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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Penny Arcade Expo: Sunday Coverage

posted by on August 26 at 19:07 PM

6:00 p.m.:: How does Seattle’s biggest video gaming event of the year come to a proper, geek-crazy close? Two words: Halo 3.

The annual event’s Omegathon is a gaming tourney, picked entirely by random draw, that closes with a surprise game for the championship. Previous years have used ancient classics like Tetris and Pong for the closing surprise, but seeing how huge this year’s Expo turned out, the hottest unreleased game of 2007—and a release from our well-known Redmond overlords—makes sense for at the curtain call.

Other gaming sites will surely gush over the Halo 3 features debuted in this grand championship match—not to mention the crowd-pleasing flamethrower—but you guys could care less about gravity hammers and detachable laser turrets, right?

I came to PAX with questions about the industry. When I walked in, I was concerned about the perception of gamers and the marketing choices of game companies, both of which pigeonhole an aging industry as an immature domain. The reputation problem didn’t necessarily go away when I walked into the convention center, but it was easy to lose track of that perspective when I had so much fun nerding out.

I’d guess that most Slog readers’ game experiences are solitary, from Minesweeper to quick Flash games on the Web to perhaps World of Warcraft (which, while multiplayer, is still usually done alone at the house). Certainly, my recent gaming has been that way. But the thing I kept seeing at PAX was the common ground that games offered total strangers, not to mention families—father-son gamer duos and the like. If every non-gamer did what I did this weekend—walked into random PAX rooms, watched folks play an unknown game, received some instructions and joined in—they’d drop the kiddie stance, too. Public, social gaming is a far better solution to the reputation problem than any government lobby, advertising campaign or impassioned blog plea.

Think I’m wrong? Come over, grab a controller and see for yourself. Or find me at PAX’08.

3:30 p.m.: Video of a Q&A with Wil Wheaton will come when I’m able to upload to YouTube. Until then, I’m compelled to point out that the ex-Star Trek actor and well-known geek patriarch had a nicely valid point about some of the Slog forum posters’ lust for nerdy photos: “You know, parallels can be drawn between gamers and sports fans. When you see guys at Lambeau Field in diaper and body paint, you think, that’s an enthusiast. Yet when some guy goes out dressed as Mario, they say, ‘He’s a freak.’ But he’s not. He just really, really loves it.”

1:50 p.m.: GamerDad, your work to redeem gamers’ reputations has taken ten steps back. Overheard in the men’s bathroom at PAX:

Dude 1: So I was on this cruise to Alaska last year, and I met this broad from Nebraska, and I was bangin' her every night of the whole fuckin' cruise.
Dude 2: I bet she was hot.
Dude 1: I bet she was hot, too. I was so hammered every night that I can barely remember. Right, so we were fuckin' all of the time, and after the cruise, she wanted to date. I live in fuckin' Washington, man. So a month later, out of the blue, she calls me up and says she has Herpes.
Dude 2: Fuck!
Dude 1: Yeah, but it turns out she was just making that shit up to try and convince me to date her. What the fuck is that, right?
Dude 2: At least she didn't try some pregnancy scare thing with you, man.
Dude 1: I dunno. I'd much rather have a baby than Herpes.

12:40 p.m.: Leave it up to gamers to crack a contest with techie ingenuity. PC product manufacturer nVidia is passing out buttons with 5-digit codes, and those who find their exact code match at the Expo can claim a prize up to $400 in value. This means that today, the longest line isn't for Rock Band; it's for the guy with a laptop who is creating an enormous nVidia code database. Forget about peering at everyone's tiny buttons--walk up to the laptop guy, give him your code and your phone number, and hope that he eventually finds your match.

Uh, if anyone's reading from the Expo... 58135.

12:20 p.m.: Continuing the Expo's call-to-arms mentality, Andrew "GamerDad" Bub held court at the Politics In Gaming panel. Certainly, this was preaching to the choir at its finest, though his points were meant for an audience less hardcore than this one.

"The vast majority of gamers are thinking, 'survive, survive, survive,'" Bub says. "I'm not thinking about murder. I'm thinking about not letting my game end." Insisting that "gaming is about doing," Bub encouraged the crowd to do their part against lawmakers who badmouth the games industry: "Put aside the controller. Hell, it's wireless nowadays. Get out, educate yourself and vote."

