PAX: Perfect Gathering Of Gamers

gamers flock to Seattle for one of world’s largest gaming conventions

The PAX West gaming convention filled Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center with almost 100,000 spectators in September, and with so much hype surrounding PAX in the gaming world, I went to the scene to see what the rave was all about.

PAX is one of the largest gaming conventions in the world, with an uncommon spotlight for indie titles to shine. Gamers from across the world attend the conventions in the U.S. and Australia to play exclusive trials, attend panels and explore the convention’s abundant activities.

Everything a gamer could dream of is at PAX. Small booths are provided for Indie developers to show off their titles. Ergonomic shops are set up to sell merchandise, collectibles and games. Huge racks cover the walls, with shirts, books, figures. Board game tents offer games, dice, and collectibles, and have additional spaces for fans and newcomers to play the game for themselves. Giant stages are prepared for Triple-A games – the largest games made by the largest studios – to reveal trailers and deliver demos. Auditoriums are used by panelists to give presentations on a variety of topics related to gaming. With a nonstop schedule of panels and several floors of game booths and events, it is impossible to see everything the convention has to offer. But that just adds to the endless joyride that is running around PAX.

The indie booths, set up for small fledgling game studios, serve as both an adventure for gamers to discover titles they might enjoy, and a flight-test to see how audiences react to the developer’s work. Developers, or devs for short, often stand next to engaged players, throwing out advice and tips and asking for feedback. Small studios across the world congregate at PAX to arrange a booth to measure player reception.

“You never know what you’re going to get from PAX,” said Ihor Pospishnyi, who represented a Russian indie development team for their game “Collapsed.” “We wanted to show the finished game for gamers and to get a bit of press coverage. We also want to find the right publisher to consult for this project. We’ve had 100 percent positive feedback at PAX so far.”

Some shops utilize their space to peddle hardware, setting up games for customers to put their product to the test. Competitions are held between contestants to clash for free gear. Winners not only can earn prizes but also get the privilege of throwing out coupons and codes into the crowd of cheering spectators.

Tyee Arey

The Triple-A game stages are a completely different breed of demos. Set up like an office, rows of computer monitors are laid across the stage. Gamers are willing to wait for one or two hours just to try out an unreleased game for 15 minutes. This year, one of the most anticipated titles, Borderlands 3, set up around 30 computers to show gamers what they had to offer, but even that many terminals couldn’t handle the line stretching around the entire 8×8 meter stage once.

In addition to the PAX attendee competitions, the U.S. Army eSports team also made an appearance on a spotlighted stage. Esports are competitive electronic sports, where contestants play each other online in front of huge crowds. Five audience members were allowed to cooperate and compete with the army’s eSports team in a game of Call Of Duty.

“[The Army] just wanted to be a part of eSports because they realized it was growing, so they made an eSports program,” said Specialist Pablo Martinez, who went on stage with 19 other players. “We practice all the time. I just have to be consistent when I play. This is the first time I’ve been to an event. I love it. It’s really fun . . . it’s kind of nerve-wracking.”

Throughout the four day convention, many speakers took advantage of PAX’s platform to give talks, varying from the top 40 board games to queer representation in gaming. One especially relevant talk was given by Ashley Brandin, a teacher for Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, who discussed the potential for games to be used in education.

“I think strongly that we should be using games not just to build skills, but to build life skills,” Brandin said. “In seventh-grade social studies in my state, we focus on the eastern hemisphere, and I try to focus on social justice and global citizenry. I want them to understand the lived experiences of other people, other kids. That’s not common in lecture. That doesn’t come from textbooks. It’s found in games.”

PAX has offered video games since The Warner Brothers, Microsoft, Rooster Teeth and Ubisoft studios attended in 2004 to showcase exclusive videos and demos. The attendees range from your average Joe checking out his favorite studio’s booth to fully-committed cosplay squads who spared no expense to create their costume. Crowds are full of bright neon hair and outlandish apparel in celebration of the gaming festivities. Devoted cosplayers carry giant weapons on top of their shoulders.

Although PAX heavily caters to the gaming crowd, it still retains its table-top aspect. Since its creation in 2004, when the creators of a comic strip called Penny Arcade announced the Penny Arcade Expo, there’s been a substantial amount of attention to board games. In fact, at the first PAX convention, a ludicrous $25,000 video game collection was offered as the prize for a board game tournament. This paved the way for table-top games to have panels, tournaments and entire floors for booths and shops every year at the expo.

For around 50 dollars each day for four days, one can be some of the first to see the coming year’s entire indie market, exclusive triple-A titles and countless magical experiences, all while surrounded by excited family, friends and fans. Without a doubt, PAX is one of the best experiences a game lover can attend.