PAX East: Wanting More

J with glassesThis year was my first at PAX East, and man, it was a whirlwind.  Due to various conflicts, I could only attend on Saturday – so I had exactly one day to experience everything, right?  Well, not quite – this is the largest convention I’ve ever been to (the last number I heard was 69,000), and I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to experience everything in just one weekend.  Still, I got more than enough of a taste to get me hooked.  So here’s my intro guide experience, and later E and GGG will give you the nitty-gritty.

Saturday morning I arrived bright and early.  I switched phones not so long ago, and my phone was freshly set up with Twitter and E’s phone number.  I came armed with a giant squishy bag that had more than enough room for any purchases I’d make, and also contained an extra pair of shoes, granola bars, a water bottle, a notebook and pen, and more.

Since I arrived on Saturday, I didn’t have to deal with the initial crush, and there was virtually no line when I got my badge.  Excitedly I texted E.  “I’ve got my pass!  Where are y’all?” Two minutes later I got three texts back, in quick succession: “? Who is this? You’ve got the wrong number.”

Yup.  I was off to a great start.  No matter – that’s what Twitter was for, and anyway, I had a sneaking suspicion she’d be in the tabletop gaming area.  I was right.  Thanks to E’s awesome pink hair, I was able to spot her in no time (and get the right digits).  First I stopped to get one of the adorable cardboard cone hats from Plants vs. Zombies (the P vs Z people were easily the most entertaining all day). Then I was off, into the exhibit hall, which practically felt like its own village.

PAX is geared for gaming – pretty much any aspect of gaming you can think of.  I’m not just talking cards and board games; I’m talking any surface you can think of when playing those games.  I don’t just mean video game demos (though there are plenty of those); I mean every piece of hardware associated with video gaming.  Some of the biggest, flashiest booths were for companies I don’t normally think of as flashy – New Egg and Nvidia.

An Easy Mark

If you follow my twitter account, you might have noticed that in the past few months I’ve been complaining of headaches, that I figured out pretty quickly were directly associated with the amount of time spent in front of a screen.  Thus, I was excited to check out the Gunnar booth.  Gunnar, I had recently learned, makes eyewear to help with eyestrain and related problems.  Yes, I could seek them out online, but here at PAX I could actually try out the product.

The salesgirl, Charlene, was both informative and adorable.  I didn’t even tell her I’d been having problems, but she quickly reeled off every symptom I’d been having – including the fact that my eyes often felt like I’d just peeled them off a vacuum hose.  It was probably her easiest sale ever.  I tried on a few styles, picked the one I liked, and was out of there (more in-depth review once I’ve had a full week to test them out).

The exhibition hall had ceilings that were about a million feet high, and honestly, after awhile in there it was easy to feel overstimulated.  I ultimately had to space out my trips to vendors, but there was no shortage of things to do in the meantime.

Gamer Girl

The most surprising hit of PAX East, for me, was the Free Console Room.  Imagine multiple rooms, each one the size of a large classroom, filled with rows of tables containing flat-screened TVs and various consoles.  The more intimate setting was a great place to unwind, meet up with people, and in my case, mash buttons to fun games like Marvel vs. Capcom.  There was a (reasonable) time limit, and as a result the lines weren’t too long to enjoy this popular venue.

There was also a Free Classic Arcade room – literally a room full of classic arcade games, all set to free play.  This was a fantastic idea in theory.  In practice, it reminded me an awful lot of 90s arcades – dim lighting and loud music.  Not exactly the best venue to be social.  Additionally, the classic games were almost all a very specific brand of old-school – think Donkey Kong and Burger Time.  I wouldn’t mind a mix of some later favorites – not to mention pinball and air hockey.

Think of the Geeklings

The one panel I was able to catch was a must-see on my list of Stuff To Do – the Geek Parenting panel.  Stop giving me the side-eye!  I’ve been following the members of the panel – writers for Wired GeekDad and GeekMom – for ages on Twitter.  Should I someday become a parent, I’ll undoubtedly be a nerdy one.  And besides, parents are people (and geeks!) too, not just defined by their spawn.

The conversation was informal and all over the place.  What video games, books, comics, manga are appropriate for a given age range?  What happens when you have kids that just aren’t geeks?  Is it tougher to be a girl geek than a boy geek?  One of the most startling moments, for me, was when a member of the panel mentioned that there was a no-gaming-on-school-nights rule in his house – one that he has to abide by, as well.  While it seems like a good and obvious idea – setting a good example and all – my first thought was Man, that has to suck for him.  Oh, the many ways parents sacrifice for their children, big and small.

The panel was fun and punctuated by giveaways and Screaming Slingshot Monkeys (another giveaway).  The line to get in the panel was long, but not unbearable – I showed up about a half an hour before the start time, and was well in the middle of the line.  Even though we were routinely herded closer together in the hallway, spirits were high, and there was even a singalong to “Still Alive.”

Free to Breathe

The crowd was enormous, but the venue was bigger.  This bodes well for the future of PAX East and Boston – the con could easily grow bigger and still fit comfortably in the convention center.  It seemed like every area was bustling, but rarely slammed – more time was spent walking from place to place than standing, bored, in line.   And even walking was something of an adventure – I heard some great 8-Bit music just walking by a room.

And boy, did I feel the effects of all that walking the next day!  Though I regret not attending PAX East for the whole weekend – mostly because there were more Twitter friends I would have liked to meet up with – I honestly would have been wiped out.  Next year I’ll approach PAX with a game plan – and a workout plan!

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