PAX to the Future

I started this year with the goal that I will write, and I will write what I’ve planned—even if it takes me far too long to get to it. I said I would write about PAX Aus, and so:

PAX. A huge con that spanned the weekend of October 31 to November 1 last year at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

So many trees in that city! SO MUCH GREEN
So many trees in that city! SO MUCH GREEN

I’d been dreaming of visiting Melbourne for years, ever since being told it’s a “cooler Wellington”. Being invited along to PAX—Penny Arcade Expo—by my friends was the perfect opportunity to see the city and finally taste its world-class coffee.

(In hindsight, I’m not sure I even drank coffee there.)

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. My only experience of conventions beforehand had been Armageddon Expo and a tiny Syndey Supanova (which was admittedly pretty bad). I knew there would be lines, oh boy there would be lines, I knew that it was very gamer-based, and I knew that a lot of cool cosplayers would be there.

And oh boy, there really were a lot of cool cosplayers there.  The lines? They weren’t so bad, PAX sure knew how to handle them (I’m looking at you, Armageddon). I made a couple buddies while waiting, there were places to get water, and there were actual line barriers taped down to keep everyone in order and out of the way. The enforcers were mostly friendly and helpful, keeping us entertained and behaved. I waited over an hour for the Rooster Teeth panel, and a couple Bioware things, and it was hardly painful!

Are all big international cons this nice? If so, I’m going to have to go to them more often.

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For the entry line (which we missed) you could play with giant balls and score goals with them.

A sidenote: the con had its own app, which you could use to look up what was happening and plan out your day, setting alarms for panels and events. If you ever go to a PAX, I highly suggest downloading the app as it’s super handy for organization. I know there was also a barcode-finding game going on around the con, which may or may not have been playable through said app. For all I know, this is normal for most big conventions outside of New Zealand. If so, please bear with my excitement!

The con was busy, it was sold out all three days months before, but the layout and open space made it seem less so. There were two linked main buildings: one for the exhibition floor and gaming areas, and one purely for the large number of theatres that constantly had something happening even late into the night. The lack of crowds to push through was a breath of fresh air after Auckland Armageddon the previous weekend; the heat, however, was not.

On Friday I tagged along with my friend to the Rooster Teeth panel (as I mentioned above) which was an absolute riot. I was in awe of how well the lines were minded and organized, and of the tech the main stage had. Jack and Ray came out dancing to Thriller, with synchronized lighting. While everyone was cheering I was just thinking, Armageddon doesn’t have synchronized light shows and useful screens. Priorities, right?

On top of lining up for panels, people lining up for questions was also bizarre and new to me. Of course it makes sense for such a large convention. So much more efficient—I like it! A couple Slenderman cosplayers gave us all some good chuckles, and there were some hesitant laughs at people asking to stroke Jack’s beard. Why do nerds do these things? We just don’t know. (And yes, the beard was stroked.)

I was there to witness the announcement that Australia would be getting the premiere of Rooster Teeth’s film, Lazer Team, something I didn’t even know existed until that day. Everyone else was excited, so I cheered along too. Aus is basically NZ, right?

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Typically for a con, the ATMs all went down.

After that I happened to stumble upon the Diversity Lounge, in which I was given a lanyard repping diversity (one thing about PAX: there were a lot of lanyards to collect). I thought the room was a really cool idea, with booths dedicated to diverse causes and areas to sit and play games. Next time I would think maybe a bigger area could be carved out with some extra places to just chill out—it would make a good safe zone for LGBT+ folk to get away if needed.

I actually found the lounge on the way to a panel about diversity in games: Queering Video Games. This sounded like my jam, I’m all about queer folk in games. (Another sidenote: the queue room for the panel had a water cooler and cups, a lifesaver in that heat!)

The description of the panel:

“How can video games explore queer themes and stories? Why is it even a problem if they don’t? What impact does the lacklustre depiction of LGBT characters have on gamers? Most importantly, what steps are developers taking to improve that representation in games?

