Finding My Way Through PAX East 2014: A Recap

paxeast2When I was young, my parents occasionally took the family to amusement parks. It often was a best of both worlds scenario, because, as anyone with multiple siblings can attest, agreeing on any family outing can be more like a meeting of the UN Security Council than universal consensus.

Amusement parks, though, had a little bit of everything. Those of us that liked rides could do the rides (if we were tall enough damn it), while others got the chance to check out the shows or explore some themed building. There were also tasty and overpriced treats galore, although we kids were usually relegated to pre-made sandwiches, because everyone has limits. (Feeding 4-6 kids is never cheap, and as I came to understand as I got older, my parents were not actually made of money.) Besides, they always get you on the food.

Like many trying to maximize their dollar, my parents also insisted on being there for as long as absolutely possible – which usually meant from open till close. It makes perfect sense: the longer you stay there, the cheaper the price of admission becomes. If it costs $40 for entrance, and you only stay for five hours, it’s costing you eight dollars an hour to hang around on the premises, regardless of what you do. This, of course, says nothing about the incidentals of travel time, parking, the time lost just trying to get your bearings, and so on. If you stay for ten hours, on the other hand, that admission price drops to four dollars an hour, and it helps to justify all of the secondary costs involved with, well, pretty much doing anything. Sure, the differential may not seem like a lot for one person, but then multiply that out across eight attendees per day, very real money starts to add up.

I never did get tired of standing on the log flume bridge though...

I never did get tired of standing on the log flume bridge though…

We always pretty much aimed to get to one of these places for opening, and we were there easily until after sundown. It was almost always fun (family infighting notwithstanding), but it was also usually pretty exhausting for everyone involved.

This past weekend was PAX East 2014, the largest annual gaming convention in the Northeast, and the endcap in regional gaming cons for the winter. And it’s pretty much an amusement park for gaming geeks. It has plenty of attractions to offer, an assortment of booth games to participate in, various stage performances, people wandering around in costume, shows to listen to, and lots of fun stuff for sale that is often very hard to resist purchasing. Of course, it also has long lines, a high concentration of people in a small area, and is essentially a public health outbreak just waiting to happen. They also still get you on the food.

Indeed, PAX East is the largest geek gathering in our area. The last time they announced attendance numbers was in 2011 with a turnstile count of around 70,000 people, and that number is either the same or has risen higher since then.

But it’s not my favorite gaming convention. Not by a long shot.

There’s a number of reasons for this, such as that I never get the feeling it’s very organized, the usefulness of the volunteer Enforcers varies wildly, there are terribly inadequate food stations for that many people (inside or outside the building), and I grow weary of the perennial controversy involving something coming out of PAX organizers or Penny Arcade itself.

Then comes the issue of it not being in my wheelhouse that much anymore.

My formative years were very computer game heavy, with iconic games like Doom, Quake, and the Might & Magic series, followed by a golden age of strategy games such as Starcraft and Age of Empires. Still later on, I moved into the DotA and MMO scene for a few years in college.

age of empires

Looking back, it was clear that aside from some well-designed RPG games over the years, there was an overarching pattern to the kinds of computer games I enjoyed: they all had a very social component to them when you were playing with the person sitting next to you or in the next room. I loved LAN gaming. However, over time, most games have been pushed to be an online-only mode for multiplayer, where you either need to be at the whim of your Internet connection or you’re forced to play with random opponents. As a result, I lost interest in first person shooters, and I avoid any strategy game without a solid single-player campaign. I also have no interest in newest MMO, the next DotA / League of Legends iteration, or the next Minecraft-esque sandbox game.

Undoubtedly, unequivolally, and unabashedly, I’m mostly a tabletop gamer these days. That said, for all of the improvements made to the tabletop gaming section in the last few years, PAX is, and always shall remain, video game focused. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, and I would never knock those who really enjoy the wares being showcased, but it does temper my enthusiasm somewhat.

So, is it my favorite con? No. That said, my 2014 experience at PAX East did have some great highlights and was ultimately still worth it. How so? Let’s find out.
Next: My Top Ten Experiences of PAX East 2014