I often get asked what exactly is the PAX East show? Is it about videogames? Tabletop Games? Art and Culture in Videogames? The music inspired by videogames? A social mashup of videogame and pop culture fans? The answer is all of this and more. For those who do not know the history, PAX is technically called The Penny Arcade Expo, a conference looking at all things game and nerd culture that came from the imaginations of the team behind the hugely popular online comic Penny Arcade. The creators always wondered why there was no show/conference that really welcomed and embraced the fans of the video and table top gaming scene. There are plenty of video game events, but they are mostly industry driven and not terribly welcoming to the everyday enthusiast. The first PAX was held in 2007 in Seattle and since that time other venues popped up. PAX East in Boston, followed by PAX South in San Antonio and PAX Australia in Melbourne. Over the past 10 years what started as an experiment has literally turned into a world spanning event that people plan months
The Social Side of PAX East
PAX East is a three day event spanning Friday – Sunday in March or April and it is held at the BCEC conference centre in Boston, Massachusetts. While the focus of PAX East is the expo hall, panels, and tabletop area, there is a very robust social scene that has sprung up around the conference. Over the course of the event (as well as days before and after) there are a number of gatherings, parties, meetups, and industry events that all can participate in. The highlights, for me at least, are a mix of industry sponsored and community run events that highlight the uniqueness of the gaming world. Every year I attend a Pokemon themed pub crawl called the Pokecrawl; this may sound like a way to just drink the night away, but it is a great community event that raises thousands of dollars for Child’s Play charities and brings people of all walks of life together. I often also join boardgame meetups – the biggest of which is in the Westin the night before PAX – the hotel gives up a lot of space and hundreds of gamers converge to play dozens of different titles. During PAX there are a number of sponsored and community driven parties as well at pubs, bars, and hotels that give attendees a chance to mingle with developers and each other. This social side of PAX East is a truly great thing and something that is a big part of my personal PAX experience that I look forward to each year.
The Video Games of PAX East
PAX East has become an incredibly important part of a developers circuit as they promote new and upcoming games, in particular PAX has become a mecca for Indie games with a great deal of floor space devoted to smaller niche titles. The main stop for independent titles is the PAX Mega Booth, which is an organized triple row of independent developers sharing a large footprint in the center of the expo floor. With upwards of 60 developers in the Mega Booth it is a terrific place to start on the show floor to see a wide variety of titles of all types. The nice thing about the Expo Hall is that other indie developers who didn’t get in the Mega Booth tend to pop up around the area so that section of the floor is a rich buffet of experiences. On the show floor there also mid range and triple A studios such as Devolver Digital, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft showing off some of the biggest titles coming out in the coming years. All of them from large to small have slices of their games available to play on the show floor, the larger titles generally have long wait times, but the Indie titles can offer amazing experiences with far shorter wait times. There is also a great deal of vendors selling gaming hardware, furniture, clothes, jewelry, toys, and other cool items that suit the crowd in attendance.
The Tabletop Games of PAX East
One huge section of the Expo floor is devoted to a Tabletop area, but these types of games are also invading the traditional floor, one game I tried called Total War was featured in three separate sections of PAX East showing the penetration Tabletop is having on the gaming industry. In the Tabletop section there are all manner of demos, tournaments and lending libraries setup so gamers can try whatever they like. Hosted play tests for dozens of games are happening at all times and sponsored tournaments in Magic the Gathering and other CCGs are available throughout the conference for anyone who wants to hop in and battle other players for real rewards. The vibe and atmosphere in this part of the expo hall is really great as people are playing in groups as they talk, laugh, and battle each other for hours at a time. It is a nice break from the noise, crowds, and pageantry of the main show floor and one I always spend a few hours enjoying during PAX East.
The Panels of PAX East
Another key feature of PAX East is the panels that are a major part of the conference. There are dozens of panels each day and, unlike the Expo floor hours (which end at 6 PM each day), the panels run until late at night Friday and Saturday. This means that if you are interested in learning about aspects of the gaming industry, creative techniques, or just watch a silly yet serious panel about chickens, PAX has you covered. The panels run the gamut from Triple A industry focused events like one about the upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda game to more esoteric ones like Does the Author’s Intent Matter in Video Games? The Panels are seemingly never ending and a great place to spend an hour learning about equality in games, getting into streaming, sound design or simply to hear about the newest games coming out this year. The Panels are an amazing part of PAX and are often run by community members or academics in related fields and can be as educational as they are entertaining.
The Rest of PAX EAST
All through the convention hall there are scores of side activities to take part of, whether it be Dance Central in one of the main concourses to chilling on Bean bag chairs in the handheld lounge there is always something off the beaten path to explore. Bioware lately takes up a few rooms to form the Bioware Base where they have challenges, demos and a chance to meet the developers of their games. Twitch had a really cool lounge setup for everyone to enjoy where you could sit in couches and chairs while eating the provided snacks and watching some streams from the show floor on a massive screen. For some peace and quiet there is a diversity and AFK lounge where a safe space could be found for all to get a break from the crowds and noise. Twitch and Jackbox games were wandering around with mobile game carts; there is a freeplay lounge where consoles can be borrowed for some playtime and the cookie brigade is all over the conference centre selling cookies with all proceeds going to Charity. These side events are a key part of the PAX Experience and add a real community feeling to the show that is impossible to replicate in larger more formal industry events.
With all of these different experiences it is hard to believe that I have not even covered everything PAX East has to offer. The show is an amazing, welcoming and diverse experience that helps gamers and geek enthusiasts come together in a way that is truly awesome. In the first year of PAX East back in 2011 Wil Wheaton was the keynote speaker and he ended his talk looking straight out at the audience and said, “Welcome Home, this Place is for all of you.” Truer words were never spoken.