Going to PAX East 2012 was a lot like being at Disney World, which is not a bad thing at all.
It’s easy to go to Disney World, or any amusement park, and only focus on the negatives. You could complain that the weather is too hot, the lines are too long, and everything is ridiculously expensive. But this type of linear thinking is tiresome. I didn’t want to view PAX East this way, especially since it was my first time attending the convention.
It’s easy to go to PAX East and complain about the long time spent waiting in line to try new games, joke about people in cosplay, and whine about having to pay a lot of money for a slice of pizza. However, this is a pretty depressing way to view what is otherwise a totally awesome event. Everyone at PAX East looked like they were having the best day of their life and it was infectious. It was hard not to smile at PAX East.
As someone who is a newcomer to modern video games, I was a bit weary of attending PAX East. I worried that I’d feel like a vegan hanging out at a steakhouse buffet inside a bacon factory the entire day at PAX East. Thankfully, there were no bacon factories in Boston. My concerns were totally unnecessary since you’d be hard pressed to find a more congenial and welcoming atmosphere than what I encountered at PAX East. Nearly every developer I spoke to and every fan I bumped into while waiting in line was just happy to be there.
I wasn’t always a video game outsider. I was obsessed with my Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation. By the time I was in high school, the PlayStation 2 was out but I was slowly losing interest in video games. Last year, my good friend Michael Spada convinced me that video games had grown leaps and bounds since I last played them. Many of the games he recommended (Portal, BioShock, Half Life 2), were works of art. These video games Michael suggested were more focused on moral dilemmas than getting a high scores like ones I played as a kid. After becoming a fairly regular follower of games journalism, I slowly started to feel comfortable playing, analyzing, and even discussing video games like a vaguely intelligent adult.
Over the past year, I’ve played numerous titles on both Xbox 360 and PS3, which provided me with immense respect for video games as both supreme forms of entertainment and fantastic works of art. Attending PAX East with Michael this year was a perfect opportunity to learn more about today’s diverse video gaming community.
It’s easy to go to PAX for the first time and make obvious jokes. Sure there are people cosplaying (some better than others) and lots of people whose attires mimic a cheesy movie’s depiction of nerds. However, these same gamers could easily tease me for wearing CM Punk merchandise to WWE’s Monday Night Raw and cheering like a lunatic for two men rolling around in spandex. Every nerdy interest is relative and it’s best to appreciate everyone’s quirks for what they are: fun. It’s fun to play video games and it was fun to watch other people play video games. It’s fun to go to a convention and share your passion with other people from all over the globe who like that very thing you’re obsessed with.
I find it difficult to knock anyone for loving something so much that they want to celebrate it with their peers in the most creative way possible. After all, what’s the difference between a guy in a meticulously crafted Pokemon cosplay outfit and a middle-aged man cheering at an NFL game while wearing face-paint and an athletic jersey? Most of the attendees at PAX East are fanatics; experts in their own particular field of platform games, table-top games, first-person shooters, etc. Seeing these experts establish a microcosm in Boston and share in the excitement of trying new things and meeting new people was truly impressive.
The excitement didn’t begin and end with the attendees. I found the booths generating the most attention were those that broke down artificial barriers between companies and consumers. At one booth in particular, the developers laughed, joked, and even teased people coming up to try their game. It was friendly and informal. How often do you get to meet the person who created something you love? Sure, you can meet an author at a reading or see your favorite band live, but there’s still an unshakable sense of distance. Instead, at PAX East, most players can go right up to the company who developed their favorite franchise, or even in some cases the person working on a game they enjoy, and pick their brain. Fans seemed to appreciate this unique opportunity since I rarely, if ever, saw fans being rude or condescending to the exhibitors.
The opportunity to go into a darkly lit room and play or view highly anticipated, unreleased games was something I had never experienced. Waiting in line was pretty enjoyable because I was surrounded by people who had been waiting, in some cases, years to get their hands on a particular game. People were excited and eagerly sharing Internet rumors they had heard about the game. The emotional investment fans at PAX East devote to the eventual release of a video game is something you probably won’t find in other facets of consumer-driven markets.
We live in an age of disposable media. DVDs, CDs and even novels are almost entirely available in virtual formats through outlets like Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon Prime/Kindle marketplace respectively; thus making physical media less valuable as years go on. Why buy a new DVD or series of your favorite TV show when you can now stream it on various platforms? As a culture, we’re slowly decluttering our pop-culture backpack and relying on virtual means of digesting content.
Video games, on the other hand, seem to be one of the last breeds of thriving physical media. If I went to a listening party for a band’s new album, I probably wouldn’t preorder it. I’d much rather download it from iTunes or the band’s website. While thousands of games are obviously available in virtual forms through Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, there are still many gamers eager to preorder the physical copies of video games. Coming out of the Ubisoft booth, after watching a trailer for the amazing Assassins Creed III, people were ushered into a preorder line. And lots of people preordered. PAX East was a breeding ground for a dying cultural artifact: the hard-copy.
I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone got along at PAX East. I’m sure there were jerks. In any crowd the size of that at PAX, you’re bound to run into groups of people out to ruin everyone else’s fun. I saw numerous people with smug looks and smirks as they waded through crowds of kids with their heads buried in handheld consoles. Like with any large gathering, people probably caused trouble, people probably got obnoxious, and I’m sure people made at least one person’s day very unhappy. But that person wasn’t me. According to a CBS report, PAX will be coming to Boston until 2023. I know I’ll be there again, and I hope that you are too.