Lachlan's misadventures in games programming

Friday, 2 January 2015

PAX Part 3 - Culture

1/02/2015 11:33:00 pm Posted by Lachlan No comments
This is the long-delayed final part of my discussion on PAXAus. Find part 1 here and part 2 here.




I've been putting off writing the final part of my discussion on PAX, because (to me at least) it is the most important section, and I wanted to do it justice.

It sounds so very cliche, but I think the major thing that PAX brings to the table is the culture and atmosphere. It is no mere trade show for exhibitors to show off their wares to potential customers, or convention you attend to hear the keynote speakers but is instead a place that celebrates games and gamers of all sorts. One of the first things you see as you enter is that gigantic green sign (pictured above) that proclaims 'Welcome Home'.

In order to spread the awesomeness around the article, I've punctuated the article with photographs of some of the fantastic cosplayers who appeared at PAX. I've linked to their respective pages/portfolios and a highly recommend you check them out.

Twi'lek beauty Steph Elkington

Steph Elkington and Hollow Society as Mordecai


The current weekend that PAX is on is one of the biggest horse racing weekends in Melbourne. On the Saturday, the AAMI Victoria Darby Day was on. Inside the convention centre, I had rounds of Pokemon with people I'd never met, I had board games with people I never otherwise would meet, I attended a lecture on making video games all by your lonesome, met passionate and fantastic cosplayers (more on that later) and I had long conversations with indie game developers about the engines they were using. Once outside, my kinsmen, my brothers and sisters of the gaming fraternity marching as a disorganised huddled mass towards Flinders St stations were accosted and teased by a small group of drunken racegoers. I don't think think that the contrast could have been any more severe.

I don't know how PAX manages to so successfully cultivate that atmosphere - and can't, by virtue of only having attended Melbourne's PAX, compare how much that atmosphere can be attributed to Melbourne's culture and increasing status as a videogame development superhub. I do have some observations that might at least paint some of a light on why PAX can so proudly and honestly proclaim 'Welcome Home' to gamers of every sort.

Firstly, I suspect that a lot of it can be attributed to the culture that goes with being a Penny Arcade event and being run by gamers for gamers. Mike and Jerry's original idea was to make the convention that they would want to go to. This influences everything from how the rules are written and enforced, to how exhibitors are treated, to the talks that are chosen, and to the evening events that are run.

Secondly, I think that it is helped somewhat by the general atmosphere of respect that PAX seeks to foster - for instance, by requiring that exhibitors refrain from using booth babes. 5 of the 6 PAX commandments (don't steal, don't punch or kick people, no cheating, don't harass anyone, don't mess with things that aren't your) directly relate to respecting other participants and exhibitors. It comes back to being a place where gamers can celebrate that part of their identity..

Thirdly, I think that the effect of having huge areas dedicated to actually playing games with other people can't be underestimated. They are areas that could easily be sold as more floor space, but instead a third of the available space is full of consoles (with libraries of games accessible to everybody), vintage consoles, gaming tournaments, collectible card game areas, board gaming areas (again, with a huge library available to everybody). In the board gaming areas, there are signs to borrow which essentially say 'We're looking for players!' and 'I want to play this game... can you teach me?'.


Peter "Putty" Davis's fantastic TF2 Engineer

More Peter "Putty" Davis
As an aside, the tournaments are a lot of fun. I joined in the Marvel v Capcom 3 tournament on the second day... and had my posterior handed do me on a plate. I knew I was doomed from the moment that my first opponent plugged in his own fightstick. For those outside fighting game circles - a fightstick basically an arcade style joystick and buttons that most pros use to play fighting games. Even losing was a pleasure - the guy I played was a good sport, and was happy to not take it too seriously. My opponent juggled me in ways I did not realise were possible.

I also had a chance to finally get my first ever win of any Pokemon game against a human being. One of the areas set up is a large bean bag and power charger area for playing handheld consoles. I went into my copy of Pokemon X, found a person who had a similar amount of hours played as I did and sent them a challenge. I figured out after not long that they were sitting across from me and we had a friendly discussion of the match as it was going. And did I mention that I won?

We were sitting down playing a game with podcasters I hadn't met or indeed heard of before when one of them mentioned that awesome new RPG that just got Kickstarted 'Fragged Empire' by my friend Wade Dyer and wondered whether he was attending the show. Unknown to them, he'd just sat down at their table minutes earlier. The setup of PAX encourages these anarchical kinds of interactions with strangers in a way that I know nothing else that does.

Battered, bruised, and brilliant Raven Mad


    


 
 Some photos are just too brilliant not to share. A gender bent Misty (as portrayed by Zeek) carrying Raven's Lara Croft. Somebody make this game!

I want to take this opportunity to point out that the cosplayers were really fantastic. If cosplay is a foreign concept to you, it's essentially dressing up as a character. They might be from a movie, or a cartoon, or a game, or a comic, or pretty much anything else. Raven Mad, Zeek, Peter "Putty" Davis, Hollow Society and Steph Elkington (who are pictured on this page) all did fantastic jobs and were kind enough to allow me to use the photos of them that are on the page. Again, I highly recommend that you check them all out. I was also excited to see some other fantastic cosplays - such as a brilliant Manuel Calivera (from Grim Fandango), a cloud of Batmen (but not a single Superman!), TF2 and Borderlands characters.

Speaking to the cosplayers is fantastic and gives some glimpse of the amount of work they went to to get their costumes made and put together. Most from what I saw made almost everything themselves. There is real and genuine skill in managing to put together costumes like these cosplayers do. I'm actually a little tempted to join their ranks for 2015.

As cool as the cosplay is, to me it primarily reinforces to me that this gaming isn't just a hobby that you do behind your door, in front of your computer, on a table, or on a couch. The effort cosplayers go to demonstrates a real passion for the subject matter and shows it off in a very bold and unflinching manner. Perhaps one of the good things about PAX is that people can feel safe and secure enough to be actually willing to do it.

This year, when PAX finished, I was left feeling almost like I used to when after waiting for months my birthday had finally come and gone. I was richer for having gone, excited for the news that it's back for the next 5 years but a little empty and melancholy for it having finished.

I think that one of the most fascinating experiments is writing a twitter biography. You have 140 characters to define who you think you are. At present, mine reads thus:
Christian. Newly admitted lawyer. Musician. Games Scholar. Programmer. Nerd. Terrible, but enthusiastic Golfer.
I have fellowship with other Christians and worship at church every Sunday night. I have worked as a lawyer, and will work as a lawyer again, keep up with law and participate in legal events. I play my various instruments at church and (albeit) occasionally at other venues with other musicians, and attend other gigs on an almost semi regular basis. I have a regular golfing partner, and go out and hit rounds that are deserving of my terrible, but enthusiastic status with a gigantic grin.

But - Games scholar (thank Jas Purewal over at Gamer/Law for that term), Nerd and Programmer? I have friends who I talk to and with whom I participate in gaming, nerdy or programming activities, but they are (for me at least) largely private affairs carried out on a table or behind a monitor by myself or with a small group of friends. It is such joy to go to an event, with so many people, and be surrounded by people who are like me - who share this part of their identity with me. It is such a pleasure to go to a place where gaming and gamers are not merely tolerated but celebrated.

Without exaggeration, I feel that PAX is pretty special and I feel absolutely blessed that there is one in my home city.

Bring on 2015!

FYI - As of the time of writing, PAX Aus tickets for 2015 are still available at http://aus.paxsite.com/registration. 

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