Paul and storm are some funny motherfuckers.
When I saw them, when they got to the part where they called for the crowd to issue different "ARR,"s, one of them was, "who was your least favorite Star Trek character?"
"CrushARRR!" bellowed the crowd.
"HEY!" came a voice from the crowd. The surly audience member charged the stage, and glared at Paul and Storm, then the rest of the audience.
It was Wil fucking Wheaton himself, known for that day, the next day, and the previous day, as the Prince of PAX.
The Penny Arcade Expo has gone on for three years now, though until this year the event has only taken place in Seattle. In their enduring wisdom, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik decided to open up an incarnation of the con on the East Coast. Less wisely, they chose Boston's Hynes Convention Center-- which to their credit would have easily accommodated the numbers that attended any previous PAX-- which was quite simply inadequate to contain the teeming masses of gamergeeks. It of course stands to reason that any region containing both Boston and New York City is going to furnish plenty of con attendees. But the fuckers on the West Coast who'd already had their PAX seven months earlier saw fit to get on planes and come here. Which meant that this PAX needed an attendance cap, and three-day passes sold out before anyone actually knew what was going to happen there.
This was the Pax East Saturday Night Concert, which went on well past the time the T stations close-- which meant I needed to walk for two hours before finally collapsing into someone else's bed. It was worth it. The closing act was Jonathan Coulton, who's famous in the gamer community for writing Still Alive-- the closing credits song to Portal-- which he performed.
Both Coulton and Paul and Storm make most of their songs available for free on their websites, and charge for the higher-quality files while holding out their Paypal tip jars. I fully recommend checking them out. Same goes for MC Frontalot, who headlined the Friday concert but who I didn't get to see because that particular night my feet were aching so much that even with the benefit of public transportation it was painful to get back home.
PAX is a gamer con dedicated not only to video games, but also roleplaying games, card games, and board games. And I'm not talking about Monopoly or Clue or any of that (albeit often entertaining) bullshit. These people play games like Arkham Horror, which takes place in the Lovecraft universe and the object of the game is to not lose your freaking mind.
I could tell you all about the expo hall, the demos for yet-to-be released games, the (amazing) custom equipment being shown off, or anything else that gaming journalists are no doubt writing previews about as I'm typing this. But that's far from the most remarkable thing about the event. This is a place where about 10% of the people go in costume, under the expectation that others will want to take photos with them. I saw a group that came dressed as the entire cast of Team Fortress 2. Weirdness of all kinds is commonplace there. On the escalator I ran into two guys, one of whom was holding a sign that said "Free Hugs." his friend had a sign that said "Deluxe Hugs: $1."
In case anyone reading this encounters something similar, the extra dollar isn't worth it.
But even as someone who, having played video games for over two decades now, never believed in any of the bullshit propaganda that politicians and family values activists from have spread about gaming culture, I was overwhelmed by what I saw there. When we were lining up to see Wil Wheaton's opening keynote address, I somehow managed to lose my three-day pass, which the saner people in the crowd had put around their necks as soon as they had them. I ran back towards the registration desk with a panicked look on my face, and stopped when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Is this yours?" said someone who was old enough to be my mother.
"Yes. Thank you."
she kept her hand on my shoulder.
"It's ok. Everything's ok. You can calm down now."
I looked around to make sense of the situation but no, there was no kid in sight. She was here for herself. Awesome.
At the Q&A panel with Gabe and Tycho (Jerry and Mike to the Census), there were many heartfelt testimonies as to the importance of Child's Play, a charity the two of them dreamt up that donates toys and videogames to children's hospitals. I had planned on stepping up to the microphone to tell the story about how when I was seven years old and stuck in Boston Children's Hospital, breathing with the help of a tube that came out of the wall, I was able to distract myself with the help of a cart that was wheeled in with a TV and an NES. It was the first time I'd played a videogame (Super Mario Brothers) all the way through.
But there were plenty of those stories there, and better ones, and told better than I would. Some of them made me bury my face in my hands and pretend to have a cold. But that wasn't what impressed me the most. A man stepped up to the mic with a framed set of trading cards that had been made special for PAX, by the attendees. He came up to the stage and handed it to Tycho, who said "Stay right the fuck there."
He went back behind the curtain and came out with a box with the Intel logo. It was a brand spanking new, top-of-the-line Core i7 microprocessor. Without taking a closer look at the box, I couldn't tell you how much it was worth for sure, but it's somewhere between $550 and $700. He had it in his hands for about a second before he donated it to Child's Play.
I'm proud to consider myself a part of the gaming community, and that's why. Despite the way the media used to (and sometimes still does) portray us-- in fact, the first Child's Play toy drive was reported to have been done by a "local Catholic school" and to have been worth "nearly a thousand dollars." Despite the fact that the haul-- consisting of seventy Gamecubes, four crates of GBA SPs, and twenty bins of toys-- had been valued at an estimated $175,000, and despite the fact that the local press outlets were told explicitly who was responsible for it.
The media has a history of going out of its way to make gamers invisible where they aren't being portrayed as a bunch of drooling, murderous, antisocial slobs.
It's gotten better since, but I have a long memory. This year, for instance, CNN's coverage of Wil Wheaton's keynote was merely inept, rather than deleterious. It helps that games are now a bigger industry than Hollywood. If you have a spare hour and like oratory, I've included the keynote below. Having been there, I can tell you that it was to geeks what Obama's 2004 DNC speech was to Democrats. In it, he spoke of how games help us create new worlds together.
Assuming that you didn't watch it, and I mean, I get it, it's an hour long, I leave you with this, my favorite line from the speech:
"While all destruction is essentially the same, when you create something, it's different every time."