A Weekend At PAXAus

BY SEAN GARRETT

I’m not one for using the generic “Oh my God, I’ve had the best weekend of my life” phrase very often, but in the case of the weekend just gone, I think it’s been well deserved and justified.

I was one of the lucky 30 000+ to attend the inaugural PAXAus (Penny Arcade Expo) in Melbourne. For those of you who don’t know what this is (and if you’ve been following my Twitter, by now you’d have a pretty damn good idea), it’s a three day expo (or one, depending on which pass you get) on gaming and geek culture, with an array of tournaments, discussion panels, Q&A’s along with a huge area for freeplay gaming and a giant exhibition hall full of the latest and greatest in gaming.

This is a huge deal, not because Australia is getting such a large event, but it’s the first time an event this huge has left the United States. Let me be clear, PAXPrime, the original PAX, basically occupies the entirety of downtown Washington D.C. when it’s held later this year. Yeah, it’s big…

In writing this article, it was hard for me to decide on how to portray to you, the readers, just how good PAXAus was, as I was one of the luckier still who managed to score a three day pass. There is no real way that I can write down just how amazing this experience was and do it the justice it deserves, so please excuse me if everything seems a little vague and confusing. It was one of those “You just had to be there” situations.

The Gaming

The whole reason PAX came into being was to give hobby gamers a chance to come together, meet people who enjoyed gaming and of course, play some games. Video, PC, Tabletop, Card or Board, you are bound to find something to pique your interest and PAXAus was no different. The Big Top Tent provided a huge open area full of tables with places to play. If you didn’t know how, someone was always there to teach newbs how to get in on the action.

Then there was the console gaming areas. Imagine every single home console out right now, now imagine rows up rows of them. Now imagine copies of basically every game released for those consoles being available for you to play. A sound pretty amazing doesn’t it? Did I also mention the retro gaming zone, with a showing from each console up until the N64/Playstation/Dreamcast era, with a different assortment of games to choose from each day . Not to mention the handheld lounge, where people could chill on beanbags can play games on their portable devices to their hearts content, with a giant screen showing episodes of Adventure Time and Regular Show, which was also a plus.

Finally, there was the PC Freeplay. Imagine the set up for the console freeplay, but replace the consoles there with just under one hundred high end PC’s loaded with games ready to go. Sounds like heaven right? Not to mention those lucky bastards who got in early for a Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) pass and got their own little section of PAX to themselves to play on their own machines.

The Tournaments

We gamers are a competitive bunch. Sure, we’re more than happy to play together socially and have a good time, but if we get even the slight chance to prove our dominance over one another, we’ll grab that bull by the horns and not let go until we’re standing over the bloody corpses of both the bull and everybody else who dared to stand in our way.  There were tournaments galore; console tournaments for practically every fighting game on the planet right now (and CoD….), PC tournaments for Counter Strike, TrackMania, Unreal Torunament (and CoD…). Handheld tournaments for Mario Kart, Tetris and even some mobile games had a sneaky tournament or two thrown in.

There were also professional tournaments for Pokémon and League of Legends, with hundreds gathered around their respective booths to watch the best duke it out for places at the World Championships in America and Canada.  E-Sports are on the rise people, you heard it here first!

Yes, there is such a thing as E-Sports…

The Expo Hall

This was where one came to experience the latest and greatest in gaming world. There was stuff EVERYWHERE! With the latest from Nintendo’s main franchises in Zelda and Mario, to the virtual reality-manipulating Oculus Rift; there was hours upon hours of digital bliss that could be had by one and all. Not to mention all the cool stuff that one could purchase from the many pop-up merchandise shops that littered the hall, or the free swag (their words, not mine) that was basically falling from the rafters. I don’t mean to brag, but guess who walked away with a replica 4th Doctor Scarf and disappearing TARDIS mug?

Just one corner of the Expo Hall at PAX

The Panels

PAX isn’t just about playing games, but it’s a place for liked minded people to come together and talk about an array of topics that relate to gaming. From starting up your own indie studio to how video games are actually good for you, I could have happily forgone all the game playing and previewing just to sit down and listen to what was being presented. Not all of these were serious intellectual discussions, the “Pitch Your Own Game Idea” panel, while producing some brilliant ideas, often left people scratching their heads and thinking “How much acid did you drop before coming here?”

However, you might think you’re the only person who wants to go to the one obscure panel in the tiny little theatre, but there are thousands of others who are thinking the exact same thing. So if you wanted to be front row, or even just get a seat, you had to be prepared to line-up for at least an hour minimum. I lined up for two hours to go the Gearbox Software/Borderlands panel on the Saturday, and it was totally worth it.

The Borderlands line after only 30 minutes, it only got longer…

The People

What makes a large scale event like PAX, BDO or Soundwave is not the content or the lineup, but the people who attend. I’ve never encountered so many people who were happy to be in one place. People who were happy to see new games, happy to play games, happy to dress up as characters from games, happy to have intelligent discussion about gaming. While it’s true that I’ll probably never see most of the people I met there again, I was happy in the fact that I got to meet people who were just as passionate about gaming as I am.

Photo with Riot Games designer FeralPony, don’t know the names of the others and won’t see them again, but we were good mates for that 20 minutes we spent talking.

PAX Aus is an experience I’ll never forget. Fun and enjoyment could be found at any point, from lining up in the queue room, drawing dicks on the beach balls that were there to entertain us, to the drunken shenanigans held with American game developers in seedy pubs.  If I had to sum it up for you in one sentence, this would be it.

Yeah…I’m coming back next year.

Sean is a final semester Computer Science student at UOW and is finally proud to be outed as both a hardcore gamer and Doctor Who fan. He’s already doing his best to try and score tickets for next year too, that doesn’t make him obsessed, does it? His Twitter page has a whole range of musings on gaming and other un-important things, you should check it out sometime.

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