Sometimes magic happens in Boston. Wonderfully nerdy magic. Downtown, amid the high rising offices and the piers, lies the massive Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, a massive space dedicated to the two things in its name. Every year, the biggest public gaming convention in the country meets up for three days for a celebration of all things gaming. From tabletop board games to the future technology of tomorrow’s gaming world, PAX East brings all of gaming’s greatest under one roof.
Looking out onto the show floor of PAX for the first time is something that sticks with you. People enter in from the second floor, and before they make their way down, they look through the glass walls and see the splendor that lies below. Thousands of people mill around from booth to booth, massive signs hang from the ceiling advertising the biggest developers in the business, and large screens flash gameplay footage.
Once the fans hit the floor, it’s almost impossible to choose what direction to walk around first. Magic: The Gathering has set up a massive white tent pavilion dead ahead, and the glow of computer monitors can be seen from inside, beckoning. But the line is massive, and as tempting as it to jump right into it and wait for an hour, it’s important to explore first. Half of the fun of PAX is just being there to see and hear everything that goes on, after all.
The most logical approach is to wrap around the whole room and work towards the center. The first few booths are tempting with gamer-themed merchandise, and two booths down there’s a booth selling nothing but kilts. Yes, kilts.
The first big name on this chosen path is the Oculus Rift, Facebook’s recently acquired virtual reality display that has been the center of a lot tech excitement. One person in line says to another, “I swear, if Facebook screws up the Oculus, that’s it for me. Game over.”
A host of PC tech booths are up next, boasting everything from the best graphics cards to the best headphones. People are waiting in line for Microsoft’s killer app Titanfall, the new shooter from some of the original guys behind Call of Duty. A small boy is rapidly clicking a mouse, eyes darting across the screen. He needs a stool to reach the mouse and keyboard. Eventually his dad comes to pull him away from the monitor. The headphones blot out the roar of the show floor, replacing it with the chaotic goodness of giant mechs and jetpacks. Jump around from building to building, shoot other players, slug it out in massive massive machines: that’s Titanfall in a nutshell. The little boy was way better than I am.
A nearby booth has Infamous Second Sons; people seem more interested in seeing the PS4 up close. I briefly weigh the probability of smuggling one of the consoles out unnoticed, figuring it’s probably not a great idea. One of the booth workers nearby, a young woman, is trying to get a very professional looking man to buy a very expensive pair of headphones. He’s older than a lot of the crowd and is dressed in a suit and tie that are out of place in the company of costumes and t-shirts. He seems totally at ease, however, and he’s trying to strike up a conversation with employee. She finally caves, saying: “You want my life story? Okay, here it comes. I’m a full time waitress and I’m full time in retail, just trying to get by. I’m just doing this for the weekend because I enjoy it. Now, about these Skullcandy headphones…”
Bethesda’s booth is all noise and bright red displays. Wolfenstein trailers play on a screen overhead, and around the corner is the dark booth where people can play The Evil Within. These are some of the big leagues, the AAA titles, the blockbuster booths. Microsoft and Ubisoft have also set up shop nearby, but the only new game worthy of mention Microsoft has showing is an unplayable demonstration of Project Spark, and the lack of a Watch Dogs demo at Ubisoft’s booth is baffling. They do have a team of BMX bikers, however, so what Ubisoft lacks in substance they’ve certainly made up for in style.
But the real showmanship is over at 2k’s booth. No, it isn’t the moon-shaped booth for Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. It’s the absolutely massive statue of the monster from the upcoming Evolve. Towering over everything else around it, the statue has a level of detail that goes so far to include globs of drool dangling from it’s jaw. Even though the line to play the actual game is over three hours, the model makes the booth the most memorable of any at PAX.
Now everything is indie-centered. One booth advertises Jesus-themed gaming, another has the infamous Goat Simulator running on several laptops, and one allows me to flail my arms and legs around as a means of combat. There’s a tidal wave of yelling and applause that briefly overwhelms the room: excitement down at the League of Legends arena area. I wander over to see people gathering around a massive screen, watching two e-sports teams battle it out. Two commentators narrate the match with the detail and severity one would expect from ESPN.
Some people have started to trickle out of from the showroom after a long day of waiting in lines and battling the forces of evil. Not far from one of the exits, a crowd sits in front of an empty stage, swapping cards, checking out the free stuff they got, and one looks at the box of his brand new monitor lovingly. Then, from around the corner, comes one of the most impressive cosplayers at the whole show. From the style of his hair to the the wolf pelt around his shoulders, it’s hard to imagine a more uncanny cosplay of Robb Stark than what is now taking the stage. With a few swipes of his hand and a readjustment of the broadsword at his hip, the music begins to start, the screens flicker to life, and he begins to dance in the goofiest way possible. The crowd goes wild as Robb Stark dances to the fitting “Ice Ice Baby.”
This is PAX. While it isn’t as important to the industry as something like E3 is, PAX remains the greatest display of the gaming industry embracing fans and giving them a place to congregate. The mix of young and old, casual and hardcore, console fanboys and PC purists are half of the attraction. The tech demos are all well and good, and PAX certainly shows where the industry is heading, but it is truly unique for showing who exactly makes up the “gamer” demographic. Who they are, where they come from, what role gaming plays in their lives, and how that role will come to change. PAX is a true treat not because of Evolve’s hulking plaster and fiber glass monster, but because of Robb Stark letting his freak flag fly in good company.