Join a panel of experienced queer developers – ranging from indie to AAA – for an inside look at “gay games”, LGBT content in mainstream titles, and the challenges of making games that represent the diversity of the people who play them.”

Run by Jeffrey Yohalem (Lead Writer of Child of Light), Maya Kerr (Lecturer at SAE Institute) James Dominguez (Writer at Fairfax Media), Liam Esler (Associate producer and writer at Beamdog), and Luke Miller (Indie dev), the panel was extremely interesting for me as someone who both enjoys video games and would love to one day write for them.

A part that specifically stuck with me was Yohalem speaking about the lack of romance in Child of Light, as I seriously saw a lot of myself in the main character, Aurora. It was explained that she was very purposely not given a romance or a sexuality—both because of how young she was (it was a coming of age story, really) and because it was non-essential to the plot. Lack of a love story in games is pretty rare, but it’s something that I feel should be more common both in games and other media. Asexuals and aromantics do exist, surprisingly.

Also mentioned at that panel: David Gaider and his writing, Bioware in general (in which I would give a hearty “Hell yes!”), and Dorn the aggressively flirty, bisexual half-orc. His romance was apparently bugged so that turning him down meant the romance flags were checked, which pissed off a lot of homophobic gamers. I can’t remember the specifics of it, but the idea of it is still hilariously amazing to me.

A good point that was brought up during the panel was that antagonism towards LGBT+ folk needs to stop happening in games and other media. Unfortunately if you happen to fall under that umbrella, you’ll have met that antagonism yourself in real life. Showing LGBT+ characters as depressed, struggling, and victimized in games targets cis and straight demographics to educate, or to cause sympathetic responses.

It’s diversity of a kind, but it’s not aimed at us, the people who are being represented. What was said is that we need more positive stories about queer people for queer people. We need to see ourselves happy in stories, and we need for others to see us happy too. Gone Home was mentioned, and it’s a game i desperately need to play.

The fact that panels about diversity such as Queering Video Games and others including Women in Video Games: Improving Things for Everyone, Playing as a Female Character – Does it Matter?, and more shows that there is a serious push within the gaming community to better ourselves, despite what some groups would have everyone believe. One panel I’m bummed about missing was Serious Games for Serious Issues: More Than Just Having Fun.

“Is it possible for us to harness this power to solve real-life issues? If so then, how? Join the Dr. Tanya Petrovich of Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, RMIT’s Dr. Lisa Dethridge and team behind the award-winning Virtual Dementia Experience and find out how gaming technologies can be used to solve serious issues.”

Typically, I found the Star Wars people
Typically, I found the Star Wars people

After that I managed to stumble upon the Rebel Legion and Mandalorian Mercs, which is of no surprise to anyone, ever. I talked to them about typical Star Wars stuff, and was told that I should apply with my Leia costume (cue fangirl squeal). I love that no matter where I go, Star Wars fans will always be there for me to gravitate towards!

(You could almost say they gave me a new hope for my costume, which I was slightly worried about.)

I also went to a Bioware panel on Friday, Bioware: Stories You Can Play. A panel about the evolution of Bioware’s storytelling over the years—From Baldur’s Gate to the near released (at the time) Dragon Age: Inquisition. Everyone knows how much I love Bioware games (though I may criticize them) and I adore the writing of the games the majority of the time, so this panel was very exciting for me.

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*Holy music playing*

The panel included Mike Laidlaw (Dragon Age Creative Director), Aidan Scanlan (Assistant Director of Design), and Mark Wilson (Lead Technical Designer)—and I’m positive there was a fourth person, though the website doesn’t list him.  I got a free Vivienne poster going into the panel (amazing!) and when we entered the main theatre we were greeted by the Inquisition theme music and synchronized lights. Once more, I was a little jealous.

The panel opened with a trailer for Inquisition, much to my joy—and the joy of the man next to me, who I’d talked to for a while about Bioware’s games while waiting. It was an extremely fascinating panel about RPGs in the mainstream, and Bioware’s way of looking at narrative in general. Especially fascinating to someone (AKA me) interested in possibly writing for games one day. If you’re interested, you can watch here.

