The PAX East Report: Day One

We arrived in Boston last night, and despite my best intentions I wasn’t able to get a post up last night thanks to a few other… preoccupations (beer). This will be our fourth year at PAX East, and we’ve got a record breaking 17 people with us this year (or more, depending on who you count). Organizing this trip is can be real headache with that many people, which is why I’m thankful Andrew and Brett do literally all of the work and I don’t have to lift a finger (thanks guys!).

I’m staying at one hotel with Andrew along with his brother and sister-in-law Dan and Vicki Banks. The others are at a Marriott about two miles from us. Last night we all met up for dinner followed by some games and more beer. My friend David Sillitti also showed me some Darkest Dungeon, a game I got hyped about at PAX East last year. Funny how pumped you get seeing these games on the con floor, only to realize a year later you missed their release by a month. I’m sure I’ll get around to playing it though. I promise.

I started this morning on the right foot having to retrieve my cell phone from the other hotel. While there I delivered Dan Bittner his tickets, who joined me on an adventure to a local camera store so I could pick up a case for mine. Along the way we met some colorful Boston locals and then froze our asses off on the trek to the expo center. By the way, did you know Boston is really god damn cold in the winter? Did not see that one coming.

My first stop was coat check, but since this is PAX East, and even the water fountains need lines, I wound up waiting twenty minutes for it. Not one to waste time, I made some friends while standing around. Did I mention I’m a master of that shit? I could befriend a serial killer if I tried hard enough. He’d probably even buy me a drink afterward.

The con floor – spent my morning just wandering around checking out some of the booths. I tend to stay away from the large ones with two hour lines. It’s much easier to wander around the indie booths and be able to try out a game almost instantly. On top of that, the developers are usually the ones manning the booths, meaning you can talk their ear off about what you did and did not like about their game. Seriously, they crave your feedback.

Shovel Knight had a booth at the con. Considering its critical praise and the fact that Randall called it his Game of the Year for 2014, its obvious I should play this soon. Did you know it came out on 3DS? Blew my mind. If I do play it, that’s the version I’ll pick up. Another one that caught my eye is Enter the Gungeon. It’s a basic rogue-like similar to Binding of Isaac, but the enemies are anthropomorphic bullets armed with their corresponding guns. There were even rubber bullets that only stunned you and kamikaze grenades.

However, one that really took me by surprise was Social Justice Warriors. Essentially a social commentary on the toxic culture of the Internet, you play a budding, self-righteous Internet crusader and must defend your views against an army of anonymous forum trolls. Battles consist of a series of points and counterpoints traded back and forth like a traditional RPG. Your job is to deplete the trolls’ sanity and reputation by counterattacking their logical fallacies using equally questionable tactics like broadcasting to your Twitter followers and making disparaging personal judgements against the troll.

I’ve got a real thing for games that can engage their players while also delivering a powerful message. Papers, Please was an addicting puzzle game that also made players rethink their views of right and wrong under the context of working as a civil servant under a bureaucratic, totalitarian regime. Likewise, Social Justice Warriors light-heartedly pokes fun at the nature of online chatroom debate while also pointing out the ugliness of cyber-bullying, anonymity, and Internet activism.

I spoke with the developer while I was at the booth, and he said he was inspired by vicious Twitter debates he frequently saw to make a game lampooning the behavior of both sides. His hope was that by casting each side in a critical, mocking light, that people would see the absurdity of how they acted and be inspired to become better people while talking on the Internet. Yea, sure. Like that will ever happen.

After that? Fuck it, time for a nap. One of the lessons I’ve learned from going to PAX East each year is that you need to take it easy in order to enjoy it. Some of my friends prefer tight schedules at PAX and wind up running around from panel to panel while also trying to enjoy the con. I decided to take it easy this year, so I wound heading towards PAX’s unique mobile gaming lounge around noon. The mobile gaming lounge is literally a section of floor spread out with extraordinarily comfy bean bag chairs for people to freely enjoy.

While there I pulled out my 3DS and acknowledged my StreetPasses. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, the 3DS comes with a feature that allows you to play games with people you pass by who are also carrying a 3DS. In any other situation, this may rarely happen. At PAX East, the stream of people is never-ending. This means you could spend an entire con doing nothing buy playing with your StreetPasses. It’s not an ideal way to spend your time at a con, but it’s definitely an amazing way to pass the time while you’re standing around or taking a break.

After a nap and some lunch, I reunited with Dan and Vicki and headed down to Tabletop gaming. I managed to meet up with almost everyone there, though we quickly departed as people left for more panels. In the meantime, my friends Pete and Chelsea managed to convinced me to join up in a game of Watch the Skies. As Pete describes it, it’s a 60-person board game where teams of five manage and country and try to push back an alien invasion. I actually have no idea what it’s about – in fact, we need to return to the tabletop section tomorrow at 11AM just to get our rules. The actual game takes place on Sunday at 10AM, so I guess we’ll have to see how that goes.

After a game of Munchkin with Dan and Vicki, I packed up and went my own way in order to line up for my only panel for the night, Game Review Over: Critiquing the Way We Critique Games. The panel was about… uh… crap, I don’t know actually. I got distracted by writing this article on my phone. Anyway, the basic idea was that there’s no such thing as an objective review, and as that games become more like art, the more subjective their reviews are going be. What’s cool is that Jeff Gertzmann was there, so at least I got to see him at a panel sometime this weekend. The Q&A section was also excellent.

So what to do afterward? With everyone at the “Giant Bomb” panel until 11, I decided that it was time to wind down the night and headed to the Sam Adams Pub at the food court. I grabbed a Sam Adams – Boston Brick Red (this is Boston, amirite?) and put the finishing touches on this article. While out here, I managed to strike up a conversation with fellow con-goers Sean and Otto. We had an excellent conversation covering everything from comics, anime, television, and books.

Tomorrow I’ll be checking out more indie games and hopefully a good panel or two. No real plans of course – everything is pretty spontaneous this year. Still looking forward to the “main con day” tomorrow and seeing what it has to bring.

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2 Responses to The PAX East Report: Day One

  1. Jeremy Banks says:

    from what I’ve heard (obviously I’m not there) Axion Verge is a title worth checking out there – it’s apparently a callback to Super Metroid

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