This weekend, I attended PAX East (AKA “bitch PAX”, in contrast to PAX Prime, which occurs in Seattle and is marginally older). PAX is short for the Penny Arcade Expo. It was created by the authors of Penny Arcade, a consistently funny and incisive comic strip about (mostly) video games. PAX is kinda sort of an industry event. There’s an exhibit floor, and even some booth babes and schwag, but that’s truly not the point. There are also talks – but they’re also not the point. There are people in homemade costumes, and impromptu fun all over the city – and that’s totally the point.
It’s the oddest sort of conference I’ve ever attended.
PAX is, as mentioned by multiplexer, some odd sort of anti-conference. When I go to Supercomputing or similar shows, I try to “win” the conference. I pre-schedule which talks to attend, I pre-stage and plan with colleagues and shudder business contacts. I skulk my way into parties. I stealth and scheme into supposedly closed meetings. I pretend that I know what I’m doing, and I play my pied piper song. I bust ass to get every ounce of energy out of that conference. I did that with PAX last year, and I had a terrible time. Because, well, there’s no “there” there. The talks at PAX are highly, highly specific. There’s really no such thing as a ‘general interest’ talk at PAX. Most of the talks are more like old-home weeks for a room or two of friends. They’ve been doing this thing for decades, and this is just the latest of many homes for their running party. Even given that, most of the talks are pretty interesting, if you relax your mind a bit and accept that you don’t know anything. There’s a depth of community there that even I found hard to punch into.
The scene is the thing. PAX, properly approached, is a great, ultimate house filled with a positive vibe. In the house are tens of thousands of interesting and creative people. Most of them are not the sort that I hang out with day-to-day. Most of them do not do the things that I do, exactly, for fun. All of them are simply given enough space to do their thing. There was table upon table – an aircraft hanger’s space – given over to tabletop games. In that room there were dice players, card players, painted figurine players, and players who wouldn’t be caught dead with any of those loser dicers, dealers, or model clowns. There were two huge rooms dedicated to XBox, Wii, and PS3. There were mid sized rooms dedicated to classic consoles and even classic stand up arcade games. I played Asteroids, Zaxxon, and even Moon Patrol. I played a crazy-ass desktop vector graphics ancestor of Asteroids.
I played a lot of first person shooters (FPS) on the XBox. If I have a gamer niche, it’s the FPS. Bulletstorm is rad once it gets going. Halo 3 and Halo Reach are lame and – for lack of a better word – overdone. Bulletstorm is violent and ass-clenching in a way that I haven’t seen since Gears of War came out. I felt a vague tinge of guilt when there were 12 year olds watching me try to throw an alien to its death on a cactus for some kind of “skillshot.” Oh well. Their parents should have known.
I played the Kinect version of Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). That may find its way into my living room at some point – at the same time as some really solid curtains. There were Rock Band and DDR stages. People sat peacefully, watching people they didn’t know play air guitar and dance onstage. Some people were freakishly good – not the sort of ‘good dancing’ that you can develop at home alone. These were real dancers. Some were pretty lame. Everyone got applause – some with the vigorous “awwright, let someone who knows the system up there!” that got them off the stage with smiles – but OFF.
I played a “learn to play” session of Dungeons and Dragons (fourth edition). I’ve never in my life played any sort of role playing game before – and I didn’t really go into it expecting to have much fun. I went with it – and in pretty short order I was helping to create a story with a bunch of people I barely knew. By the end of two hours, we had created a funny little social dynamic that had nothing to do with me as some kind of consultant geek and nothing to do with – well – whatever the rest of them do for a living. Two hours flew by, and I was sort of sad that it ended. My rogue was badass, but also sort of a moron. I liked him.
I’m the very least of the gamers – just like I’m the least of the martial artists and the least of the technogeeks – but I feel fortunate to be accepted in their tribe.