He also pointed to the ECA, a lobby working to end the recent wave of anti-games legislation. Granted, he also was adamant, citing the First Amendment, that "no law will ever be passed that bans games," so...why bother? Perhaps the point isn't about the laws but about the reputation. Having been interviewed for a TV station's PAX coverage, Bub tuned in last night to find a 30-second snippet with brief footage of Rock Band and Jenga--no use of the phrase "Penny Arcade," no interview quotes about the changing face of gaming.

"They're reaching out to the old crowd that still watches late-night news," Bub says. "With those people, [to change the industry's reputation,] you have to be earnest. Play with them."

11:20 a.m.: Penny Arcade co-creator Jerry Holkins opened the morning with a murmur: "This is our first-ever press panel." Minutes later, the hour-long panel, with the help of series artist/co-creator Mike Krahulik, made that novicehood clear with about as many f- and s-bombs as you'd find in a typical PA comic strip.

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins

But "novice" isn't the appropriate word for the Northgate/Bothell masterminds of this weekend's successful three-day Penny Arcade Expo. When asked about the sheer numbers--attendees, cost, profit--their eyes opened wide. "Just to run the computer LAN room's power costs $40,000 this weekend," Krahulik says. "When I hear a fact like that, I don't want to hear anything else." The guys generally feigned ignorance when asked about how well the comic and its many satellite operations (book sales, PAX, tie-in video game, annual Child's Play charity event) are doing, citing that they're happier pretending the work is simply for their own amusement. At the least, this nine-person operation is doing well enough to turn gaming advertisements down that they don't agree with--some to the tune of $20,000 a pop. Jesus 8-bit Christ.

When pressed about the duo's driving force to run such a huge, demanding expo, their answer came quickly: "We wanted to create a physical Internet." The way they put it, they wanted the random nature of surfing from weird site to weird video clip to come alive in person, whether that be last night's nerd-folk concert by Jonathan Coulton, the previous night's screening of The Wizard, guys walking around dressed as Link or even a surprise, boo-filled appearance by hated game-movie director Uwe Boll.

"We want absolutely every person to have fun," Holkins says. "When you're crazy like me, you think you have the power to will that to happen." After telling a story about seeing some PAX attendees stuck outside the convention center, trying to change a flat tire while sitting atop their PC cases, Holkins sighed: "Oh my god. We lost them."

RSS icon Comments


My god- it looks like Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew have diversified into video games!

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | August 26, 2007 7:49 PM

I was there crafting balloon doggies and flowers for everyone.

Posted by Jordyn | August 26, 2007 8:33 PM

The Omegathon final round was fucking awesome. I never gave a shit about Halo before, but being in a crowd watching it played out between the two finalists, I got caught up in the enthusiasm. And the winner, who I happened to chat up at an earlier round, was a real sweetheart who competed wearing his "Gay Noob Laggers" tshirt, representing his gay (-friendly?) gaming clan. It was a totally Seattle moment.

It was like a really good sports event, only far fewer assholes. And less body paint.

Thank you for your great coverage, Sam. But one thing you should know is, not all gamers are disappointed to be viewed as anti-social. Many ARE anti-social and aren't ashamed of it. (Like my brother whom I attended with.) It's a great past-time for them that doesn't stress their limited people skills while still letting them be a part of a community.

Posted by Cate | August 26, 2007 9:28 PM

Seriously, I'm just waiting for the "Star Trek" OMMRPG, it's the game I was born to play.

Until then, everything else is - feh.

Posted by COMTE | August 26, 2007 10:19 PM

My only failure at PAX as never seeing anyone from the stranger crew. I am so infinately sad right now.

Posted by Original Monique | August 27, 2007 8:29 AM

PAX was a blast, but when it all ends, did anyone else get that sinking feeling that since the 3-day straight party all at once came to an end, you have nothing else to look forward to?

I sure did.

Until i realized bumbershoots coming up! :D Granted, its no PAX, but its still going to be fun ;)

ps. I loved Rock Band. Our gorgeous female singer went afk for a while, so we made signs and hung them from our necks, advertising, "WTB Female Singer". Rocking out to a crowd of over 100 was amazing. And just before that, our lead guitarist got to play a round with the owners of penny arcade and the leader of Harmonix.

Posted by Mark Mackend | August 27, 2007 9:44 AM

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