So my social event of the year, PAXAUS 2015, has come and gone. It was an odd mixture of fun, frustration, and exhaustion.
If you’re not sure what PAX (short for Penny Arcade Expo) is, you should check out Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade started life as a little online web comic that has grown into a huge industry powerhouse simply because it’s creators LOVE gaming. The expo happens yearly all over the USA and now, thankfully for the past few years, in Australia. Even better is that they’ve chosen Melbourne as the city to host it (for the time being) which means it’s incredibly easy for me to go to. It’s a celebration of games, gaming, games development and issues surrounding the gaming industry. It includes all facets of gaming, which is what I especially enjoy, so if you’re not a lover of video games but you adore table-top games, you’re totally covered.
To be honest, I am not really a hardcore gamer of any particular game style. I dabble in indie computer games and occasionally play the more mainstream stuff like The Sims, obvs. When I feel like it, I might play a card or board game or two. That said, I do enjoy knowing about the industry and it’s various facets. So for me the panels at PAX are definitely my favourite bit and what I invest much of my PAX time in.
This year there was a huge number of panels that I wanted to get into but due to time and schedule overlap, I couldn’t quite see everything that I wanted to see. Sadly, with PAX and the nature of how the show is put together, you do run the risk of panels not being great. Unfortunately many of panels I chose to attend were lackluster. While the topics were awesome, some failed simply due to the lack of preparation or real direction on behalf of the panelists.
The two panels I attended about the social aspect of gaming were frustrating as they didn’t even come close to discussing the topics they advertised. One panel was supposed to be debate about social gaming (think multiplayer games) versus solo gaming (single player) and which was better. It turned out to be a bunch of gameheads talking about which games they liked to play as opposed to putting forward arguments as to which was supposed to be “better”. It could have been SO GOOD… but wasn’t.
The other panel along the same theme was “Are Gamers Social?”, which was supposed to be a discussion addressing the idea that we gamers are not just people who sit in dark rooms playing games all day, denying that the outside world exists, was extremely disappointing. It was clearly put forward by someone with an axe to grind and who wanted to whine about how people give him a hard time – and having folks on the panel who looked like they hadn’t even bothered to shower in a few days didn’t help his cause. Even as they complained about it, they had already firmly ensconced themselves idea that gamers are different sorts of people an that they were different and somehow unsociable. ARGH!
Anyway, I left that one early because it just frustrating me.
But not all was doom and gloom. I had picked a few pretty awesome panels. There were a number of panels about diversity in games – including not only women in the industry (of course, because that’s always a huge topic considering “Gamergate” last year and the ongoing saga of females breaking into male-dominated industry), but also representation of different folks from all walks of life, backgrounds and ethnicity as well as addressing the issues of physical and mental disabilities in games. Some of those were real eye-openers.
And then there were the fun ones. D&D games with audience participation; a great one being run on the last day by The Dragon Friends who put out a regular podcast, discussions about LARP (live action role-play) as art, and science versus video games presented by Tim & Phill Talk About Games which as a little bit brilliant and piss-funny too.
The main exhibition hall was definitely sensory overload and I could really only manage a few short walks around the place to look about before naturally gravitating back to the quiet of the panel theatres or the table top hall. In spite of the overwhelming visual stimulation, I did get to see a lot of games being played and I admit my trigger finger got itchy as I observed folks enjoying Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate which has all the aesthetics I like in a game. (Ye olde London? YES PLEASE.) I even got to see a live demo of a game that I have been patiently waiting the release of called Unravel which really does look brilliant.
On the whole, PAX is fun. It’s hard to describe to those who have no interest in gaming of any sort (like my work colleagues for example) but it’s nice to know that us people who enjoy games and gaming of all sorts have a place to nerd out and be with our own for a few days.