Opinion

PAX Aus – A retrospective of the last 6 years of conventions

This year will be the seventh year of seeing the international gaming phenomenon, PAX (Penny Arcade Expo), in Australia. First coming to our shores in 2013, the event quickly became an important part of both the Australian gaming and convention landscapes.

Having been to every single PAX Aus since the beginning, I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane to bring you my personal experiences and how the convention has changed over the years, and how my experiences of the convention have changed. For fellow veterans, I hope it’s a fun revisit to fond memories. For newcomers, perhaps you’ll get something out of it as to how to tackle your own PAX experience.

So, as with all good stories, we’ll start at the beginning.

PAX Aus 2013

I remember where I was when I first heard PAX was coming to Australia. I was curled up in bed in my university dorm room, ignoring the nice bright sun outside. Generally, I was being a horrible gremlin who was afraid of the city, having moved there from the country. In fact, I was and still am a follower of the Penny Arcade comic, and was reading the news section when I saw the announcement.

I’d been aware of American PAX conventions beforehand, but I didn’t quite know what went on there or their importance. However, I did know that I liked video games and conventions. I’ve previously been to the likes of Supanova, Manifest, etc. around Melbourne. I thought that, but video games would be the ideal convention setting. So, without hesitation, I booked a single day ticket for Saturday.

Melbourne Showgrounds… why?

PAX Aus was first held at the Melbourne Showgrounds. This was a mistake that they made exactly once. The weather was miserable, given it was held in July, and the convention was spread out through several buildings. Lines to get into panels and events were long and, of course, in the rain.

My personal experience was at first, confusion. It would be confusing for the next couple of years until PAX finally ‘clicked’ for me. As I said previously, I’d only ever been to pop culture based conventions. A lot of us know how those go. A big ol’ hall full of people tried to sell you anime merch, artists also sold some cool stuff. Sometimes there’s wrestling… it was a real mishmash that was mostly centred around buying things and watching people in cosplay. This being my only experience of conventions, I thought PAX would be that, but video games, and I was excited to buy video games things.

Wandering around

It was not that. Well, for the most part. Dealers like the international label Sanshee were set up, as were a couple of other retailers selling figures or comics and the like, but they were the minority. PAX is about showing off technology, games and hardware. Being but a baby gamer who wasn’t nearly as deep into the scene as others, this just served to confuse me. What was I actually meant to do here? I had no interest in computer parts (yet). I didn’t know where to go or what to look at (yet). So, I found myself wandering around in a daze from building to building.

The biggest thing I miss is having a game sponsored food court.

I don’t recall staying that long. I bought crepes from the food court. It was the only dedicated food court at a PAX Aus event (it was sponsored by Plants vs. Zombies). Then, I went home.

PAX Aus 2014-15

These years are both lumped together due to the fact that they were… Largely similar for me and there is not a lot of exciting things to talk about here.

Again, I only bought a ticket for Saturday. I still wanted to give PAX Aus a chance. I love video games and would probably die of FOMO if I didn’t. But, I still found the event confusing and nothing had quite clicked with me yet. Though with each passing year I gave the exhibitors a little more notice.

This is a man who knows how to give a good hug.

Finally, a switch of venues

Seeing exhibitors also became a lot easier to do with the switch to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Everything was in one place and weather stopped being an issue. I spent more time exploring as a result.

I also took up cosplay, with Gearbox coming to Australia to show off the then shiny and new Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. As a result, it was the first time I decided to attend a panel… Though I still paid no attention to the rest of the panel schedules or that side of the convention. That would come later. Also, I got to hug Randy Pitchford, which was pretty cool. There’s a man that gives a good hug.

Though by PAX Aus 2015 I was starting to become more interested in everything on offer. The indie games, the hardware, the people basically throwing free stuff at me. I decided that, perhaps, it was time to start going for at least two days to see what the fuss was about.

Getting into panels

I also began to realize the importance of panels. I’d only been to one, an LGBT based panel, purely by coincidence because I was very tired. I couldn’t find seating anywhere. And, I figured a big old theatre with a talk relevant to my interests for an hour would be a great way to take a load off.

I also began to discover the other things the convention had to offer. There was more than just the con floor. The Diversity Lounge was a beautiful, quiet space where folks from all backgrounds could gather, relax, and play that really bad Xena fighting game for Nintendo 64. The AFK Lounge was even quieter, they had some stuff you could colour in. They also had water. It was amazing.

