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Friday, August 24, 2007

Penny Arcade Expo: Friday Coverage

posted by on August 24 at 23:58 PM

To those who saw babble about PAX and wondered what the hell was going on, my apologies. A quick primer: I’m a newcomer ‘round these parts by way of Line Out, a former music editor at New Times Village Voice Media’s Dallas Observer who moved here only a couple of months ago. My initial post about the Penny Arcade Expo , Seattle’s gaming expo with over 30,000 attendants, will explain more. My on-site coverage continues below, as well as on continuously updated posts tomorrow and Sunday.

11:59 p.m.: Shortly after 7 p.m., the main hall of the Expo, the one full of new demos and exclusive goodies, was closed off. Those who wanted to try out unreleased games like Metroid Prime 3 and Rock Band were out of luck. This is when the Penny Arcade Expo took on its most interesting shape.

Official events still took place, from a “girls in gaming” panel discussion to “nerdcore” music concerts to screenings of gaming-related movies like The Wizard, and on and on. But ultimately, with no large-draw events for the rest of the night, the mass of gamers was left to disperse as it pleased. And thus, they took to gaming…together. Multiplayer games popped up far and wide across the convention center, mostly involving laughing, shouting people huddled around Wiis and Xboxes. It felt like a dweeb’s dream summer camp come true—I couldn’t help but get sucked in while playing gun, soccer and driving games with a mass of chatty, friendly gamers, none of whom were like the freaks I saw earlier in the day.

Not that this was some social utopia; a few minutes in the Expo’s computer lab felt like something out of a bad mind-control sci-fi movie. Just look at this dark, dismal pit of all-but-silent LAN gaming addicts:


Thankfully, I didn’t dwell in the lab for long, and the experiences I had with interesting, social gamers reaffirmed the points that Wheaton went on about in his keynote earlier. The people I gamed with weren’t screaming racist slurs or discussing 12th level mages; they were talking about each other’s home towns, suggestions for good breakfast food around Seattle and even their families. Gaming gave me an excuse to meet and get to know new people, something I rarely do with my usual activities like concerts, sporting events or even playing around in local parks. Hell, how often do I spend 30 minutes talking to lacrosse-playing Navy recruits?

Tomorrow sees more in the way of interesting panel discussions; tune in for more reports on how those panels attempt to shake—or perhaps reaffirm—the conventions and stereotypes of gaming.

7 p.m.: Photo time!

Right at the show's outset, roughly 80 folks were already crowded around Rock Band, the "band simulator" that goes beyond Guitar Hero's plastic guitars to add plastic drums and plastic microphones. It's still the largest draw in the exhibition booth, though Nintendo's Wii/DS kiosks are pulling consistent crowds, as are the Lord of the Rings Online booth and the World of Warcraft Card Game playing tables--yes, you can now take your relationship-ruining addiction offline.

This very small booth actually had a considerable line of its own. With 30,000 patrons, I suppose just about any amusement can fetch fans...except for the Big Buck Hunter Extreme game about 12 feet away, which was barren throughout the day.

During the first Penny Arcade Q&A, one fan asked the comic's creators to sing a very nerdy song (long story). After much audience encouragement, writer/creator Jerry Holkins obliged, at which point the crowd came up with its own geek-friendly way to hold up "lighters" for the performance.

5:10 p.m.: And if some Columbus guy's take on gaming culture doesn't do it for you, what about that of Wil Wheaton? One of only two guys to have his own category at Fark, Wheaton's chops are spread broadly between acting and writing work, almost all of which has a geeky slant. His slot as keynote speaker appeased the throngs, and though his speech began as an inside-joke onslaught (particularly his introductory list of quotes from ancient text adventure video games), it transformed into a warm and passionate call to arms for the gaming crowd. After telling stories of his childhood days as a gaming addict, Wheaton moved into talk about playing games with his own child, attacking anti-gaming politicians in the process ("don't tell me what games I can play with my own son," "I've been able to introduce classic rock to my son with Guitar Hero," etc. etc.). His largest topic, ultimately, was about the social aspect of gaming: "They call us antisocial. How can they call 30,000 gamers gathered together antisocial?"

3:52 p.m.: It would be very, very easy to tell the story of this video game expo using only photos of the freaks. There are a substantial number of them, dressed as fantasy and sci-fi characters, dressed in video game-obsessed T-shirts, dressed as...Princess Peach. But the greater impression has come not from the outfits, nor even from the flashing lights and throbbing technology that fills the Expo's main exhibition hall.

Penny Arcade, arguably the world's largest video games-based comic strip, attracts gamers of all kinds at its annual Expo. From video to table to pen-and-paper, the oldest and newest of gaming schools prevail here, which means dice are rolling by the dozens next to DS portable gaming tournaments. You might expect a competitive crowd as a result--even an antisocial one--but the common thing I've noticed here is the kindness and amiability of this crowd. These gamers can't help but strike up conversation, whether giving each other tips while trying out the latest Metroid game demo, poking fun at the goodie bags in the Rockstar Games freebie booth or even chatting about the state of the industry while waiting in line to get into the place.

