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PAX Special Report.

Went to PAX today, which was quite fun. PAX, for the uninitiated, is the Penny Arcade eXpo, one of the biggest video game conventions in the US. I can tell we are close when I spot a little kid, maybe 7 or 8 that has what appears to be a fox tail hopping down the sidewalk. “Future cosplayer of America,” I say. I know that gaming has become much more widespread, but there are an awful lot of the stereotypical chubby, nerd glasses-wearing, socially awkward, acne-pocked gamers in the crowd. There are a lot of these people. Thousands. It was held at the Seattle Convention Center and had a high enough attendance that the main lot filled up and my partner Sara and I had to park in “Freeway Parking” which is aptly named due to the fact that it is under the freeway. Some poor guy has the job of sitting in the entrance of the parking garage with the constant roar of traffic overhead.

We wander around looking for the area to buy passes and end up being approached by a couple Asian guys who offer us scalped tickets at a discount. We get tickets and I lead us boldly into a room that I believe is the Exhibit Hall but is in fact, according to the event map, the “Line Up Room”. This is very accurate since the room is one giant queue. I’m not sure what is being lined up for. We leave the line up room and I skulk over to the information desk to ask for directions to the Exhibit Hall specifically asking how I get to my company’s booth. Sara all the while has been trying to explain to me where things are and what we were almost in line for. The guy at the Info booth gives us directions. “Did that make sense to you,” I ask Sara. I am suffering from overstimulation and we have not even reached the truly crazy areas. The Event is bedlam. There were actually enough guys dressed up as the Joker to fill up an asylum. There were also quite a few Stormtroopers and at least one Power Ranger. Sara says to me “Do you want to get a picture with the Stormtrooper?”

“No I want to get a picture of people taking pictures of the Stormtrooper,” I respond.

“Aren’t you kind of short for a Stormtrooper,” she says.

“I wonder how many times he has heard that today,” I reply.

My girlfriend is a total Star Wars nerd. [Editor’s note: there was also a really tall Darth Vader].

Walking towards the main exhibition area I spot the Mini Bosses booth completely unmanned by the Mini Bosses. The Mini Bosses are a video game music cover band. “When I was in The Post (an indi rock band) I got a copy of their demo from the guys at Secretly Canadian (an indi rock label). This was before they were even a blip.” Nobody really cares about this story when I tell some random dude that is near their unmanned booth. “They haven’t been here all day,” he says, “they are off playing games.”

The exhibition hall is packed full of nerds. There are also many stages where people play Rock Karaoke Band Hero Revolution with various amounts of aptitude while people watch on with various amounts of enthusiasm. I find the human zoo almost as compelling as the games. [Editor’s note: the Editor’s brother noted that the Wall Street Journal estimated PAX attendance this year at 50,000. That’s a lot of nerds.] I snap some pics with my iPhone and realize that nobody is going to pay any attention to the iPhone. When I am out and about I often end up talking with other iPhone users but with so many nerds with so many gadgets I am entirely invisible.

We wander thru the exhibition hall and I snap blurry pictures of people playing music games, swing by the company’s booth, and track down some projects I’ve worked on to see if people are enjoying them. I stop at a booth selling NES carts for $3 each and several classic consoles as well as one of the table top Pac Man games from the 80s that look like a tiny arcade machine. I price it but it is a little high for the condition it is in. I think I should take another picture but get distracted and snap more blurry shots of people playing another music game.

We pass the Mega 64 booth just as the Mega 64 guys are going to give a talk so I click a picture of their empty booth. “All the booths I am really interested are empty,“ I lament. This is not really true. I think I’m a bit overwhelmed and feeling slightly agoraphobic. “Let’s get out of this area,” I say, then promptly am distracted by the Mercenaries II demo area and stare glassy eyed as some guy climbs up a tower in the game and assassinates several Cubans. ”This guy needs to blow some stuff up; he’s not making it look very exciting,” I whisper to Sara. She is palpably bored staring off toward the Lord of the Rings MMO demo booth. This is probably one of the few places where there is a healthy outlet for the borderline sociopathic urge to see more grandiose displays of carnage. I grab her hand and we head out toward the sky bridge.

“Do you want to meet Will Weaton,” I ask?

“Ohhhhhh, I love his blog,” she squeals and we start toward the back of the line.

“Are you in line to see Will Weaton I ask a girl dressed as what I believe is a Naruto ninja.

“Yeah, I think the end of the line is over there," she says pointing to the other side of the sky bridge. Once we get there we are informed that the line is closed but perhaps due to just how expertly Sara can act crestfallen the line supervisor lets us in line when we wander by a few minutes later while we are trying to find a quiet spot to call Sara’s brother.

“Meet us in front of the Exhibition Hall in the line to meet Will Weaton,” we say.

“Who is Will Weaton?” He asks.

“Wesley Crusher from Star Trek,” Sara response with an implied duh.

In unison we volunteer by way of explanation “He has a really great blog.”

We stand in line until an officialish looking guy in a PAX shirt tells us that Will is done and we won’t get to have him sign anything.

“Could I just tell him how much I like his blog?” Sara asks.

“No, he is tired and needs to go back to his hotel, or play some games or something,” we are informed.

Perhaps inspired by all this blog talk I decide to go to the panel on how to get people to go to your gaming blog. Sara and her brother decide to meet me afterwards and head back into the Expedition Hall while I go to the Walrus Theatre which turns out being the corner of the atrium where the escalators are located. I learn there that most successful gaming blogs have several posts DAILY and they stress that you have to have regular posts and that you can’t skip posts just because you are busy. I turn red with shame. The power point demonstration is one of the most obscene, absurdist, displays of information sharing I have experienced using a Microsoft Office product. A man is panties is chosen from the audience to wear a robot head and strike a pose whenever anyone says Destructoid since members of the panel are all bloggers on Destructoid.com. Somewhere on the internet are NSFW pictures of a man in red panties wearing a robot head.

I met back up with Sara and her brother at the ITT Tech booth. That is right ITT Tech has a booth at PAX. I find out that they played Guitar Hero and Sara who does not play videogames played it and enjoyed it. “I need photographic evidence!” I exclaim. We push thru the crowd back towards Activision’s small collection of Guitar Hero stages. Sara explains that ITT tech was hosting some sort of murder mystery crime solving contest but it was not actually any fun and involved a lot of work. I almost say something disparaging about ITT Tech but then felt sorry for them since they are almost within a stone’s throw of both Nintendo and Sega. It must have been like being a chimpanzee on prom night, to coin a new phrase. By the time they were able to take the stage for a rendering of Pat Benatar ‘s "Heartbreaker" I had the opportunity to hear both Jimi Hendrix and Aerosmith butchered by people armed with their tiny plastic axes.

“I am done,” declared Sara.

“Agreed,” I agreed.

In the car Sara told me about how her brother talked to the exhibitors and that when one of them offered that she try out a game she coolly replied, “I don’t play games.” I’m sure they were thinking “Then why the ass are you here?” As I tucked Sara into bed to return to the computer to finish this distinctly handheld free entry (I didn’t even make it to the handheld lounge) she says “I had a really good time at PAX,” and it was true. If you are a gamer PAX is totally awesome, if not it can still be a lot of fun. It is really strange and somewhat overwhelming however the energy there is really good. It is really about a bunch of people getting together to share what they are passionate about. Sure there are a lot of companies with dollar signs in their eyes but it still has a positive vibe. If you have not gone before but have thought about it go as soon as possible. PAX is becoming really huge and may soon lose the feeling of community that makes it unique.



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