PAX Aus 2016

This was the year things finally started getting a little more serious for me. I had a Saturday/Sunday pass, showed up, spent a lot of time wandering the floor and going to panels. I was really throwing myself into everything. It was also the first year I realized that now I want to see everything… Two days is not enough to see everything.

I began to realize, PAX Aus isn’t the sort of con you can cram into one or two days if you really love video games. Even the panels that go long after the floor has closed are absolutely thrilling. Wandering around the Convention Centre after dark, seeing people still in cosplay, exhausted con-goers, people still mulling around the Just Dance booth, there’s something magical about it all.

Photo Credit: Ben Flack

PAX Aus 2017-18

PAX Aus 2017 is special for a lot of reasons. It was the first year I decided not to go solo. I brought my partner along for the ride and forcing them to cosplay with me. Plus, it was also the first year I managed to attend with a media badge. It was great because then people tend to throw even more free stuff at you than before.

Both of these years are similar again, but this time it’s because I threw myself headfirst into absolutely everything I could get my grubby little paws on. I wanted to play every indie game. I wanted to see every last thing that was on offer. Experience every last booth event. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it but I was also delighted. I walked away with more bags of stuff than ever, which was a pain in the ass to get on the train. But I’d finally learned the true spirit of PAXmas.

Shout out to the enforcers

Although I was sick as a dog for 2018. I learned the kindness of the enforcers and what an amazing job they do. This was another factor I’d somewhat overlooked previous years. I knew they were a delightful, well-coordinated bunch. But, I had no idea the extra mile they were willing to go to make sure your experience was a good one.

I explained I was sick, and that was on top of a chronic disability (I had no disability badge though, thinking I wouldn’t need one, I hadn’t before). Despite this, the enforcers were all too happy to treat me as though I did have a disabled badge, offering me priority seating and ensuring I was comfortable.

Though, this didn’t stop me nearly passing out at the convention several times due to lack of seating. I hope it’s an issue that’s addressed at future instalments.

Image: http://aus.paxsite.com/gallery

So, what next?

In closing, I think I want to pull a few key thoughts from my experience and suggestions/ideas on how PAX could improve even more in the future.

Seating

PAX Aus has been pretty hit and miss with seating. Usually, there’s seating in the adjacent theatre building and a few seats here and there around food stalls. There’s also seats around the doors to the convention floor and a beanbag section for the handhelds.

Although in a lot of cases, they sacrifice the seating around the doors for exhibitors. They set up at said doors with their own displays. And, beanbags aren’t ideal for everyone, especially folks like me who have some trouble getting up and down like that. I super don’t want to pass out again in your convention guys. Throw a few more seats in for your disabled/older/just plain tired guests!

Schedules

Every exhibitor generally has their own schedule of what they’re doing. You can’t find it anywhere else but on their social media or the con floor. I would love to be able to participate a little more in this kind of thing. But, I also can’t keep track of everyone’s social media.

It might be helpful to have a separate section on the PAX Aus app purely for exhibitors to upload their own schedules. That way, con-goers know when the next giveaway or competition will be held. Perhaps, even space for the public to add their own events. You’ll find a lot of cosplay and fan meetups that happen. I’m sure non-cosplayers would be thrilled to see but may just miss if they’re not ‘in the loop’.

Help for newbies

I think back a lot to my own first PAX Aus experience and how I had no idea what to expect. It’s a little easier for newbies now. A lot of folks write up guides on what to bring and what to do around convention time. I’ll probably do this myself.

But, it might add that little extra layer of helpful if PAX Aus themselves included a special ‘newbie guide’. They should create one with a few in-depth explanations of various parts of the convention. Perhaps, they should highlight a few panels or events or offer helpful advice to prevent folks from being overwhelmed and burnt out… that kind of thing.

Maybe even a few enforcers giving guided tours a few times a day for people who have no idea where to even start. Or, people who might only be casual fans of gaming and don’t quite know all the ins and outs.

Bigger and better VR

Please. I’ve gone to PAX every year and I still haven’t tried the VR space yet. The lines are always so long and the space is so small. More indie exhibitors have VR stuff on offer now, giving more opportunity. But, even then it’s still so hard to get a turn. I just want to try at least one (1) VR experience. I’m so tired.

 

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