Penny Arcade Exposition: The Run-down

By Tim Jones

Tim Jones/Collegian

The Penny Arcade Exposition, or PAX East, is intimidating, especially for newcomers to the massive gaming convention, and that’s putting it mildly. Even among fellow gamers, at least for myself, there was an overwhelming feeling when all of the people who belong to the culture, who get the inside jokes and who create and report on the games were gathered in the same place as myself. In short, it was the best $65 I have ever spent, and something to which all gamers should aspire to go.

There’s a certain charm to seeing a person on the University of Massachusetts campus wearing some shirt with some obscure reference to some game. All things considered, this isn’t a campus where the nerds among us really stand out.

That said, simply passing the first few among the many thousands who attended the convention in Boston, one thing was quite clear. It was that, yes, I indeed got the references to the costumes and shirts and quotes, and so did over 20,000 other people who were there.

A three-day pass to the convention was well worth the $65 spent simply within the first day. Although the line was massive, the swag bag, which includes various free items, also contained a free copy of Rift and a free month of Xbox Live. It’s the small aspects that gradually added up.

PAX East could be experienced in any way a person chose. The exposition floor was loaded with developers both large and independent, showcasing games and revealing projects. Though, most of the big-name titles, such as Max Payne or Diablo 3, consistently held a line that was over an hour and a half of waiting. To each their own for sure, but using up precious hours in a weekend just to stand in a line, or perhaps several, didn’t seem like the best management of resources available. Instead, I wandered the floor for a decent portion  and took in all of the sights and sounds.

For part of the experience I was participating in the various panels that took place throughout the weekend. Among my favorite ones included ones on how to break into a job into the video game industry, and what not to do as a freelance video game journalist. Though terrified, I forced myself to network to several managing editors of publications, who I hope enjoyed the business card. For the record, it was a Magic the Gathering card with my picture and information on it.

But what was absolutely paralyzing was that the primary attendees of the convention were from Massachusetts, and there were several hundred who all expressed wanting to be a game journalist. It’s a nerve-wracking experience to see them all concentrated in a large group. Among the best piece of advice I received was to find and develop my own voice as a writer, which goes any aspiring journalist out there. It is terrifying, but it’s summoning the courage to push forward goes a long way.

In addition, there was a panel where people could take over the content run on gaming site Kotaku. Somehow, I managed to write something funny and get it published. ( Could we get that linked online? )  That’s one article down, hopefully this starts a trend.

Though there were the people there who played the look, and some the part, of a stereotypical gamer, there were the people and panels that looked to enlighten and transcend labels. Thought-provoking panels included a look at race, religion and sexuality in gaming as well as panel on country borders and how depictions of modern day people from other countries, especially seen as the primary enemy in certain mainstream video games are having a strong negative impact of the way some perceive these persons. In a very mainstreamed process with a primary demographic of white males in the younger years, knowing there are those who are actively seeking to make the video gaming culture inclusive and non-threatening for other people is satisfying.

Of course, there were plenty of options for the person looking to unwind. An entire area was dedicated to tabletop gaming, with plenty of games available for spectators to gaze at. Various businesses also held tournaments of their own.

This room, which was a good size compared to the main hall, was actually open longer than the main hall was. Other options included a console free play room, where gamers could bring their own games and play on provided televisions, or a classic console gaming room, where several older games were available for play as well. Though it was interesting, I can’t imagine spending money on a pass just to play video games on a normal console, something that can be done at home.

To expand on every little aspect of the convention would take far more space than I have available in print. The combination of awesome costumes, video games as every turn and being in the company of people who all contribute some part to this massive culture is something that needs to be experienced. No amount of pictures will make up for not being there.

The next one is only a year away. I’m just a bit excited.

Tim Jones can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TimJones90.