Over one past weekend I worked at PAX East. If you aren’t familiar with what it is, don’t worry because I wasn’t either. But I now know it stands for “Penny Arcade Expo.” Before March 11th, I would have asked myself, “What is this ‘Penny Arcade’ you speak of?” Thanks to this up and coming service called the “inter-net” I also know it is a popular and longest running “webcomic focused on video games and video game culture, written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Kr[-something or rather].” Shit. The last video game I defeated was Donkey Kong. On Super Nintendo. When I was, like, eleven. And with the help of my mom ’cause she’s cool like that.
I relied on public transportation to get me to & fro. The green-line to the red-line, the red-line to the silver-line, the silver-line to the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. There were lots of Spring Break-bound kids with rolling luggage clogging up the train, antsy for out-of-state sunburns and boozy socialization. I could sense their eagerness for youthful debauchery, this collegiate so-called rite of passage. Once I hopped off at Park Street and waited for the red-line, there was something noticeably different about the air. Something was less arrogant, less assertive, less Alpha-Tau-Omega-SB-2011-4EVR-y, and far less shots-shots-shots-shotsshots-shots-y. It was more maladroit, pale-skinned-y, floor-length-leather-trench-coat-y and MMORPG-y. Once I arrived at my destination, I realized the source of the electrostatic shift – gamers. And there were thousands of them. For a second I was worried they’d smell a faker in their midst, turn on me and beat me with their handheld gaming devices. Luckily for me, they were too involved with their portable video games.
The magnitude of the booths impressed the heck out of me. Actually, no, they weren’t just booths. A booth makes me think of a branded 10 x10′ tent with siding and banners that click, velcro or zip-tie together, and can be assembled in 10 minutes by two people. Sometimes there is a wobbly folding table involved. At PAX East, it felt like I stepped into a gamer amusement park, where two-dimensional video game worlds were realized on the most grand scale mobile trade shows can allow. Have you ever seen a soon-to-close KB Toys in a dingy strip mall, flickering fluorescent bulbs shedding its ugly light on uninviting parched shelving, revealing dustballs and shitty looking toys not even a blind kid would play with? That, to me, is the New England Home Show. Remember FAO Schwarz in it’s heyday, especially the multilevel flagship stores, where every square inch of space was interactively magical and it took all your adult effort to not to climb all over the oversized stuffed safari animals, or stomp the crap out of that floor piano in a hectic childish rapture? That, to me, was PAX East 2011.
A prominent PAX booth became my home base for three days. My job was to get people to take a quick survey, fetch prizes and take photos. I won’t go into specifics, as I would like my food to go down smoothly, but due to my small stature, the exponential growth rate of stagnant (and often smelly) body heat, and the rare opportunity for prudish males to gain physical contact with the opposite gender, my left shoulder was soaked. These next photographs might show you how my uselessly over-Purell’d shoulder came to be so.
You see my point.
I met some very interesting characters, er, make that caricatures. There were a couple dudes that didn’t want to make eye contact with me and a few that held this weird non-blinking eye contact, as if they were challenging me to a staring contest or preforming Jedi mind tricks. To change things up with our photos, the other “booth babe” and I suggested doing a stereotypical promo pose with a pair of guy friends. One of them said they didn’t know what that was, and since he looked young I asked him his age and if he had even been to prom yet. He simply said, “I’m home-schooled and lack socialization skills.” You don’t say? Here’s a tip, if you find yourself an outsider at one of these conventions: never ask costumed people of they bought their costume. More likely than not, they spent countless hours making their costume from scratch. Speaking of which:
I could spend the rest of this post trying to sum up everything I saw and felt at PAX East 2011, but I’ve got stuff to do and there ain’t no way I could begin to wrap my head around the psychology of gaming and the gamer. I will simply observe from a far, detached and dry shouldered and leave you with pictures of some highlights from my weekend.