There are some places where adult and child alike can enjoy the same things: Fast food restaurants, sporting events, and gaming expos are just some of the best and easiest to come up with. And there’s no gaming expo bigger than the Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX. Held annually in Seattle, it draws a fair amount of attention from Oregon, and Corvallis particularly.
Nick Piatt is an OSU grad and current OSU employee who drove up to Seattle over Labor Day weekend for the event. He went with 6 friends, 4 of which are the same friends he’s been to PAX with for the last 3 years.
“We go for all of it,” he says, “We had a couple guys there for League of Legends, a few of us played pen & paper (role playing), some of us played board games, the res of the time we were just enjoying Seattle.”
Penny Arcade is a wildly popular web comic launched in 1998, in the infancy of the web comic boom. Now in its 15th year, it has millions of regular readers and a merchandising empire.
There’s Penny Arcade everything.
They even have their own convention where 90,000 plus boys and girls, age 8 to 88 gather each year for a long weekend of tabletop, role playing and video games. I went this year, for my second year in a row, to the Convention Center in downtown Seattle to play and see the future of games. It was also the first year where the insanely crowded marketing bonanza was extended for a 4th day.
Basically PAX brings together a broad mix of game makers to showcase their products. And most of them do it in part by using that most magical part of conventioning: swag.
Every company from video game giants like Sega, Capcom and Nintendo to indie houses like Vlambeer and Die Gute Fabrik , and even individuals, come with pins, stickers, postcards, screencleaners, hand sanitizers, foam swords and any other thing they can possibly stick a logo on and give away. Some are even giving away nicer things, such as raffles for computers and other heavy duty prizery.
The convention itself even gets you started with a swag bag full of stuff such as mini-decks of Magic: The Gathering cards, codes to special in game items for online games and of course, eye drops (you may be staring at a computer screen for a while).
PAX, as a branding juggernaut, is so powerful, that not only do the tickets get scalped for 4 times their value, but even this swag collected for free at the convention can sell for hundreds online.
I came home with bags full of pins, buttons, knick knacks and a variety of other things meant to advertise games cleverly. I have an Intel branded car USB charger, and a Smashmuck Champions (a multiplayer fighting game) foam sword. So I’m pretty set.
But to get wrapped up in the shameless commercialism of it all would be to miss a truly special thing unfolding. Here is a truly fair marketplace where independently produced games get a chance to stand next to expensive and slickly produced first person shooters from the big studios.
The gigantic Warner Bros. booth playing a looping trailer for the slickly produced Mad Max game sits across the auditorium from Luftrausers, an addictively fun 8 bit arcade throwback. May the best game win.
But what has made PAX possibly the most popular gaming convention in the world is the presence of not just video games, but the wide world of role playing and table top games as well. Prepare to storm some dungeons, because things are going to get mighty… costumey.
Role playing games are more popular than you can imagine, and more versatile too. Dungeons & Dragons is still one of the big names, but there are many others across the fantasy spectrum and spanning countless other genres. They all come here to show off their games. And part of the spirit of PAX is the encouragement of independent developers to create their own role playing games and to bring them directly to the people. The bigger companies also bring in DMs (dungeon masters) to lead the games and teach new players how to play their games.
I participated in a demo for the new role playing game called 13th Age with an enthusiastic DM named Leri who told me and my friends about how he gave the game makers a ride to the convention because they had no way to get there. They gave him a limited edition ring emblazoned with symbols from the game.
Leri wore it with pride on the same finger as his wedding ring.
That’s the kind of thing that PAX is all about. And the reason I go back every year along with many other Corvallisites.
“I knew 5 other guys from town that we ran into while we were there. A bunch of us won free shirts and hats for being top performers of the day in Infinite Crisis (a DC comics universe based game),” says Piatt.
The gaming world is small and cozy and travels well. It’s inclusive and welcoming of newcomers (noobs) and it’s full of danger and excitement behind every corner.
And swag. Tons of awesome swag.
By Ygal Kaufman