I knew I was in a different world when I saw Captain Falcon in the restroom. He posed. Or at least, he seemed to. It was hard to tell with all of those foam muscles. But rest assured, there was flexing of some kind.
For most of my life, I have only had a few simple but achievable aspirations. I’m not a big goals person, but after getting married (which come to think of it was a miracle in and of itself) my next big thing on the list was to attend a video game convention of some kind. This weekend, I trekked to PAX, one of the year’s largest gaming expos, and for me it was the equivalent of some great pilgrimage or crossing the threshold of the wardrobe into a universe that only existed in fairy tales on gaming blogs or in the pages of ad-filled magazines.
It strikes me now that so many of these industry figures and media types have grown used to things like PAX and the E3-that-was, to the point that we never hear about that sense of wonder or discovery that comes with an event so unique in our humble gaming realm. I’m sure it still lingers there somewhere for those writers and bloggers, underneath the calloused heart of familiarity and the press badge. Regardless, I was blown away when I entered the Washington Convention Center in Seattle, which became to me something much akin to a temple, a shrine or some kind of pagoda. It had a pulse that was palpable.
Realizing a life’s dream is no easy business. I wanted to document everything in this wild new world, but my worries about looking like a dork with a camera around my neck quickly faded once I understood that I walked in the company of guys with headcrab hats, yoshi dolls and a man with a suit of damned armor constructed entirely of Magic cards. These were my brethren, and though we were dressed for different experiences, we were united in our sense of exploration of this gaming sanctuary of PAX. Because, you see, it’s not often we get to wear our pastime on our sleeves, or on our heads and shoulders and legs as is the case for some.
We gamers are used to hiding in closets or cardboard boxes or whatever else we can fit in when it comes to our hobby. We smile politely when someone tells us about how they love video games and can’t speak of any experience beyond their last game of Wii sports, or perhaps we berate someone on the inside when all they know of the gaming world is when they watched their roommate kill hookers in GTA III. We ask our spouses not to tell everyone, please, that we didn’t come to the get-together last night because we couldn’t reach a save point in time. We can’t tell anyone that the opera scene gave us the misties or that one of our best friends we know only from a virtual world. This is our lot and we accept it.
I think what made PAX so special for me is that it kicks those social shackles in the nuts. As a gamer, this microcosm that celebrated who we are was a tiny world that I didn’t want to leave, constructed lovingly by Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade.
Watching panels that discussed censorship and gaming, seeing developers pimp their wares, playing games that were awful and awesome, Felicia Day cementing her place as the penultimate goddess in the hearts of nerds, lines (glorious lines) that herded us like cattle, and seeing a guy dressed like Darth Vader play lead in Rock Band – this is the stuff of my dreams made solid (Liquid!).
I saw Left 4 Dead, Gears of War 2, Tales of Symphonia Wii, Resistance 2, Little Big Planet, Fable II and entered a dungeon constructed by Bioware, for heaven’s sake. It baffles me that you can even put a price tag on this, accept my money and call us square.
Now I am back in the OtherWorld, wearing my work clothes and my work face, expecting to round a corner and find some guys tabletopping or engaging in some other OtherWorld crimes. Or hoping to find that, rather. Until next year, I’ll remember a place where it was glorious to be a gamer, deep in the hallowed halls of PAX.