Published on August 31st, 2013 | by Trapper A. Collins
On the PAX Trail: Day 1
I awoke with a sharp gasp, eyes darting around the room. I didn’t know where I was, no idea who I was, and no recollection of the past twenty-four hours. After calming down and releasing my white-knuckled grip on the sheets, I remembered that I was Trapper A. Collins, professional fornicator, whiskey connoisseur, and journalist for Mustache News. Mustache News? Hrm… riiight. I’m in Seattle, covering the culture of the Penny Arcade Expo, which was starting this morning. I recalled last night’s Tri-Wizard Drinking Tournament. Memories of it were patchy; while I could remember certain things, I couldn’t remember others, but I knew that I experienced them. There was no time to think through the fog of whiskey memories, though. I had a convention to cover! I checked my watch: 9:30 AM.
I sat up and last nights experience hit me like a sack of lead. The room spun slightly. Oh boy. I often tried my best to avoid hangovers but apparently I wasn’t able to dodge this bullet. Well worth the price of fun. But I wasn’t going to let this stop me. I called room service and ordered my tried and true hangover cure. It consisted of copious amounts of hashed browns, sausage, eggs, toast, and loads of Gatorade. After placing my order, I used the delivery time to shower. Showering was a daily PAX ritual that I often reserved since I wasn’t a big fan of contributing to the unique smell that often permeated PAX.
My meal arrive with a knock on the door just as I finished up my shower. I robed up, opened the door. The bellhop wheeled in a cart of deliciously greasy food and then promptly left after I tipped him. I sat down and started feasting, alternating Gatorade with slugs of whiskey straight from the bottle. I felt like a million dollars after eating. I threw on a clean pair of shorts, t-shirt, and grabbed my lucky yellow-lens glasses. Shouldering my bag, I raced out the door and into the elevator. Checking my watch it, was 10:30 AM. With the lines, I was going to miss the keynote speaker, whom I couldn’t recall this year, nor could I be arsed to check using my phone. I knew there was going to be a large line up and I knew at this point I would be lucky enough to get a seat. Regardless, I had to try.
Quickly, I made my way through the lobby and into a sunny Friday morning in downtown Seattle. It was a pleasantly warm day with a clear sky, perfect for conventioning. Even just walking up the street, I could feel the energy in the air; the energy only got more electrifying the closer I got to the convention center which was half a block up. But the convention center would have to wait. Due to the size of PAX, it had to expand to the surrounding areas, which meant that the Q and A would be held in the Paramount Theater. I made my way through the street and turned onto a blocked-off road. There was a large gaggle of PAXers lined up along the side of the theater. Blue-shirted enforcers mingled with the line—and themselves—making sure that everybody was having fun and keeping things in order. I also noticed that the line was only half a block. Score. I would get a decent seat.
The line slowly filled up behind me, adding to the energetic buzz that had developed when the line started. People were occupying themselves with hand-held games, card games, and just general chit-chat. Personal social barriers were being broken down within these people and it was a beautiful thing.
Cheers went up when an Enforcer announced over megaphone that we were able to make our way inside. Large groups shuffled in, passing the people that went to the keynote and we were most likely going to fill their seats. They were going off on their own PAX adventures. I found my seat in the amphitheater and sat down. Seating was currently a patchwork of being empty, and full groups of people. There was plenty of space, which would be eaten up in time. Even the balcony seating would be filled in quick haste.
A slight murmer went through the crown when an Enforcer placed microphone stands at the end of each lane, causing people to line up even more. It should be noted that PAX was sometimes known as LineCon. The line was for audience questions.
The lights dimmed, blue lights flashed on the black curtain on the stage, accompanied by thick machine generate smoke and the bellowing vocals of Rick Ross’s “Hustlin”. The curtains lifted and Mike and Jerry, also known as Gabe and Tycho, walked onto stage to a roaring crowd. They greeted the crowd and the roaring died down. They immediately got down to the business of answering questions from the microphone stands. The first question was to request a mass knuckle-cracking event within the theater. The crowd, along with Mike and Jerry, winced as the popping sound cascaded through the theater. PAX had officially begun for a lot of us.
