We’re now a month after PAX, and it seems like the experience that was PAX East has finally sunk in and fully marinated in my brain. In a word, my time in Boston was overwhelming; there were nearly 70,000 people attending, the largest Magic: The Gathering area I’ve ever seen (of which I had to partake), and more hilarious and interesting panels than you could possibly see in a week, let alone three days. Nonetheless, in spite of everything I missed, losing my PAX virginity was one of the best experiences of my gaming life, and it wasn’t just because I got to be a magic fanboy when I saw Brian David Marshall. The reason PAX is so awesome has nothing to do with the games or the panels, instead it has everything to do with the people present– a group of people from whom we can learn some pretty hefty lessons about how to have an enjoyable gaming experience.
Up until my visit to the BCEC I didn’t quite understand what people said when they talked about how the attendees make the PAX experience. After all, conventions are about the games that you play and the superstars that you get to talk to. Sure you might schmooze with some of your gaming friends along the way, but that isn’t necessarily why you go to a convention. For the first couple of hours this belief held true to form as I roamed the convention floor looking at Bastion (which will be awesome) and Battle Blocks Theater (which wasn’t quite as awesome). It was all pretty standard fare: wait in line, play some games, rinse, lather, repeat. This all changed when I went to my first panel.
Unsurprisingly, my first panel was a discussion of the upcoming M:TG commander product, but that isn’t what remarkable about the experience. While waiting in line, a random guy who I hadn’t spoken to up to that point asked me if I wanted to play Magic, totally without provocation. When I said yes he immediately pulled out a deck of cards, we shuffled them up, and we played a couple rounds of Magic and went merrily on our way after. This wasn’t the last time something like this would happen. Later that night, while waiting in line for The Escapist Movie Night, a woman was interviewing attendees for her thesis on video game culture. Within minutes people were gathering around, offering themselves to be interviewed while they were waiting in line. This is to say nothing of the Saturday Night /dance, an impromptu dance party started by Team Rocket.
It’s this atmosphere which has made the Penny Arcade Expo the fastest growing video game exhibition in the country, which might be one of the reasons that some speak in near reverent tones when discussing the convention. When you step into PAX there is an understanding that no matter who you are and no matter what you like, you’ll be accepted and embraced with open arms by the community.
However, there’s nothing to suggest that the people here are in any way extraordinary; in fact, it’s far more likely that the people attending PAX represent a standard sample of gamers, screaming homophobes included. Nonetheless, by coming together and deciding to be accepting, the respectful majority is able to effectively push out the voices of the disrespectful minority and create a truly amazing atmosphere.
So what does this mean for you, average Joe or Jane gamer who has to put up with screaming 13 year olds calling people all types of racial slurs on Xbox LIVE (or PSN)? It means that the norm isn’t going to change without a concerted effort on your part. At the same time, it also means that there’s hope; PAX shows that if gamers really want to, they can create an atmosphere that is conducive to awesomeness.
In order to do your part all you need to do is tell the racist kid to pipe down or report the next person you hear making the community a worse place. It may not seem like much, but companies have entire teams dedicated to creating excellent internet communities, and with your help they can make it so that the awesomeness of PAX pervades every online community.