Sunday , May 19 2024

PAX East 2023 – The PAX Experience

Every year in Boston, Massachusetts, tens of thousands of gamers flock to the Seaport district to attend the East Coast’s largest video game expo – PAX East. The show has been getting bigger every year, with obvious bumps in 2021 and a slightly smaller experience in 2022.

This year PAX East is back, and in my mind, better than ever. With COVID still a lingering problem, Reedpop and Penny Arcade decided to keep mandatory masking in place, but dropped the vaccination requirement from previous years. This made it still a different PAX from pre-COVID times, but the crowds were back in force with many of the pass options sold out.

The PAX mainline shows (West in Seattle, Aus in Melbourne, Australia, and East in Boston) have many distinct components: the main Expo Hall, the panels, the tabletop section, merchants and after-hours events. This diverse content makes this expo an incredible experience for gamers of all ages.

While many big players like Sony, Microsoft, and Square Enix were not on the show floor in a meaningful way, their presence was felt, with panels discussing their environments and projects. The lack of major triple-A publishers left a lot of space for AA and indie studios to bring out their best work and it made for an Expo Hall that was diverse and thrilling.

The Expo Hall

The main attraction for most folks heading to PAX East were the literally hundreds of games, some from larger publishers like THQ Nordic and Focus, but most from smaller houses or indie studios. This massive footprint of digital fun can be confusing to navigate, but just wandering the show floor yields surprise after surprise to enjoy.

A major feature of the show floor is the PAX Rising Showcase, which is where unique and promising indie titles are elected to be in a devoted booth in a key area of the hall floor. Games like Sovereign Syndicate, Strayed Lights, Xenotilt, and Hostile Pinball Action were standouts, but frankly the entire PAX Rising Showcase was outstanding and all the games were worth checking out.

The surrounding areas had a mix of other indie titles, from the gorgeous and interesting Trinity Fusion and Wrestle Story to larger titles like Lord of the Rings Gollum and Dead Island 2. This large mix of gaming experiences makes the show floor of PAX East a fascinating place to explore and discover more new games.

The Tabletop Hall

Growing larger every year, despite the fact that there is a dedicated tabletop show called PAX Unplugged, the tabletop half of the conference floor is varied, massive and full of fun experiences. A mix of board game tournaments and vendors, live Dungeons and Dragons sessions, and Magic the Gathering tournaments dot the area and give a lot to explore.

My personal favorite part of exploring the Tabletop area is to wander around to all the vendors and try out their games or watch people play. Games focused on dark powers, like Archon Games Eschaton, to super-powered antics like Kapow from Wise Wizard Games give incredibly varied experiences.

The Panels and Conference Activities

Perhaps the biggest and most varied aspect of PAX East is the hundreds of panels and numerous activities scattered around the conference hallways. Not only are there discussions on every facet of the gaming industry, there is a community lounge, console freeplay areas, and handheld lounges to settle down and rest from the hectic pace.

The Panels run from conference start till midnight each night and cover everything from Final Fantasy VII – Environment, Energy, and Capitalism to LGBTQIA+ Inclusion: Drag Artists, Cosplayers, and our visibility in media! There are also numerous tabletop and game tournaments and talks on everything from gaming history to how to enter the industry.

Around every corner there is something new. In one wing of the BCEC there is a Dance Central arena setup, in another a perpetual Jackbox gaming session that players can drop into and out of. Iconic charity groups like the Cookie Brigade and Child’s Play also have strong presences throughout the conference.

For food and drink there is now a Voodoo Ranger (local Brewery) popup 21+ pub debuting a new variety of their beer at each PAX. Inside the hall there are food trucks on the expo hall floor and a food court upstairs. Enhancing this are world-class food trucks outside on the Lawn on D.

Concerts or special events happen each night, with a live D&D session from Acquisitions Incorporated always happening on the weekend. Tabletop sessions are also available in the expo hall or in some panels up to midnight as well.

To say there are almost limitless things to do during PAX East is not an understatement. If you’re motivated enough it’s easy to spend 14 hours each day just enjoying all of the extra activities outside of the conference hall and have a truly fantastic time.

The Overall Experience

PAX East is a conference built for fans of gaming and all of the events and activities reflect that. There is a palpable inclusiveness in nearly all aspects of the event and it is one of the few public conferences where friends on mine on the spectrum or from the LGBTQIA+ community feel seen and truly respected.

It is a gaming and tabletop conference but it also truly represents the slogan coined by Wil Wheaton at the very first PAX East in 2010: Welcome home. PAX East is a pace for spectacle, noise and consumerism, but it is also a welcoming and community-driven environment that needs to be experienced to truly be appreciated.

About Michael Prince

A longtime video game fan starting from simple games on the Atari 2600 to newer titles on a bleeding edge PC I play everything I can get my hands on.

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