Before I finally walked into the main exhibition hall, I talked at length with a games writer from Columbus, OH, who shared many of my concerns about the reputation stuck to gamers. "The average age of people who play is 35," he said, then pointed vigorously at himself. "And the industry is up to $11 billion [a year]. Yet people, by and large, still pigeonhole gaming. It's nice to come to a place like this where there's a common opinion from the moment you walk in...You can enjoy these games with people. It's great."

3:41 p.m.: Well, gee. I just had a lonnnng entry eaten up by PAX's media room computer, a post that was going to redeem the nerdy reputation of gamers. And now I'm running late to the Wil Wheaton keynote. So I'm stuck posting this photo that will surely dismantle the nerdy reputation of gamers:


Nice hat, Princess. Stories and images about Rock Band, Big Buck Hunter and Columbus, OH, to come.

1:38 p.m.: The expo is yet to open, but the diehards are out in full force—yes, cosplay is in the house, as are decepticons and lots of shirts covered in Internet shorthand (AFK, etc). But this Nintendo loving Los Angeleno is my fave so far. More to come.


RSS icon Comments


oh shit i need to see ALLLLLL these photos please!!! more PAX coverage! awesome!

Posted by jzilla | August 24, 2007 1:57 PM

Penny Arcade FTW!

Posted by Jessica | August 24, 2007 2:05 PM

How does that guy use the controller, when one of his hands is inside it? I'm calling that kettle black.

Posted by Fnarf | August 24, 2007 2:44 PM
4 wedding band on his left hand?...

Posted by Bill | August 24, 2007 2:50 PM

FTW. lol. omg. This is my second favorite event of the year so far... second only to the Cheese Festival.

Posted by Katelyn | August 24, 2007 7:03 PM

"as are the Lord of the Rings Online booth and the World of Warcraft Card Game playing tables—yes, you can now take your relationship-ruining addiction offline."

...we have to talk.

Posted by Beth | August 24, 2007 8:02 PM


Posted by The CHZA | August 24, 2007 9:22 PM

I was wondering what was going on there. I was watching people walk down Pike while I was heading up the road on the bus. I figured it had to be some kind of gaming convention, but then I couldn't figure out what all the guitar shirts were about. (Never seen Guitar Hero, only heard about it. I do not game.) Looked like a bunch of 17-26 yr old men in oversized t-shirts and ill-fitting pants with the occasional woman or 45+ yr old "comic book guy" man in the mix. It made for some pretty awesome people watching as the bus crawled up the hill.

It wasn't quite as good as the day I decided to walk home through Freeway Park during the Manga/Anime convention as they were taking professional pictures of costumes in the park. That was an incredible thrill.

Posted by Dod | August 24, 2007 10:14 PM

Just got back. They close the expo center early. Tomorrow's schedule is just as gay (and how!). It closes at 6:00PM.

FYI to all: They have Gears of War on PC. It is fucking amazing.

Oh, and Haze.

Table tops are fun to watch with Lay's and Coke. PAX is missing out by not serving me alcohol.

There aren't many hot men there.

PS3, of course, is sucking balls.


Posted by Mr. Poe | August 24, 2007 10:46 PM

Goodness. Gabe, Tycho, and Wil... all in one place.

Posted by Darcy | August 24, 2007 11:41 PM

I just got back. It was a little hassle finding a place to sneak off downtown to smoke a bowl, but otherwise the people were mostly laid back.

We played a game where you scored points for pointing out each of the following:

1: A man in a kilt.

2: A man who is "So fucking bald that he should cut off his poor excuse for a ponytail"

3: Someone in birkinstocks or sandals with socks.

I was smoked by my buddy with a final first day score of 9 to 6.

Tomorrow we are going to drink gin and send pictures of wieners to people over pictochat.

Posted by Joh | August 25, 2007 1:50 AM

@9: I know! Not only on PC, but with NEW MAPS! I wasted so much time there.

@11: Dude, you say 'wieners over pictochat' like it hasn't been done yet.

I have slept about four hours and am ready to go back I think.

Posted by Juris | August 25, 2007 7:51 AM

Hey, what's wrong with talking about my 12th level mage??

Posted by leukothea | August 25, 2007 8:20 AM

@ 12 nothing wrong with sticking to what you know works!

Posted by Joh | August 25, 2007 9:48 AM

Yesterday The Stranger\'s Dan Savage wrote \"I hate ...cripples on buses.\" Dan\'s sloggites thought it was amusing. More thoughtful people would think geeeez, What an asshole!
And I\'d post a link here to Dan\'s \"Say Yes To War\" article Oct. 2002 for you folks to read but the Stranger web master has blocked it. Hmmmmmmm why don\'t they want you to see it?

Posted by Josh Erika Jonah Dan\'s Fan | August 25, 2007 12:04 PM

You forgot to mention that all the "antisocial" people in the "lab" (pc free play area) were, you know, playing games *with other people*.

Posted by K | August 25, 2007 12:28 PM

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