It’s like shoving rainbows and bear cubs into your eyeholes, if doing that sort of thing were something one would enjoy doing. Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX, as it is known to the video game set, takes place at the end of August in green and crunchy Seattle. PAX is soaked in video games, geeks and various (and usually inflatable) swag. In short, it’s nirvana for gamers.
Penny Arcade started as a smart, giant- hearted, insightful and oftimes hilarious comic and blog, and grew into podcasts and commentary, various internet shows, and then into a safe spot for gaming enthusiasts to congregate and salivate over what’s happening in the industry. These are not the assholes who take pleasure shooting noobs in the head and calling you and everyone else fag. Penny Arcade attendees embrace every sundry bit of their geekiness and know it is both a source of joy and awkwardness for their compatriots. PAX focuses on a gamer’s obsession playing and picking apart games, and not ignominiously defeating your adversary and picking them apart. It says, “We all love games and unicorns. We all have our idiosyncrasies, and we all have known what is like to be made fun of for knowing and caring about each species of Pokemon or why an arcane warrior was a cool, if overpowered, class, and that shimmering shield was probably a mistake. We will not persecute or judge each other, because he is I and she is me.”
Did I mention there are boys? Sweet Tifa’s chocobo, there are boys! Boys of all shapes and sizes, bearded ones and thick ones, ones with tattoos of Gears of War weapons on them, military boys, space marines, and Greek gods, lanky ones with a bit of a slouch, furry ones you want to keep in your pocket. Oh, boys. And even the ones who look tough (like, say the tall ginger, marine, with the flattop, and lovely bulge-y muscle groupings) will melt when you talk with them about the finer plot points of Dragon Age: Origins, or what you accomplished with your sun goddess pup in Okamiden. It can be a little confusing because the line between gay and geek is a blurry one, but fantasies are free, and all of them are irrepressibly passionate about games; their soft, warm spots are in plain view and so sweet.
Unlike Comic-Con, there are very few booth babes, mostly the ones calling for your attention and enthusiastically explaining their wares are men with the energy of young boys, and again, pretty fucking sexy—especially the ones in the Xbox area who were wearing tight, spandex-y sports shirts or clinging black t-shirts that said, “Ask me Anything.” (I’m looking lasciviously at you, Kinect Star Wars dude with the arms full of tattoos, ear disks, soft beard, lean muscles and Clark Kent glasses). The great thing about the people on the floor is that they are the ones making the games. They are the ones creating the magic of those virtual worlds you inhabit, and they are eager to talk about them. I had conversations with a good number of them, and they were friendly and forthcoming. It’s like having a conversation with your favorite author or actor; it was amazing. They want to talk with you about their game and their work, and man, are they happy to see you. To geek out with the mayors of geekdom, and having conversations with them was one of my favorite things at the conference.
Of course, there are all kinds of panels offering peeks at upcoming games, cultural discussions about the effect and messages of games on society, what games tell us about ourselves, how to make games better, queers in games, women in games, portryals of minorities in games, genre discusions, creators talking about their studios and creations, and workshops on how to get into the industry. I got to meet three of my all-time favorite designers, visionaries in the field, who are pushing the medium further and further, Ken Levine of Bioshock fame, David Jaffe of God of War, and Todd Williams of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises, and hear them talk about their process, their vision and their views on what gaming is and could be. Yes, there is a good deal of waiting in line, but I was turned away from none of the panels I attended, nor was anyone else. Penny Arcade even had ways to make being in line entertaining with silly contests and games.
PAX really is a friendly and wonderful experience. Everyone is happy to be there and enthusiastic about games. There is a general air of acceptance, too. Are you a shooter fan? Fine! Super into the cutest Nintendo game? Me, too! An overweight woman dressed as a slutty elven sorceress kitten? Cool! Hardcore RPG gamer? Neat! Young, old, Filipino, pony-tailed and trench-coated? Fine! I never once heard anyone demean or insult a con attendee, and the game industry is, for the most part, really queer-friendly. Queer issues, characters and themes were brought up in most of the panels I attended, and none of them had a specifically queer agenda. There were no boos or jeers, no disclaimers or apologies.
We are gamers, and all of us know what it is to love something down to its most trivial point. While we may have different interests, we have that in common, and there is something undeniably sexy about the passions and interests of gamers. And it’s pretty amazing to be in a place where you can bask in that enthusiasm…and the tight t-shirts…and the round, hairy calves (yes, a lot of geeks seem to have them—don’t know why).
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Frag Dean is a podcaster on Silly Frags, available on iTunes, Sticher and sillyfrags.com.