This past weekend Penny Arcade brought their gaming convention to the east coast for the inaugural PAX East. The original Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX Prime) was founded in 2004 by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik (aka Gabe & Tycho) as a way to bring together all aspects of gaming culture. The convention has grown in size and acclaim in the intervening years leading them to bring it on the road. Their reputation is held in such high regard that PAX East was held to a sold out crowd with reports of over 60,000 attendees and plans of moving to the larger Boston Convention and Expo Center for 2011 and 2012.
Major video game companies like Rockstar, Disney, EA and many more demoed their new products for gamers who travelled from all over to take part. One group drove two straight days from Washington, the home of PAX Prime, just to join the festivities. Wizard of the Coast hosted RPG tournaments and musicians like MC Frontalot, The Protomen, Anamanaguchi, and Metroid Metal rocked the evening concerts.
The big theme of the convention is community. In his keynote speech actor and geek culture ambassador Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation) said that Gabe and Tycho have given the city of Boston a gift and implored the standing room only audience to appreciate the next three days saying that “playing games is never so much fun as when it’s done together.” He chronicled the long history of fans of sci-fi culture gathering in hotels and ballrooms, and then gamers playing in LAN parties, to travelling to E3.
“And then when E3 sucked so very hard,” said Wheaton to the cheering crowd, “And begat the death of video games conventions, Gabe and Tycho created PAX.” This sentiment was echoed by Gabe and Tycho themselves in their Q&A panel, “The goal of PAX is to create a community of gamers as much as celebrating gaming itself.” When asked what the next location in the PAX tour is, Gabe and Tycho joked that they’d like to establish EuroPAX. But with this kind of success maybe it’s no that far from a reality.
Wheaton also praised the gaming industry for its imagination and innovation. “As a kid I was inspired by movies,” he said, “But now video games lead the entertainment industry in driving visual narratives” and cited the game Heavy Rain specifically as the apex of the medium. “In this room there could be the next Gary Gygax or the next Shigeru Miyamoto.”
Clearly, PAX East came out of the gate like a shot, blowing away everyone’s expectations. The gaming community has been given a desperately needed outlet to come together to celebrate their culture. Watch the website for when they open registration for next year’s show, it’s bound to sell out quick.