It was fun, but boy a beer never felt so good after a long, hot day.

Saturday was the day of Bioware, in which I spent the majority of the day at the Bioware/EA lounge, waiting in lines. I got an Inquisition based henna tattoo, a “proof of dragon age” card, and chatted to a few people in the line about the upcoming game. We were some of the first people to play a mostly public demo of the, at the time, upcoming game. I managed to crash the game to the Xbone dashboard and confuse the helpers, but I had a lot of fun.

My henna tattoo was a basic rendition of this
My henna tattoo was a basic rendition of this

Afterwards I saw the guy I’d met from the Bioware panel the previous day and he offered to hold my place in the signing line. I grabbed a quick lunch then ran back, only to meet the coolest Cassandra cosplayer ever who was just behind me in the line. The two of us ended up chilling out together after getting posters signed by the Bioware devs because Mike Laidlaw wanted photos with her.

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Laidlaw recognized me as Chie and we had a brief excited conversation about it!

After leaving the con that day my phone died when I was trying to find my friends, and one of the PAX enforcers just gave me his phone battery when I asked if I could borrow his phone to make a call. I swear I nearly proposed to the man on the spot, he was such a lifesaver. Since then I have a very good opinion of the enforcers.

Selfie!

Sunday was the final day, and it was probably the day I spent the most amount of time on the con floor. First thing I did after getting to the convention centre was line up for the panel, Cosplay Unlocked: Fabricating Cosplays from Scratch. Dropbear theatre, the theatre I was lining up for, had some crazy line borders!

As someone well into cosplay already there wasn’t much new material for me, but it was good information for people looking to get more into the hobby. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of cosplay panels at the con (and by how popular they were), though I missed all but the one. The moment the panel was done I gapped it to the cosplay group photo.

Photo by David Ma.
Spot the Saf! Photo by David Ma.

I spent a lot of the day with my friend who was acting as an official photographer, so I got a lot of photos myself. I also played a lot of the indie games on show. Some of notice were Stormworm, like a three dimensional Snake, Crabitron, in which you are a giant space crab eating candy, and Nippy Cats, a ridiculously simple game about keeping catnip away from cats that is more fun than you’d think. I would thoroughly recommend all three of those game, they’re all a lot of fun (and Nippy Cats is free—even better!)

We wanted to win the shirt, but we couldn't get the high score
We wanted to win the shirt, but we couldn’t get the high score.

Before I knew it the day was done. By the end of the con I was thoroughly exhausted and totally ready to lie down and sleep for a few days. I’d had a lot a lot of fun, but two three-day cons in two weeks had been very full on.

The PAX afterparty at the pop-up Beta Bar was our final stop that day. We played far too much Mario Kart (which I officially suck at), and I complained a lot about the lack of cocktail diversity on the menu. We met some interesting folk there and got a free pack of Cards Against Humanity cards that included some real gems. Of particular interest: the dickbutt card.

That was a strange night, let me tell you.
That was a strange night, let me tell you.

One of my highlights from the weekend was a guy asking me for a photo because, “I promised my daughter if I saw a Leia I’d get a photo of her.” I truly hope that his daughter was excited, because that is one of my favourite parts of cosplay.

All in all, it was an amazing weekend. Melbourne was gorgeous and the people were so lovely. The con was massive, filled with things to do, panels to see, and some breathtaking cosplay. I 100% would love to go to PAX Aus again this year if I can swing it, because it was one of the best cons I’ve ever attended. I’m thankful for everyone I met (and especially for the few I’m still in touch with.)

If you get the chance to go to PAX Aus—or any PAX at that—I would definitely suggest you go. There’s something for everyone, from video, card, and boardgames, to panels about anything a gamer could be interested in, to cosplay groups and shoots. I definitely look forward to the next time I get to go!

Oh look, it's me.
Oh look, it’s me.

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