The kindawesome PAX Roundup
Never before have I played such wildly different games in such a short space of time. Within one day I went from playing the indie title Blunt Instrument on the Occulus Rift to playing the board game Munchkins Apocalypse. The variety of games on show was amazing, and no matter what kind of gamer you were, there was something at PAX Australia for you to get excited about.
For me, there was one moment that really summed up the feeling of PAX Australia. I was in the board game free play area, surrounded by a sea of D20, dungeon masters and arcane rule sets when I happened to see Mike Krahulik wandering between the tables. He and Jerry Holkins are the guys who created PAX and I expected him to be rapidly swamped by a horde of fans. Yet everyone was so enthralled in their games that no one even seemed to notice him.
I got up to talk to Mike, and he said that taking the time to walk through and speak to people was his favourite part of the expo. It’s this focus on the people that make up gaming culture and the passion those people bring that defined the PAX Aus experience. It was a coming together of people who are passionate about games, and it was awesome.
Things started on Day One with a keynote address by adventure game luminary Ron Gilbert, whose speech covered everything from the nature of creativity to giving Stephen Spielberg hints for Monkey Island. This was immediately followed by a Q and A by Mike and Jerry and the pace never let up. There were multiple great panels throughout the three days which reflected the expo’s overall focus on the people and culture of gaming, with talks on the state of game reviews, gaming and parenting and the positive mental effects playing video games can produce. It can often be the case that when a group of experts appear on a panel, that there is a clear barrier between you and them, but this was far from the case at PAX Aus where most speakers were more than happy to hang around after the talk to speak with fans.
I also played a great deal of new games, as no matter your skill level there was always someone nearby to assist if you wanted to try your hand at a new game. Learning stations and newbie friendly games were being run constantly (mainly in the board game area) so despite the fact I didn’t know what was going on half the time, there was always a helping hand nearby to teach you the ropes, even if you can’t tell a haste card from an overrun card.
There was a small amount of the hype train trying to do its work, with Ubisoft doing video previews of upcoming titles such as Watch Dogs or Assassins Creed 4: Ninjas vs Pirates. There was even an empty glass case that supposedly held an Xbox One if you were there at the correct planetary alignments, but by far the biggest hits were the free play areas. Whether PC, console, retro or board game these spaces were always brimming with the rattling of dice rolls and the harsh plastic clack of buttons (or keys) being pressed. Not only was this a great chance to catch up with the latest titles or have a quick round of multiplayer with some friends, it was also an excellent chance to join in a game and meet new people.
Despite the stigma of antisocial behaviour that has dogged us basement dwellers, truly the best part of PAX Aus was the people. Whether it was the group that I learned to play Munchkins with, journalists, panel speakers or even the guys who created Penny Arcade, they were all inspired by the excitement of the crowd. I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the community, from the cosplayers in ornate suits of armour to the people in the slightly more simple jeans and t-shirt, a fervent passion for their chosen hobby was evident in every person I had the chance to meet.
There were plenty of opportunities to show off your 1337 ski11z as well if that’s the only way you interact with other humans. Tournaments for every game imaginable were there to compete in from classics like Unreal Tournament to the new kids on the eSports block like LoL and Dota 2. More unusual titles such as Worms Armageddon were also being played competitively and these were great fun to watch, particularly the epic finals of the Omegathon tournament that ran throughout the three days, culminating in a brutal best of three Jenga match. Or if you just wanted to meet some people and chat about video games it was a great place to talk to people from all over the world. I even Streetpassed a guy from the US Virgin Islands on my 3DS! Truly it was a social melting pot.
PAX Aus didn’t feature the kind of next gen reveals or industry hype that dominates a lot of other expos. Instead it was about something that is often lost amongst the 3D graphics and virtual reality headsets of new-fangled modern gaming. It was about people getting together and being passionate about video games, and it left me with more inspired than I have been for a long time. Melbourne was okay too. I guess.