Being around so many enthusiastic fans at once amplified the energy of great games. Which is good, because being a game journalist is tough work in 2016. There’a veritable flood of games out there, and so many of them deserve hours and hours of playtime. The indie space is expanding and experimenting with new control schemes, gameplay genres, and interfaces. Triple-A titles are branching out in their own ways, too, adding diverse faces to their rosters and creating massive projects which could take hundreds of hours to explore completely. Hardware manufacturers are fighting even harder for gaming dollars, creating everything from custom desktop PCs and skinned controllers to specialized keyboards, mice, and headsets. Trying to take it all in at once is enough to make the mind melt just a bit.
PAX West creates that sort of mind-melting experience. It’s a four-day convention in Seattle, Washington where tens of thousands of gamers gather to immerse themselves in gaming culture. I felt nervous the days and weeks before PAX, honestly; though I’ve been a journalist for years, I’ve never been to a convention quite as large as PAX. I tend to think of large groups as a negative: I hate waiting in lines, the social anxiety, the potential to get catch a cold or other bug from a stranger. Now that I’ve got my first PAX under my belt, though, I’m excited about the next one for exactly the same reason I was intimidated in the first place.
It’s easy to get a bit jaded when coming at conventions from a professional angle. At shows like E3 you’re often seeing the same people, playing the same games, watching the hype build over a few key reveals while the rest of the games fight for their moments in the sun. At PAX, the spectacle level gets turned up to 11: giveaways, contests, and loud displays are at practically every turn. Still, so many games and developers show up on the floor that it draws a gigantic crowd of fans, many of which are just happy to be around so many games at one time.
It’s nearly impossible to know all the different titles that’ll show up, and something about the surprise of falling in love with a game you never expected makes the whole show feel more invigorating. It’s not unusual to see a crowd gathered around a fun multiplayer title, cheering when a team wins or loses. It’s also not unusual to see players silent, headphones on, completely immersed in a thriller or visual novel. Multiply those feelings by the thousands of people at the convention center, and the energy becomes nearly tangible.
PAX West’s greatest asset is its variety of games on the show floor. My favorite part of E3 usually turns out to be the Indiecade section, a small portion of the show floor dedicated to showing off curated indie projects. These games, often made by independent developers or small teams, are the ones that reach out into the fringe and take risks. When you’re checking out those games, you’re generally talking to the people who directly made the game, which can add new insights to the demo. PAX West felt like a show with Indiecades spread all over, with titles both large and small staffed by people who truly know the games and their backgrounds. I met Lead Animators, Creative Directors, Lead Writers… and not just because I was press. They were working their booths, happy to talk about their games and share their insights.
For all that I saw and appreciated about PAX, I know I missed out on tons more. The convention holds an entire series of game tournaments, free play arenas, and panel talks that I only heard rumor about in-between press appointments. And, even aside from those curated events, it was great to see people simply hanging out together, playing their 3DSs or mobile games, laughing and sharing stories. Attendees met new people while waiting in lines for demos or panels, some of which I imagine will become long-lasting friendships. As much as the massive crowds drained me, in ways they gave me strength, too. I saw people of all kinds, varying races, genders, orientations, religions, abilities, and more, many cosplaying characters that took tons of time and energy to compose. It reminded me of the importance of the world of gaming, and the importance of the community we all create around it.