When I was a kid, discovering another person my age who enjoyed video games was as difficult as convincing my older brother that we could solve our problems without the use of fisticuffs. It was hard to get a word in edgewise between blows to the ribs. These were the same days that I would run home from school to watch my brother play video games, pour over every issue of Nintendo Power and eventually cry when my mom made us throw away every copy we had squirreled away. As the trash bag of magazines waited by the curb for its ride to greener pastures, I visited as if I was parting ways with a close friend. I wanted everything to do with the gaming culture. I needed to tell someone about the frustration caused by the blocks that vanish at a moment’s notice in Mega Man. I wanted a friend to team up and help master the art of Pocky & Rocky. I wanted a group of people that could volley gaming trivia.
I was alone in my gaming ways. In an attempt to acquire the skill to be a video game artist, I tried drawing game characters. I gave up when I was teased for tracing the spiky hair of Akira Toriyama’s Crono during homeroom. One day, a peer of mine showed up to school with a shirt they received for pre-ordering Final Fantasy VII. A portrait of Cloud was on the back. Later, this fellow and I would room together in college where that forsaken Final Fantasy VII shirt would make cameos. It aged just as poorly as the game itself. But, back in school, I finally found someone to talk games with. We would hang out and play through Final Fantasy VII. We’d try to best the final Weapons and spend late night breeding chocobos. Our eyes would glaze over as we summoned the Knights of the Round for the 100th time in the past five hours. We wondered if there were others like us.
One day my oversized EGM came in the mail. It featured an in-depth article about Digi Pen, a new university that promised to be an oasis gamers. I read that article as many times as I watched the cinema to Knights of the Round. I studied curriculums, read about the 7-11 across the street that students would raid for unlimited hot dogs and gallons of soda. I dreamed of the games I’d develop in that gaming sanctuary. A college full of gamers was one step away from heaven. If only the tuition covered unlimited pizza and a handshake from Miyamoto, I would have booked a one-way ticket at the age of 13.
Later on in my high school days, it was just me and my Final-Fantasy-shirt-friend talking about video games, printing out Penny Arcade comics from the computer to share with each other in class. We’d adopt their catchphrases as our own, and I eventually took to wearing snowboarding goggles on my head a la Charles. You can imagine my excitement when they announced the first Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in Seattle. I was anchored to the opposite side of the country, but my friend and I vowed to find a way out to there. We checked forums for a ride, we calculated how much gas and hotel would cost for a cross-country trip. It was not to be. We were to be stranded on the East Coast unable to find our way to a nerd nirvana.
Eventually, I grew up. Instead of attending Digi Pen, I went to a state college where I switched from a computer science major to a mass communications degree. The thought of setting foot into a PAX was as realistic to me as paying off student loans. I would have to satisfy my desire to talk games with folks via forums and blogs. At the time, I was writing on the side for Piki Geek. It was nothing so stunning that it would catapult me to PAX. Then, one day, I got a call from Dac saying they had an extra press badge and it was mine if I could get to Seattle. My dad was kind enough to donate a few frequent flier miles my way and off to Seattle I went. I still contest that no aeroplane was necessary, as the sheer joy could have rocketed me across the country.
Being in PAX Prime
When you spend much of your life pining for an experience that seems impossible, you just have to play it cool when it comes true. I was able to walk the show floor early, being a member of the press and all. It was the first time in my life I felt accomplished. On the outside I was stoic and professional. I didn’t take unnecessary swag, I was polite and introspective with my questions, and I didn’t cause a scene when I collected over a hundred street passes. On the inside, my organs were sucking air through a paper bag.
Wandering through the halls of PAX, I was confronted with the many people that I almost became. In a strange twist of quantum physics and spiraling galaxies, I was able to exist with Dan Tallaricos from another universe. At the Snapshot booth, I spoke with a young programmer who wanted nothing more than to apply his programming skills towards video games, and there he was, walking me through his game.
There was Steph, an iOS developer who would rather live in a trash can and eat used gift cards than conform. He made games at his own pace, his own way, never stopping until things were perfect.
I met artist who have been doodling game characters since they were strong enough to grip a pen and draw a straight line that was true. I talked to musicians who got their start through Mario Paint.
With each interview I conducted, I saw pieces of myself and what could have been. It was a rare glimpse of singularity.
One morning, I was walking towards the convention hyped to write about the finest industry in the world. A dark figure walked towards me. I stopped for a moment, not sure what the proper protocol is when at the crossroads with a true inspiration. Do I let this specter of encouragement pass by without saying a word? He was already a few strides past me, but I said, “Jeremy?” Jeremy Parish stopped, turned around and thanked me for saying hello. I have always admired Jeremy’s bottomless pit of gaming knowledge and his approach to the craft. He asked who I was with. Piki Geek. He’d never heard of it; I replied, one day, maybe you will. I followed that excellent quip up by telling him there was a great bahn mi place around the corner. He mused that the bahn mi place might be a great place for lunch. I suspected it might. It was open during lunch and served food of some kind. Jeremy told me he was on his way to talk about transcendentalism with Ken Levine. I told him it sounded like fun and we parted ways.
For better or worse, that conversation inspired me to sit and think about what I was doing with myself at PAX.
What is PAX but a coliseum of emotions? Around one booth, I step in a kiddie pool of melancholy, and in the streets of PAX I find that rare piece of kindling to ignite my desire to improve. I’m surrounded by devs who are as excited about their game as a NASA scientist is to launch a rocket into space and it’s my duty to translate that passion into words that people want to spend their precious time reading.
I learned a lot from my PAX visit. I learned how the video game industry functions, the key players in the field, how to talk to PR people, how the industry is shifting, and how spectacular the people that shape the industry can be. For a while, especially during the height of Gamejournos.tumblr.com, I was sour on the industry and the people that populated it. As an outsider looking in I wasn’t pleased in the way things were going, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted anything to do with writing about video games. I arrived at PAX and found that there are people with stories to tell and experiences to share. I did my best to tell those stories, and maybe the only person that would benefit from relating those anecdotes would be me.
The time spent at PAX was the fertilizer I needed to grow. I felt in control and able about what I was doing. PAX, to me, is an experience to surround yourself with every facet of the game industry and find exactly where you fit in this crazy machine.