Despite living mere minutes away, I'd never been moved to attend PAX in the past. The bullet points rattled off by enthusiastic friends ricocheted harmlessly off my armored exterior. When a pass was offered to me this year, I took the opportunity to find out what all the fuss was about.
I'm still not sure.
The exhibit hall was like a mini E3, and yet held very little sway over me. The items of greatest immediate interest-- Duke Nukem Forever, Portal 2, Dead Space 2-- commanded absurd lines, distinguishing them from other booths mainly in the level of absurdity. I saw nothing at the show that made me feel I had to try it, now. The Epic Mickey booth convinced me that I'll be dusting off the Wii when that game hits the shelves, but I didn't need to play it at the show-- watching on the monitors was enough. For most products being shown, there will be ample opportunity (reviews, videos, demos) to make purchase decisions at my leisure when they're closer to release. Waiting in a line for a brief taste of them today held no appeal.
Attending a panel required two hours of committment-- one for the panel itself, and one for the line to get into the panel. I missed one panel because the room filled. I waited in line for the next panel, and was disappointed by both the content of the panel and the presentation. When everyone is in the room to see and hear four people talk, organizers should make sure people can actually see and hear them. Would it really be so hard to raise the panelists' table on a dais so they're visible to more than the front row of spectators? Seems like Conference 101, and this is, what, the 5th PAX? I left the panel early.
The free-play console room was impressive-- a vast hall of PS3s, 360s, Wiis, and other older systems, plus an extensive library of titles available for the asking. But I couldn't think of anything I wanted to play that I wouldn't prefer to play on my own 360 at home, or that wouldn't take more time than I wanted to devote in that venue (Shadow of the Colossus).
As for tabletop gaming, I have enough opportunities to do that with friends that I didn't need to play with strangers. The one event I considered, the Puerto Rico tournament, only had 7 people signed up-- hardly enough for a tournament. I suspect noon on Friday was too early in the show to schedule a board gaming event-- people were still busy browsing the expo hall.
I didn't attend any of the concerts, which hold no attraction for me. Sitting/standing in a crowd of people is not how I like to listen to music anymore. Music for me is a supplement to other activities, not something I want to focus my attention or schedule around. I also missed the keynote and other big-ticket "events" like the Omegathon (an elimination tournament of different games, culminating this year with an arcade claw machine). Too much waiting.
As I wandered the convention center I saw lots of people enjoying themselves, but in ways that held little appeal to me. I love Plants vs. Zombies, but had no desire to (wait in line to) get an orange traffic cone hat and get made up as a zombie. I like nestling into a comfy chair, but as I waded across the sea of humanity beached on beanbag chairs, each person focused on their handheld device of choice, there was no sense of community, only isolation.
I went to plenty of these kinds of events when I was younger, like WorldCon and local Star Trek and comic book conventions. I get it. The desire to share your passion with others who understand, to immerse yourself in it for a weekend, to feel part of a community where what you do is normal and not something to hide away when the popular kids come around. The chance to revel in geekiness among geeks, to be over the top without fear or shame, to meet the people who make the things that bring you joy. I've been there, done that. And it's just not important to me anymore.
The events aren't the draw for me now. If I go to something like BoardGameGeek.Con, it's not to be at the event-- it's to reconnect with friends. Maybe some people are having that experience at PAX. Maybe there are people who only knew each other as gamertags, and meet up at PAX for the first time and forge deeper friendships. Maybe there are college buddies who fly in to Seattle for a PAX fragfest in the LAN lounge, reliving old times and keeping bonds alive. Maybe there are people who met at the very first PAX, and come together year after year to see each other again and bring even more people into their widening circle.
I really hope so.