Tug of War of the Soul
My friends and I have attended every single PAX East since it’s inception, either for the full weekend or for at least a day, but this year we’re skipping it for a few reasons. One is financial, but the other is that the tickets went on sale — and sold out — well before any of us realized they were available.
None of us seemed particularly put out by this. The first year was amazing, not just because the games industry recognized that there were gamers north of the Carolinas, but because everyone was excited — us, and all the strangers we mingled with at the convention itself. We also had our first Tweetup! The second year was also great, with another Tweetup crew in attendance. Third year was…ok. The highlight was most certainly the third annual Tweetup. After that, when there was no major “must see” news, and when no one could make it to the Tweetup events…well…
The honeymoon phase was certainly over. When the event becomes a process — jump on tickets and hotels, drive down, check in, stand in line, look at stuff, dodge crowds, steep in the embodiment of YouTube and Reddit commentators that surround you like a cloud of noxious gas (with clouds of noxious gas), babbling away — it kind of sucks the magic out of the whole affair and leaves nothing but a bunch of stalls that people spend hours of their free time standing in line to enter for less than ten minutes. In all honesty, the last few times we attended we ended up spending less time on the showroom floor and less time in panels, and more time in the tabletop gaming room, the late-night PC arcade, or hanging out in the hotel. This year, we considered that we felt we were getting diminishing returns on the expenditure, and just opted to break our streak.
But I’ll be damned if there’s not a part of me that’s kicking myself in the metaphysical nuts about it. The psychological schizm that exists in the gaming community — the rampant “us versus them” mentality and the overwhelming desire to herd together — is so maddening sometimes. On one hand I’m not sad that I won’t have to stand among crowds of people for hours, but on the other hand I’m missing out! on one of gaming’s core pilgrimages. I am jealous of those who still find the excitement in this event, but I also know that I’ve been there, done that, and that it seems like more and more companies, while not opting out of showing up, are leaning away from their commitments to present. I can’t think of anything that I get out of it aside from taking a weekend away from home with friends, which in all honesty could be done just as well anywhere else at any other time in potentially more comfortable surroundings.
And this is not about going to “a con”, so swapping PAX East for something else like GenCon — while an appealing notion that would unfortunately cost us each 4x the amount to attend as it did for PAXE — would not settle the situation. The first keynote speaker for PAX East was Wil Wheaton, whose whole schtick in the gaming community is “don’t be a dick”, and his speech focused on how PAX East, and the PAX series of conventions in general, was the gaming community’s home. “Welcome home” was how he ended his speech, and having spent the better part of my life as a gamer, most of it without any sense of a community, and certainly without any kind of communal “home” to speak of, I’ve never forgotten that sentiment. I think that’s also why I’m sad but also not sad to not be attending PAX East this year. It’ll always be “home” and we’ll always love it, but we also have to leave the nest at some point in our lives. I suppose it needs to be done, but I don’t think anyone expects us to be 100% happy about it.