Last weekend, I attended PAX East, Penny Arcade’s Boston-based gaming convention. I approached the event with a mixture of dread and anticipation: as a self-professed geek, I looked forward to being among “my people”; as a non-gamer, I also expected to feel out of touch with the proceedings. In the end, here is what a nerdy non-gamer can find at PAX East.
- Friendly People
The level of openness and exchange between the PAX East attendees was of the kind I had never seen before. At PAX, it is acceptable to join overheard conversations, and customary to help others with whatever they need, be it game rules or simple directions. Everywhere you look, there are people shaking hands and sharing a laugh. My favourite moment of the weekend has to be the encounter between two girls I witnessed in the food court. Although they didn’t know each other, the first called out to the second to congratulate her on her Minecraft cosplay, offered her a Minecraft-inspired arrow to complete her costume, and, finally, handed her her card. “Because we should be friends”, she explained.
- Discussions on gender
From the feminist and transgender panels to the elf cosplay, gender discussions are central to the event. I am still reluctant to call PAX East an example of gender equality –after all, the panellists of “You Game Like A Girl: Tales of Trolls & White Knights” did receive a tweet asking them how they dealt with the amount of sand in their vaginas during their talk – , but it sure is two steps ahead of the rest of society.
Although not all PAX East panels are academic, (or even intellectually demanding, to tell the truth) the con plays host to a surprisingly high number of scholarly conversations. I was lucky enough to attend the panel “ Gamification and Learning: Does Education Need Some ‘Stinking’ Badges?”, with Sam Abramovich and Meghan Bathgate, from the University of Pittsburgh, and Ross Higashi, from Carnegie Melon University, and found their presentation really engaging in spite of my lack of education background.
Still looking for a definition of “geek”, I asked Steve Kuniak, a Counselor collecting data for his PhD thesis, how he defined “gamer”. His answer: anyone who describes themselves as such. It’s a satisfying enough response to put my mind at rest for a while. If anything, PAX East has reminded me that the beauty of abstract categories such as “gamer”, “geek” and “fan” was in being elastic (during her panel “Mental Health and Video Games – Science vs Stigma”, Kelli Dunlap, PsyD candidate, implied that to deserve the title of gamer, one had to do more than play Bejeweled on their morning commute, but Chris, a lifelong gamer met at the Saturday concerts, assured me that my attempts at playing the new indie game Nun Attack in the queue were enough to make me a gamer). The imprecision of these terms might lead to a lot of fights, but it also leads to a lot of fun for those of us who enjoy mental masturbation.
Yeah, I know, baaarf. But it’s not everyday you feel comfortable enough to run across a skybridge going “weeeeeeeeeee!”. Not that I did, of course. I’m just saying.