Games Post PAXdom Depression
posted by September 2 at 15:24 PMon
The biggest surprise at the weekend’s Penny Arcade Expo wasn’t the popularity or the fun. It was the age. Turns out the 15-and-under crowd and PAX are like PB&J.
Most were running around the Expo’s main exhibition hall, trying out new video games that typically aren’t rated higher than T for Teen. Some plunked down in PAX’s Sumo beanbags and played DS games with their parents. Others hit the tabletop annex wielding either Pokemon cards or a level 11 dragonborn mage. And tons were going toe-to-toe with gamers twice their age in the zillions of video game rooms—the retro centers, the cavernous computer lab, the public Rock Band sessions, the hundreds of free-play consoles. While not the majority at PAX, kids held a larger percentage this year than any other.
Really? At PAX? Its namesake comic strip is cartoony F-bomb city. In case the Fruit Fucker character didn’t clue you in, this year’s draw-a-comic panel involved a strip about gettin’ it on with band groupies. Midway through the comic’s creation, the PA creators unveiled their “new favorite” curse word by drawing it on the screen for all to see: “twatvomit.”
At this point, both guys’ wives had to cover their kids’ eyes.
So it’s shocking to think that kids are fine in most of PAX’s rooms and halls. But, really, they are. On a basic level, older attendees aren’t cussing non-stop or talking about “mature” subjects—certainly nothing worse than a middle-school cafeteria. And most of the panels were mindful of kids in the crowd (except for Ken Levine’s keynote, admittedly). But even more interesting is a higher-level idea—PAX as refuge for a growing geek.
Dunno about you guys, but when I was little, I would’ve killed for a place where I could say the word “graphics” out loud without fear of wedgie. A place where all of my peers—and all of the intimidating people older than me—were crazy about the same hobbies. No bullies. No social stigma. There are people like me out there—with girlfriends and jobs and nerdy T-shirts! My god, there’s hope.
(As a bonus, idiot kids who’ve grown up on Xbox Live could come to PAX and see adults who play video games without spouting racist epithets between rounds of Halo.)
Chances are, grown-up gamers had similar nerd-refuge thoughts pass through their heads—lord knows I did. The gaming stigma is evaporating as the NES generation grows into ownership of America, yet it’s hard to deny the nerdy comfort of a huge PAX crowd.
(FYI, PAX’08 topped off at 58,500 attendees. Let that sink in. It’s barely a thousand or so short of the population of Renton.)
Seattle can now claim ownership to the biggest public gaming show in the nation, if not the world. The major reason? Because it’s nothing like the previous king, E3, an expo that glorified press people and PR hype. Nothing at PAX is hands-off, look-don’t-touch, and the majority of PAX’s content is free of corporate sponsorship. While the exhibition hall is a huge exception, it still has tons of small-fry participants (particularly the PAX 10) showing off homegrown games and merchandise.
Better still, the rest of the fest is what gamers make of it. Bring your own DS, join the largest LAN party you’ve ever seen, bust out the D20s. Even Folklife and Bumbershoot can’t match the sheer 2.0-ness of PAX.
A few fixes for next year’s will help preserve that spirit. Panel sessions (speeches, Q&As) need to be held in larger rooms, since lots of people were left in the cold after waiting in long lines. And, yeah, PAX could use newbie-friendly tweaks so that folks can better acclimate to the “build your own fest” spirit. More explicit instructions and information would help. People expect their entertainment thrown at them a la Bumbershoot; the freedom to make the PAX you want is so novel, it’s almost intimidating.
And people will complain about the growth of the fest, about newbies and line-waits and cost and lack of DDR machines. But this PAX was a success—a huge fest with minimal corporate burdens, an all-volunteer core of friendly, passionate people working the floors, and an ultimate getaway for kids and grownups alike. I look forward to having fun with all ages of gamer next year.
(If you missed our daily coverage this weekend, relive the fun here.)