Note: This is a LONG post.
Travelling 700 miles by bus is a task. I’ve been told that I must really like the event to spend 17 hours on several different buses to attend, but that’s not entirely true. The weekend prior to PAX East, when many of my friends were attending Emerald City Comicon, I was filled with so much longing. The last time I saw many of them was PAX South at the end of January. ECCC is my favourite convention. I love the people, the location (Seattle!), and the event itself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it happen. Instead, watching my friends have a blast through their social media feeds, I became determined to make PAX East work. And I did.
The weekend started with a hiccup, as they do sometimes. Being unable to connect with anyone to hang out with when my bus arrived, I panicked. I immediately wondered if it was worth it, and my brain started working through backup plans. I finished changing at the bus station, deciding that I would check my bags there and wander the city alone, when I received a message from friends who’d just gotten in. I didn’t have to spend the day before con alone.
At the event itself, I spent a decent amount of time on the show floor, looking at merchandise and the demos available. A few that caught my eye that I wasn’t able to play were Rain World, Dauntless, The American Dream, and A Cat’s Manor. I kept eyeing the Brawlhalla booth, which I’d tried at PAX South and absolutely loved, but it was busy every time I went by. Fortunately, it’s free on Steam, so I definitely recommend checking it out.
I attended two panels that weekend: the highly anticipated Mass Effect: Andromeda panel, which was Bioware’s return to the convention panel rooms, and Foreplay: Romance in Games which is a crowd favourite (though only my first time attending it).
I didn’t take too many notes during the Mass Effect panel, being totally enamoured with the content they were showing. The game looked stunning. Before attending the panel I was pretty excited for ME: A, but I didn’t have it pre-ordered and figured I would pick it up later. After the panel, my need for this game increased exponentially and I made a note to immediately pre-order it when I returned home. We got to see a bunch of Liam’s loyalty mission, and aside from being visually stunning, it brought back one of my favourite things about Bioware games: the banter. The character interactions between Ryder, Cora, and Liam were natural and entertaining. I have an undying love for witty character banter, and these scenes delivered. I’m so excited to play it myself, having made a single tweet during the panel: “So horny for this one.”
On the flip side, I took a page full of notes during the Romance in Games panel, most of which don’t make any cohesive sense. My favourite part of the panel was the very beginning, during the introductions, when fanfiction snuck its way into the conversation. The door swung open and a booming voice called out a greeting. Mike Laidlaw (creative director for Dragon Age at Bioware) had entered the room in the most dramatic fashion possible. He made his way onto the stage, saying he had one question for Arden, and pulled off his top shirt to reveal, “DO YOU EVEN RIFT BRO?” underneath. He posed triumphantly. The crowd went wild. It was the single greatest introduction to a panel I’d ever seen.
A few key concepts from the panel that I’m able to decipher from my scattered notes include data from a study on the three most important factors of video games to the two binary genders. Men prefer games with elements of Destruction, Competition, and Completion. Women prefer their games to have elements of Collection, Completion, and Customization. This data is important for figuring out where the similarities lie in order to market games to a wider audience. Another concept from my notes is the idea of stress reactions. We’re used to the idea of “Fight or Flight,” but there’s another key decision we make in situations, which is “Tend or Befriend.” You see a lot more video games giving you options that lean to that side, with a little more caring and a little more heart, and it’s really nice to see. “Romance in books is massive, why isn’t it in video games?”
The panelists mentioned a few of their favourite romances and relationships in video games such as Delilah of Firewatch, and the mentor/pop idol relationship in Yakuza 5. Much of the panel was currently playing My Horse Prince, which is a free dating game app where you…date a horse with a man’s face. Kind-of. They also had good things to say about the Kitty Powers Matchmaker series, which I’ve made a note to check out.
The aforementioned Arden is also the writer of Date or Die, which was demoing in the Visual Novel Room. I stopped by and picked up We Know the Devil, after having heard overwhelmingly positive reviews from my friends. And really, at $5, how could I not? They also had Ladykiller in a Bind, which I actually own and have started, and A Normal Lost Phone, which I had actually just received from the IndieBox booth (a monthly subscription box for Indie games, which sounds pretty cool).
I stopped by the Firewatch booth twice, despite having not played it yet (listen, my backlog is ridiculous). A friend of mine was working the booth, which was my original reason for stopping by, and they also had a photobooth. Photobooths are by far my favourite PAX activity, and the best way to get me to stop by your booth. The Assassin’s Creed movie booth also had a greenscreen for photos, which was super cool! The staff working it were super friendly, and even let me get into costume over my bulky Nug suit.
There’s always the moments after the convention where regret sets in, from not enough time spent with people you wanted to see, from the people you missed entirely, from the things you wanted to do but didn’t find time for. But when I look back at the weekend, it was perfect. It’s hard to make all the connections work, and we did our best, and it turned out great. For the first time since my first PAX East in 2012, I felt like I actually attended the convention.
I travelled 700 miles by bus because I was lonely. And it was totally worth it.