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Sunday, August 31, 2008

PAX Day Three - Megathread

posted by on August 31 at 20:24 PM

6:30 p.m.: The show is over. I need to go on nerd detox overnight to reflect, sort through photos, and write something with a few more hours of sleep under my belt. Will post final impressions tomorrow.

3:00 p.m.: G4’s Adam Sessler just walked in front of me in the press room, talking to his friends about the birthday party he’s having in Seattle tonight. “You sure you wanna have it in Seattle?” one friend asked. Sessler responded by slapping his wrist in mock-heroin addict fashion, laughed, and left. I would’ve spoken up, but Morgan Webb was nowhere to be seen, so I lost interest quickly.

2:30 p.m.: Jazz loves the Penny Arcade Expo. That’s her name; Jazz is a young native of BC attending her first-ever PAX. She’s standing outside of a panel, talking to random passersby about her favorite games; when I meet her, she’s asking me about Psychonauts. I indulge her some chat about the game (wonky but brilliant, if you must know). Then I ask her why she came all this way, and her first answer is that she came with a boyfriend. I dig a bit, to see whether she was dragged or came willing, and she puts her hand on my shoulder.

“All he had to tell me was, when you come to PAX…” She grips my shoulder. “You’re home.”

Indeed, home is where the Jazz is. She goes on about her cosplaying fun from yesterday (“my Rosalina outfit only took a month to make”), her gameplay moments with friends old and new, and her favorite moment so far (“breakdancing with the devil;” or at least a guy dressed up as such). All grins and good stories; except for complaints about long lines throughout the Expo, this girl is in her natural habitat and glowing for it.

This conversation has been typical of the strangers I’ve approached for the past three days. Lots of out-of-towners have come for their first-ever PAX, and few have said their purpose was to try out new games or dive head-first into Penny Arcade comics and panels. Plainly, simply, and proudly, they’ve come from miles around to find their home. Hopefully, home will have fewer lines and full-capacity panels next year, but that’s not stopping these people from randomly bombarding anyone they see about their favorite eras of 3D platforming games—or going to a free-play room and loading ‘em up.

2:00 p.m.: The “girlfriend into gaming” panel was comedic to some extent; much of the Q&A session felt like therapy for confused dorks with girlfriends. “Relationships are about compromise.” “You should be thankful she plays games at all.” “Attract her to gaming by leading a responsible gaming example.” Seems the panel expected this barrage of questions, and to their credit, you couldn’t have asked for a more accommodating panel—nothing mean or condescending was directed to these guys with apparent struggles.

Thankfully, the five women heading the panel—all webmasters, writers, and community leaders—rose above the advice portion by offering a lot of perspective and character to the crowded panel session. They were interested in games aimed at young girls; while initially offended by Barbie/Hannah Montana fare, one panelist realized that young girls can’t get into gaming if moms aren’t willing to purchase it. “If it has to be pink, so be it”; they saw Barbie as a gradual segue to Call of Duty 4. Take that as you will. Still, the five panel speakers warned parents to be as concerned about GTA IV’s influence on younger gamers as the over-materalistic “girly game” fare.

3:00 a.m.: I’d write about the friendliness of PAX crowds, but it’s hard to make that description interesting. The sky’s blue. D&D has geeky fans. The PAX crowd is a fun-loving group with absolutely no troublemakers. Last year, the character of the crowd was striking; this year, it was expected.

But concert etiquette isn’t a PAX crowd’s forte. Midway through the final show of the expo concert series, roughly 2,000 fans were screaming song titles in unison—occasionally joining forces to shout their pleas as a mob. Normally, this is my fingers-on-chalkboard. But when the band is The Minibosses, and the song requests are names of video games, I instead felt like I’d been dropped into a real-life Internet flame war.

“METROID!” “ZELDA!” The closest this crowd got to shouting for a deep cut was a mass request for cult NES hit Rygar.

The Minibosses are a gaming soundtrack cover band. As much as I wanted to appreciate this show—because the MIDI songs were never meant for guitar, and the dual-lead frontmen annhiliated their source material with note-for-note precision—I struggled. Their rock versions of 80s game songs sounded like an endless stream of cuts from Top Gun. Makes sense; the setlist didn’t get much further than 1988, and I guess the Japanese synth dudes behind your favorite Nintendo games loved Ray Bans and the Iceman. In a resulting rock concert, so much perpetual shredding takes its toll.

Really, I have reservations about all of the musical acts here. Some of them are embarrassingly average by normal music standards (particularly Freezepop, whose popularity still baffles me). Others are simply weird, like the “Chthulu-metal” of the band Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. I think that the genre name implies lyrics about LOTR and outfits with unnecessary chains:


Some are pretty damn good at what they do. There’s Jonathan Coulton’s geek-folk, charming in a They Might Be Giants way in that the inherent wit and humor isn’t in schlocky, Weird Al joke form. And there’s MC Frontalot, the rapper who shames the rest of the “nerdcore” community by employing a competent flow and a capable backing band. I’m not going to kid anyone—none of these acts, even at their prime, are blowing the music world away. But in the safe haven of PAX, that’s fine; the fans continue holding their DSes in the air like lighters, continue singing along to every word. The bands continue basking in their collective shamelessness, the reason they were invited here in the first place.

And relative outsiders like me, even with our noses in the air, continue finding moments of geek-joy to latch onto. Like when Jonathan Coulton invited actress Felicia Day onstage to sing the theme song from Portal, or when MC Frontalot ripped open an amusing ode to Internet porn, or when the Minibosses held their twin guitars aloft and decided that the theme to Tecmo Bowl should be a fucking rock song.

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I just downloaded the UT3 Patch 3 and Bonus Pack.


Posted by John Bailo | August 31, 2008 9:04 PM

For teh gays reading this and scratching your heads, PAX is like gay pride for nerds. It is a place where you are totally surrounded by your own kind - tens of thousands of us. You can feel totally safe being yourself in public. You can wear your cape somewhere other than to D&D night. Everyone is super friendly and happy to be with like-minded people and nobody sneers at you for being who you are.

Posted by Lark Hawk | August 31, 2008 10:32 PM

Pax was amazing....I can't detox yet, my house is still a refugee camp (apologies to New Orleans residents) and this is the first I have been online in 3 fucking days. Tomorrow or Tuesday, all my guests should be gone... ;)

Posted by Original Monique | August 31, 2008 10:35 PM

I am fairly confident this is the blog I was interviewed for?

It is, assuming you are the man with seemingly no pre-prepared questions and the horribly broken camera.

I'm excited for the update.

Posted by Gavbot | September 2, 2008 11:34 AM

@4: The videos didn't turn out, unsurprisingly. But thanks for humoring my incredibly low-tech setup. I hope you enjoyed the Vs. Excitebike round as much as I did.

Posted by Sam M. | September 2, 2008 3:25 PM

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