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Word of Mouth At PAX 2013

Jonathan Lynch

The sheer volume of humanity packed into the Boston Convention Center doesn't really hit you until you're in and amongst the crowd. Everyone from game developers to Pokemon trainers and Final Fantasy cosplayers are here in force, mingling and chatting in lobbies and food courts. They've made the pilgrimage to the Penny Arcade Expo to celebrate gaming in all of its forms.

Booths are the name of game down on the main exhibition floor. Major game publishers and peripheral manufacturers have the most lavish booths. One resembles a high fantasy medieval tavern, complete with a dragon's skeleton mounted over a fireplace. Another looks like the epicenter of a zombie outbreak, barely contained within a chainlink fence.

Most of the booths are less lavish. A booth for a game called Bleak is tiny compared the larger ones, but its staffers enthusiastically plug their project: a kind of sprawling, platforming game set in a Tolkien-esque universe. The young game makers' enthusiasm is infectious. They tell me that the idea of getting a booth at PAX was a pipe dream 11 months ago. But after a series of meetings in an abandoned classroom at their college, they concocted a plan and stuck to it. Now they're hoping to garner enough exposure here to secure funding for their project through Kickstarter.

There'll be more coverage to come, so check back for more pictures and stories as the convention continues through the weekend.

Update 3-23-13

Credit Jonathan Lynch / NHPR
A PAX attendee posing as the main character from Hotline Miami

The reality of covering a convention on the scale of PAX is that you're spending most of your time either pushing through crowds of people or standing in line at one of the booths. As media, you have the added responsibilities of scheduling interviews and holding microphones up to often-sweaty people as they try and express thoughts in 45 second sound bites. It's not a glamorous process.

Still, just being part of the overgrown spectacle has its own boons. So far a panel was disrupted when a man clad in only his underwear started dancing on a table. A cosplayer dressed as Bumblebee from Transformers was accosted and asked to de-costume himself by security in the main lobby. I've gotten involved in so many painfully specific geeky conversations about every aspect of games that it feels like I'm speaking a different language here. And that sensation gets at the heart of what draws people from as far away as Poland and England and Brazil.

No matter how obscure your interest or hobby is, you can and will find people here to talk about it with about or to play with. Lines for panels and booths are riddled with impromptu games of Magic the Gathering. In every food court and in the alcoves that line the convention center's halls are groups of people of every age and description hunched over figurines or cards or dice. There is something magnificent about seeing the usual societal indicators or boundaries stripped away by dice rolls and conversations about Doctor Who aliens.

There will be more updates to come pending internet connectivity.

Wrapping Up

Credit Jonathan Lynch / NHPR
Power Rangers adjust their gear before a joust match

On the last morning of PAX East, the normally bubbly conversations about which games people got to try and who they'd seen last night turned to farewells punctuated by yawns and tired sighs. Around hotel lobbies, people shook hands and exchanged business cards before heading out the revolving doors and back to the Convention Center for the last time.

My last day at PAX was spent prowling around the exhibition floor and its surrounding hallways, snapping pictures and trying to secure last minute interviews. The crowds on the last day were thinner, but no less energetic than before.

I caught up with the Bleak team that I'd spoken to earlier and asked them how the weekend went. The response to the game, Justin Novelline told me, was strong. He was keyed up in full PR mode, plugging his game's website and Kickstarter, answering in short radio-ready bites. Gone was the art student, replaced by a savvy media relations representative.

And through a purely cynical lens, PAX can be seen as nothing more than a gigantic billboard for companies large and small. The thousands of people entering and exiting the Convention Center clutching bags from hardware manufacturers and covered in brand-name pins can reinforce this notion. As do the picture-perfect media reps handing out t-shirts and other swag in exchange for liking their Facebook page and signing up for their company newsletter.

But in talking to the gamers from across the entire spectrum of exhibitors and enthusiasts, it's hard to come away with a purely cynical impressions of PAX East. There is a vibrant beating heart beneath the glossy, manicured exterior and it is made up of part-time armchair games journalists and Bioshock cosplayers and everyone that fits between.

And, of course, any PAX experience is not complete without the endearingly named PAX Plague, or the cold that follows after the convention. But I am sure that I will get my voice back in time to provide Word of Mouth with a feature story on this tremendous spectacle.

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