Editorial / PAX East 2012 – Losing my convention virginity

From April 6-8, TVGB sent staff writer Jeff Dunn to the 2012 PAX East convention in Boston, MA. It was the first gaming convention of any kind he had ever attended. This is what he thought of it.

The moment I first approached PAX East’s revolving doors, I could tell that something was just a bit off. There was not a single person trying to scalp convention passes outside the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Giant lit-up signs stared me in the face, reading: “Welcome to PAAAAAAAAAAX,” and “PAX East: The reason your IT guy is ‘out sick’ today.” A couple walked by me, holding hands; the woman was dressed as Chell from Portal, the man, her life-sized Companion Cube. There was an enormous line for the nearby men’s bathroom and not for the women’s one. One doesn’t go to PAX East without expecting some weird shit to go down, but for a first-timer like myself, this was all pretty startling.

The week leading up to my first convention surged in me the expected mixture of excitement and nervousness. Plenty of YouTube clips and good word of mouth had informed me that PAX East was something like a geek’s Mecca. This was said to be a place for my people, people who know who MC Frontalot is, people who cried a little bit when Hinawa died in Mother 3, people who know they spend more weekend nights on Xbox Live than they should. Through its professed devotion to all things gaming, PAX was shaping up to be a fantasy land in and of itself, one where geeks like me could take refuge in the type of unreality into which they already sink so much time. It sounded awesome.

In this sense, the convention certainly didn’t disappoint. I have a hard time imagining any other place on Earth where thousands of people go nuts watching two men do battle at a game of Crokinole, or where not Street Passing with a 3DS puts you in a minority. I could go on and on about all the predictably “gamer” things PAX attendees do—the rampant cosplaying, the impromptu Magic: The Gathering games, the randomly-heard shouts of “Huzzah,” the general worship of anything pixilated—but suffice it to say that, yes, PAX East is as much an escape from the “real” world’s daily grind as it is a joyous reveling in geek culture. Here, people didn’t seem to be so much themselves as they did bodily manifestations of pure, unadulterated love for gaming.

Because of this, though, I found myself feeling increasingly on edge as I took in the entirety of the PAX experience. To me, none of this seemed natural at all. Wandering the show floor, I felt as if I was in the midst of a group of people whose first and only passion was gaming. Seeing the seemingly endless throng of people willing to stand in line—in one of many, many lines where people wait in this place—for two hours just to watch a video of someone else playing an Assassin’s Creed III demo led me to think that videogames were the only thing to which these people gave any thought. It just didn’t seem sensible. Suddenly, I felt like an outsider amongst outsiders, a “casual” amongst hardest of hardcore.

Of course, I’m not really that naïve. I’m perfectly aware of the fact that most if not all of my fellow PAX-goers probably lead perfectly functioning lives in society. They have buddies besides those on their Friends Lists. Their jobs consist of more than just fetch quests and escort missions. They listen to songs that aren’t chiptunes. They read things besides instruction manuals. I know all this. It’s all true; it has to be. And even if they don’t, they must have loves beyond those of interactive media.

But to feel this way—and I hate to say something this hackneyed—you just have to be there. When I was in the middle of the shit, it became harder and harder for me not to (admittedly) romanticize many of my co-inhabitants as products not of mothers and fathers, but of collected forum posts and achievement lists. They seemed almost too devoted. On too many occasions, I felt as if I was in the midst of the Gamer Stereotype factory line, the kind so many mainstream media publications use to present “gamers” as basement-dwelling, Hot Pockets-downing obsessives.

Or maybe I’m just a douchebag. Maybe I don’t love gaming enough. Maybe simply playing videogames for three-quarters of my young life isn’t enough to truly enjoy the PAX experience; maybe I just needed to immerse myself in this culture further.

Or perhaps I should just accept the fact that people are going to like certain things more than I ever will, and maybe I should realize that there’s nothing wrong with that. PAX East probably is a geek’s Mecca, but it might not be my geek’s Mecca. Perhaps I should’ve stopped thinking so much, and perhaps I should’ve just enjoyed all the wonderful games put on display from both AAA and indie developers alike. Maybe I should’ve thought of the games—and the industry folk who work with and for them everyday—more than just the people play them.

When I go back to PAX East next year, I’ll try to make sure I do that.