at GDC, which immediately preceded (and slightly overlapped with) PAX East, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I should probably tell you the convention’s actual name, and what it’s about, and all that stuff.
The Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX, natch) is a huge game convention started by the guys behind the webcomic Penny Arcade, but it has grown far beyond that. I frequently meet attendees who have never heard of Gabe and Tycho (or Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, to use their actual human names). Right now there are four PAXen – in order of inception they are Prime (Seattle), East (Boston), Australia (Melbourne), and South (San Antonio). I’ve been attending Prime and East for over five years now, and they’re some of my favorite conventions.
I never attend a convention for its most obvious draw, which at PAX is the main expo hall. Instead, my reasons for attending the first PAX East are displayed on my old lanyard: a pin from the comedy troupe Loading Ready Run, and a pin from Wil Wheaton. LRR was at the con again this year; Wil was not, though his wonderful keynote from the original PAX East is still out there for anyone who is curious (go to 1:40 for the start of the actual talk).
You could say that PAX is a ‘game and game-adjacent’ convention. Comic artists, comedians, and celebrities who are involved in multidisciplinary nerd culture mingle with game developers and fans in a weekend-long geekfest.
PAX East has an interesting layout. Picture a massive, three-floor, castle-like edifice, topped by a giant tower. The basement is split in half: one side holds the Expo Hall, which is like a small E3, sparkling and crowded and filled with new video games to play. In the other half, LAN arenas share space with a miniature Gencon, featuring Magic and D&D and a thousand different board games and a friend dough stand for some reason.
The first floor has some panel rooms and a food court and a diversity lounge on one side, and arcades and console rooms on the other. There are giant stages for people to play rock band or dance central. There are weird skybridges you can walk across in case you want to survey the mini E3 and mini GenCon as a monarch would survey her kingdom.
The second floor holds four more panel rooms, an quiet afk room to escape from the omnipresent noise and chaos, and a secret lair where Bioware is hiding maybe?
From the second floor, you can climb to the tower, which holds the biggest main event theater I’ve ever seen. Later in the weekend, you and several thousand of your friends can watch some grown men play Dungeons and Dragons here. The theater will be packed.
There is a lot to do at PAX, is what I’m saying, and I’m not even going to explain the unofficial bits, like the guerrilla charity organization that hands out baked goods, the improv weirdos who pull a series of elaborate pranks, or the secret underground Pokemon fighting-and-drinking league.
This year’s PAX East was March 6-8, because we had somehow offended the calendar gods. It was cold, and Friday’s crowds were the sparsest I’ve ever seen at a sold-out PAX. I know a lot of people who almost didn’t make it to Boston due to the weather, so I assume many others were still trapped by unexpected walls of snow and ice, cursing themselves for never paying due heed to the words of Ned Stark. I was flying straight in from the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, so I didn’t arrive until Friday afternoon. There were really only two panels I had planned to see that day, and I’d missed one of them (LRR & Cards Against Humanity’s Tabletop Deathmatch), so I after quickly ducking into the Magic: The Gathering panel, I spent the rest of the day wandering around the basement and hanging out with friends.
When night fell and things started to quiet down, I considered going to the concerts, but I wasn’t familiar with the first two acts this year: Super Guitar Brother and the Triforce Quartet. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: PAX East traditionally has three hours of concerts on Friday and Saturday night. In the early years, Jonathan Coulton was always up there somewhere, but he’s too good for us now that he’s got his fancy NPR money. Paul and Storm, once the archetypal opening band, were closing the show on Friday. I could have stayed up, but since my only sleep in the last 24 hours had been plane sleep, I decided it was wise to head back to the hotel.
Friday might have been a slow day, but Saturday and Sunday made up for it. I’ll be writing them up soon, but for now I’ll leave you with a rough approximation of the kind of thing I missed out on by skipping the PAX East Friday concerts.