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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Post PAXdom Depression

posted by on September 2 at 15:24 PM

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.)

RSS icon Comments


I feel like I need to wash my hands just thinking about the funk from the population of Renton on those keyboards and controllers.

Posted by Fortuna Mandolin | September 2, 2008 3:30 PM

I reeeeeeeeeeally need to come next year.

Posted by Gloria | September 2, 2008 3:32 PM

I agree whole-heartedly. This is my second year going with a group of kids I call, lovingly, "the chitlins". They met my friends on WoW as one is the little brother of a friend of the BF.

These kids (now 17ish) hung out with us (22-30ish) all weekend and were just awesome to be around. Last year I was impressed with how well they associated with adults, and this year was even better. They were so cute and sweet, just excited to be at PAX..away from Olympia. And they are much better at videogames than some of us oldies.

I know PAX was bigger than last year, but I have to say...I love it. Where else can you play Megadeth's Peace Sells on a live stage in front of million of like-minded nerds?

Posted by Original Monique | September 2, 2008 3:47 PM

sam, you didnt post enough about PAX dammit! but the posts were good. PS - when I was 11, my whole circle of friends swore CONSTANTLY. Like every other word constantly. It was the cool thing to do.

Posted by ZWBush | September 2, 2008 4:06 PM

@4: What more would you like to know? More game impressions? More cosplay photos? Lemme know... And I hoped you'd get what I meant by "middle school cafeteria." We're on the same page.

Posted by Sam M. | September 2, 2008 4:09 PM

A bunch of rich young white guys playing video games, eating junk food, making rape jokes, family guy references, racial slurs, some of them wearing weird costumes, in a big building named after a greek word...

What's the difference between PAX and 17th ave NE? Mountain dew instead of coke?

Posted by delta nu | September 2, 2008 4:10 PM

Heck, even people working the cash registers at Fred Meyer are all about PAX.

And most of the ones talking about PAX I've met are young women, even if I don't know if they actually attend, but they'd like to ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 2, 2008 4:37 PM

Hey that's me! And my 10-year-old son! We're famous!

We had a blast all weekend. He traded Pokemon with some kids who came all the way from Virginia. On Saturday, he told me, "Dad, I know what I want to be for Halloween. You know that juice robot? What's it called? I want to be that!"

Posted by Lark Hawk | September 2, 2008 4:41 PM

Will and Sam M.

Secret agents from renton huh...

you'll get yours soon my pretty...

perhaps you'd prefer invading GUS at the blue moon????

Posted by slide quick away | September 2, 2008 4:47 PM

PAX was full of awesome, like always.

Posted by sepiolida | September 2, 2008 4:52 PM

While PAX was full of awesome, there was one quibble I had. My DS did not want to connect to anybody else's DS. I tried even downloading a Tetris game (amongst others) to go head-to-head while waiting in the line for the final round of the Omegathon and it kept bombing out. I also couldn't get it to enter a Pictochat room and communicat with people. Was this an issue for anybody else?

Posted by TheMisanthrope | September 2, 2008 5:52 PM

all of it really. Honestly I liked the posts. I am hoping my city will have a PAX someday. And I'm not even a hardcore gamer, i like the older stuff best. So I just kind of soaked up the info in the posts. IF you have more to say, post it! thanks for the coverage!

Posted by ZWBush | September 2, 2008 6:49 PM
Seattle can now claim ownership to the biggest public gaming show in the nation, if not the world.

In the nation yes, in the world, not hardly. Both the Tokyo Game Show and the Leipzig Games Convention are quite a bit bigger than PAX.

But who cares if it's the biggest? It was certainly sweet, despite the slightly overcrowded feeling of the convention center.

And now it's time for a shameless plug of my write-up of PAX on The Naked Loon: Gaming Geeks Convert Seattle to Ultimate Nerdtopia

Posted by The Tim | September 2, 2008 10:38 PM

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