My PAX Is Better Than Your PAX

By Dennis Scimeca
Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 11:00 am
The nerd badge of pride
The word "hajj," divorced from its religious connotation, can be used to mean "a journey of epic import." Nerds have quite a few hajj to embark upon annually, including the Comic Cons and Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX.

PAX was born in Seattle, WA, and every year Atlantic-coast nerds would long to gather with their Pacific-coast brethren, their hands stayed by the price of round-trip airfare and hotel room rates. Then, in 2010, the chaps from Penny Arcade held their inaugural PAX East in Boston, MA.

At the end of that first, East Coast version of the event, Jerry Holkins, a.k.a. "Tycho" of Penny Arcade fame, said "This is the one to beat," or words to that effect. I attended PAX Prime in Seattle that same year, and the second PAX East earlier this year in Boston. And unless I hear that PAX Prime this year has seen marked improvements, I'm going to say that Tycho was right.

In other words, West Coasters, my PAX is better than your PAX.

PAX East 2011 expo.jpg
I couldn't get high enough over the PAX East 2011 show floor to get it all in one picture. This is a third of it.
Tycho's praise, sort of the salesmanship angle, was curious considering that no one had really seemed to enjoy the Hynes Convention Center, where PAX East 2010 was held. The Expo Hall had been extremely cramped, and almost all the rooms for the panels and speakers had been way too small. Preposterously long lines and wait times had become standard issue by the second day of PAX East for anyone who had wanted a chance in hell of getting into any panel that was potentially a hot ticket. The "non video-game games," the board games and card games and such, had felt pretty isolated from the rest of the event. I had friends working the tabletop wargaming section that year, and it had really felt like I'd gone way out of my way to find them.

PAX East 2011, however, was held in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and it was perfect. The meeting rooms for the panel sessions were huge, and the main floor of the BCEC was too big, if anything. Extendable walls had partitioned the floor space into thirds, and PAX East this year only filled two of them.

I'd heard PAX referred to as "the E3 for everybody," but neither Penny Arcade Expo in 2010 had lived up to that reputation. PAX East 2011's Expo Hall, on the other hand, actually did feel like a miniature version of E3, right down to the insane amount of condensed noise, troublesome crowd navigation issues, and ease of losing one's bearings. The entire Expo Hall was one, contiguous space, precisely as it should be.

PAX East 2011 Other Games.jpg
Behold the concentrated nerd glory of the PAX East 2011 "other games" section

Right next door, on the other side of the partition from the Expo Hall, was where all the "other gaming" was located. Board games, card games, tabletop wargames, the game "lending library," it was all in the same, mammoth space, and I think this was the most pivotal improvement. The Penny Arcade Expo is, first and foremost, meant to be about celebrating gamer culture and community. Having all these "other gamers" commingling made it much easier for them to make new friends, try new games, and just hang out with all the other like-minded nerds.

PAX East 2011 bore almost no resemblance to PAX Prime 2010, which had been fairly disappointing. For one, the Washington State Convention Center is a location of dubious value, due to the size PAX has grown to. The Expo Hall space was okay, if not a little claustrophobic compared to the cavernous space the BCEC offers, but this year at PAX Prime all the indie studios have been relegated to a spot two floors up, which prevents them from drawing traffic off the triple-A studio setups. At PAX East 2011, all the developers were in the same space as everybody else.

Because nothing is better than being stuffed into a room full of people who have to be reminded to take a shower every day, AND being really wet

PAX Prime 2010's Main Theater was also not in the same building as the rest of the Expo. The same seems to be true of PAX Prime 2011. Considering how popular a thing rain is in Seattle, one would think that having the entire affair under a single roof would be a good idea. At PAX East, the Main Theater will just be a few escalator rides away for the foreseeable future.

The real rub with PAX Prime 2010 was the location of the "other gaming." It was spread out all over a floor that felt a lot like an indoor shopping mall. The need for "other gaming" space at PAX is clearly less than the need for video game space, but it would have been nice to have felt some sense of community rather than a setup that reminded one of the proverbial basements gamers supposedly dwell in, sequestered from the civilized world.

And the tabletop wargames at PAX Prime 2010 weren't even given space in that area. They were put in a location that must have been right next to Limbo. Of all the things I want to hear about PAX Prime 2011, it's whether or not this setup for the "other gamers" has been improved.


PAX might have started out as a quaint little nerd gathering in Seattle, but it's ballooned into something much greater, a real locus for geek and gamer culture, and a pilgrimage for the socially challenged and creatively over-inclined.

I'm therefore happy to report that, unless I hear the PAX Prime 2011 venue was a tremendous improvement over the PAX Prime 2010 venue I bore witness to, that the definitive home of the Penny Arcade Expo is now right here in my home town. I therefore propose that, as of 2012, we refer to the Boston show as "PAX," and the Seattle show as "PAX West," until such time as the original Expo steps up.
First Person is a weekly column by Dennis Scimeca, a freelancer from Boston, MA, who would never, ever write something like this just because he wished he was at PAX Prime this weekend with his Joystick Division colleagues James Hawkins and Alexander Bevier. He will deny the accusation on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.

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