I don’t really, fully understand what I am supposed to do this weekend at PAX. I have a vague notion that there will be both cool stuff and people there, and that sitting in on a panel or two is a recommended idea, but for the most part I am going out there unprepared, and as a result more than a little skittish about the whole thing.
I’m usually pretty comfortable in a convention setting. I’ve walked into a handful of E3s, a clear agenda clutched in my tight, gamer grip; eyes ready to absorb the glamour and glitz with the kind of unrestrained, total abandon that is the hallmark of the objective games journalist. I have stoutly walked into Los Angeles time and again like I owned the place, a bearded force of nature in an E3 that had forgotten to equip its nature resist gear before the encounter.
PAX feels different. Squishier for lack of a better word. A convention built less on orchestrated media hype and more on the bonds of community. To be honest, this community thing is exactly where I’ve long had the most difficulty finding my comfort zone. Normally I am a level 80 shmoozer, at least in business settings where everyone pretty much agrees to put an entirely false personal on, so it feels really unusual to be nervous about PAX, but there it is. An unknown quantity.
I assume this is what a lot of people feel like wandering into territory populated by great herds of homo sapiens, an irrational distant but distinct uncertainty like sitting at a red light next to a cop. I know a lot of people just aren’t good in crowds, and while traditionally I have patiently sympathized it’s not an emotional experience I’ve ever had need to share. So this odd butterfly sensation in my mid-section is an unpleasant, unwelcome and unfamiliar companion.
To be honest, if I were hosting or sitting in on a panel, I think I'd be a lot less reticent. Something about the idea of presenting in front of hundreds (maybe just tens or fives) of people is bizarrely calming. Instead I'm just kind of floating in with nothing more than an intent for undefined mischief, like a ghost ship in the first act of a bad horror movie.
It seems odd that a convention so targeted to my core gamer self has me so discombobulated. I sense that once I get in the swing of things I will go back to revisit these thoughts and think something along the lines of “quit yer kvetching King Corona, it’s time to game up and party.”
Apparently my future self is a drunken, Jewish frat boy. My apologies to those of you who meet me this weekend.
If I’m honest with myself, and I rarely am, part of what troubles me is that in a convention that celebrates the gamer and gamer lifestyle, I’ve always felt like someone straddling the two worlds. A lot of times I still harbor the traditional image in my head of the stereotypical gamer, and it’s never been an image I’ve entirely embraced. In many ways this very site was built, at least in part, as an open rejection of that.
So, I feel a bit like an outsider wandering into the belly of the beast.
Here’s what I hope. I hope I find people so approachable, warm and opening as to once and for all dispel those stereotypes as thoroughly as I tend to when I reveal my Irish heritage while sipping from timid Mexican beers. I hope that I feel at home among the thousands who will be in attendance, even though gamer ranks increasingly low on the list of self-identifiers. I hope the mood and atmosphere infect me in a totally non-physiological way.
I have a good feeling that I may be pleasantly surprised, and yet I can’t shake my uncertainties. Onward to the PAX planet.