This past weekend was the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX East) in Boston. This convention is focused around games of all categories: video games, E-sports, table top, role-playing, board games, etc. It is a celebration and a coming together of various hobbies and groups of people sharing their ideas and sects of gaming. It is an opportunity to learn about the new things coming from both our beloved gaming companies and up-and-coming indie companies. This means an opportunity to playtest, to learn about the next Cards Against Humanities, and to get in on drafts and trading.
In other words, this is my heaven. It’s been one of my favorite conventions, and it’s a place where I felt like a child on Christmas. There were tons of giveaways, passes for online gaming, and lots of swag from our favorite companies. One vendor even supplied giant bags to carry all your stuff around. And I mean giant–I couldn’t carry it without it dragging it on the floor.
I was able to attend the Saturday expo and visited one of the panels. This is one of the busiest days for a con, and often has the most people as well as the most panels. Vendors were selling T-shirts and other clothes, of course video games, pins (this year was all about the pin trading), jewelry, and even raffles for gaming computers (I entered at least 4 tickets for the raffles, though sadly I did not win).
XBOX One, Smite, GreyBox, Overwatch, Dreadnought, Steam, Valve, and Alienware were a few of the companies that made an appearance. And yeah, the booths were crowded with people trying to make buys, see the game play, and to talk to the vendors and developers about what was coming next. You couldn’t even get near 343’s Halo 5 Booth, nor the Rooster Teeth booth, because of all the fans crowded around them. As the day grew on these two booths continued to be capped, with longer wait times.
As a con-goer one of my favorite aspects of PAX, and cons in general, are the vendors and booths you can check out. There you can meet the people who have made a career of what they do, and you can appreciate how creative their ideas are whether that be a new game or a product. There is a mutual respect between con-goers looking to buy or learn more about their hobbies and the vendors who share the same hobbies and took those hobbies to the next level. And I’m sure those vendors are extremely proud to display their talents and interests for everyone to appreciate. Here are my personal top three booths who impressed me with their demos and their creativity, and deserve some recognition.
1. Wyrmwood Quality Gaming Supplies: This is a vendor that makes cool table top gaming supplies like dice towers, trays, dice vaults, etc. They build beautiful wood accessories that appear durable and would be beautiful to have in your home. One of my favorite pieces was the dice tower; unlike the cardboard towers you can buy at some stores these guys take it to the next level. It was held together by magnets and was easily broken down when you’re done playing for the night. While demo-ing the kit to us, the vendor slammed her hand onto the tower, shattering it into its components. And she then reassembled it good as new. The whole kit wraps up into a small portable box, making it easy to transport. But they also had pieces you could keep around in your home for play. As a carpenter and a gamer, this was incredibly impressive to me.
2. A.E.G.I.S.: This is an indie game create by Zephyr Workshop that involves robot squads and strategy. Different robots are categorized into different classes: Assault, Evasive, Guard, Intel, and Support (A.E.G.I.S.). The classes in combination create a squad which you take into combat against your friend, like in Pokemon, and strategy is an integral part of the gameplay. You can also combine these robots to create a larger mech. The game is focused around an easy to learn, hard to master mindset that makes it ideal for any kind of gamer, and matches don’t take hours to complete like many popular table tops and strategy games. This is a fun game that can be played in half an hour for all gamers at different levels.
3. Geek Chic: This vendor builds tables that can be used for table top gaming. But these tables are even more than that, because when not being used for a geek night you can cover the gaming space with wood to create a normal dinner table. Say you had to stop playing for the night, or the session ends but you want to leave figures or terrain where it is for future reference; you could protect your game by putting the protective wood in place, covering your figures while giving you a normal table surface for meals and other activities. Geek Chic’s tables use a rail system along the outer edge, enabling you to fit cup holders, desks for private writing, dice rolling spaces, dice towers, and other accessories around the table while still having all the necessary room inside the table for combat scenarios. Some tables also include drawers for holding books or other supplies. And inside the combat space is an acrylic pane which can be removed easily, allowing you to place your own maps underneath and providing a dry erase surface. I was incredibly impressed by their wine cup holder. I absolutely need one of those for my games.
Besides vendors, there were also many amazing panels where you could attend to hear a lecture on some topic or engage in conversation with like-minded individuals. I wish I was able to go to more while I was there, but I was only able to make it to one. I wish I could have attended the panels Molding and Casting for Beginners; Beer, Booze, and Board Games: The Geek Bar Panel, Player Select; Identifying with Our Virtual Selves; and Press XY Presents: Transgender Characters in the Spotlight: Then, Now, Tomorrow. All of these panels, simply by their titles, promised interesting discussion and thought-provoking content.
The panel I did get to attend was Games Are Good For You! How Gaming Improves Our Lives, headed by Dr.Patrick O’Connor, Dr. Kelli Dunlap, and Dr. Sean Knunth. This was an impressive panel about how gaming can be good or bad for you, depending on how you use it, but that certainly it is not inherently bad. The community as a whole takes hits for playing video games, and often gaming gets demonized by the media. Everything from stereotypes about gamers to how the media portrays criminals who might have played video games in their life was covered. I am planning on going into more depth about this in a different post concerning the health of video games and what we, as a community, can do to be advocates for our fellow gamers who struggle with gaining acceptance from their families, friends, and communities.
I had a blast at PAX East 2015. Along with celebrating my hobbies I also have a responsibility to defend the community that I am so much a part of and that I pride myself in. Most of my friends are gamers. I get to come home from work and actively do something with my friends while on headset. Games give us a chance to talk about our day while also strategically planning out our next move in the game. I find that gaming, from the early days of chess to modern day, has changed in so many ways. But no matter the changes it should continue to be celebrated as a hobby everywhere, not just at these once-a-year conventions.
Written by Jenn Kilgallon