The rest of the questions were pretty straightforward; they were asked about the comic, PAX itself, their opinions on various things, all of which were meet with a simple answer that lead to laughs. There were some with personal stories regarding Child’s Play, and how it was great. Breaking up the flow would be the occasional question odd even by PAX standards.
One person would talk about weekend testing and safety potatoes. Another, who was dressed in a very tasteful red suit and sombrero, talking about the direct competitor to the Omegathon. Others soon followed, talking about a security company, praise from a religious figure and something about an election. Despite being weird, Mike and Jerry laughed. The rest of us, especially myself, were left confused as hell. Hopefully I would be able to interview some of these people. Several questions later, the panel concluded, and we left to go our ways. I myself had a job to do, and that was cover the Expo hall. Despite having a mild headache, I knew it could only be done today, as the chaos would only worsen through the weekend. I exited the theater and made my way to the convention center.
Walking through the glass doors, I felt a sense of familiarity. I looked around. The ground corridor was lined with a few eateries and shipping shops, with a fountain dividing them down the center. Like a river, people flowed down the corridor, some wearing pretty spectacular costumes from their favorite shows or games. I could see that the shops were already full with people, despite being this early in the morning. The air was filled with joyful conversation. I smiled. Despite it being a year from last year’s PAX, it felt only like I was gone for a short weekend and just got back home.
I worked my way through the river of people and up through a series of crowded escalators to the third floor atrium. I made my way through the large hall which thankfully caused the crowds to thin out more and into a set of double doors and onto a skyway. The skyway was populated by more vendor booths but primarily for card and board games. Some even had large, inflatable monsters. But I wasn’t here for that. Well, maybe later when I wanted to bum around. Oh no. I was heading towards the expo hall. I made my way across the skyway, sidestepping a bunch of young men singing about a bad horse to a confused individual, and into the dimly lit expo hall.
I was immediately overwhelmed by the noise. It was loud, bustling, and jam-packed. It felt like the E3 experience: booths filled with displays, lights, and banners of video game characters—the equivalent of the mating display of a male peacock, with its plume of feathers spread. Bright, colourful, and loud they were. Game seekers stood in line to try out the wares of a developer; to get a taste for what they would be in for in the coming months. While the bright colours and shiny new features of the game would vomit optimism into their smiling faces, it blinded them from the fact that they might get fucked like the female peacock, should the game publishers get greedy.
Unlike E3, there was a certain nonchalance in the air. While E3 was the chance for developers, both large and small alike, to talk about their game and explain features through a filter of bullshit to the media at large, the expo hall at PAX had none of that. They could show up in casual dress, probably hung over from the previous nights shenanigans and admit that certain parts of their game are bad, broken, or just outright terrible. It was often refreshing.
I started wandering around the hall, which, in itself, was a bit of a challenge, since the pathway was packed tighter than sardines and everybody was in your personal space. If you made it through the crowds and to the outer edges of the hall, there was breathing room which often came in handy; a safe refuge from the hustle and bustle of the hall that provided some stillness. However, that zen was not for me right now. I dove right into the crowds and toured the booths. The booths were filled with games of various kinds, ranging from card games, to large triple-A titles, to indie games. Shit some games have been on display for the past several years and even had the same over-sized displays depicting battles. At this point they have turned into legendary landmarks and became integral of the expo hall experience.
I checked my watch. While it seemingly felt like a few minutes, hours had indeed past. It was late into the afternoon and I began to feel my feet screaming in all kinds of pain. It was time to take a break and find food and possibly wet my whistle. This would be a herculean task within itself, as eateries in a five mile radius would be packed full of hungry nerds. I made my way out of the expo hall, stopping momentarily to enjoy the soft carpet of the skyway. With a huff, I gingerly stepped forward and started my journey for food.