Thursday, April 12, 2012

Another Goddamn PAX East Diary (But Different)

I figure I should probably get back into the swing of writing things before I lose any sense of personal momentum. For the sake of easing back in, I figure the best thing to do is cobble together my snatches of experience from Twitter posts and/or drunken photo ops and compose them into a singular overarching idea.

I didn't have a Media pass; I was at a Holiday Inn with three good friends. I didn't go to any of the major panels or booths; no Ken Levine, no Casey Hudson, no Bioware, no Assassin's Creed, no Max Payne 3. Patience is a virtue, but there's only so much any of those spectacles are worth. I generally drew the line at 30 minutes to an hour, and had a far better four days for it. So, what did I do, see, think, experience? Who did I meet at talk to? We'll get into that. But, as someone who's now a repeat visitor to this thing, consider this an alternative guide on what to do.

Pictured: idiots who are doing it all wrong.

1. Do it yourself, and do it early.

Hotel reservations, Night Zero event tickets, floor passes; whatever it is, your friends cannot be trusted. Get it the second it goes on sale if you know for sure you're going, since all that waiting does is give The Enemy more time to cut you off. As much as your friends might be a pivotal part of the fun, they can also slap your Snooze button or vanish into thin air. Independence is a plus that pays back tenfold.

2. Patience is only a virtue for so long.

The things with the longest lines are generally the most worthless; ditto things inside enclosed spaces you cannot see from the line or the floor proper. Why are you waiting in a line for 90 minutes to hang around in a standing-room-only closet and have paid cosplayers / community managers screen trailers that hit the Internet the day before? An inflatable sword you're going to pop in a week? I played Rock Band Blitz, The Secret World, Joe Danger, SpellTower and the upcoming Jet Set Radio XBLA port... and my wait times were maybe 10 minutes for each. if that. Waiting 2 hours to watch promotional footage doesn't magically become a smart idea because you paid for a convention pass. The number of stations is proportional to how much they want their game in the public's hands.

3. All your disdain is completely justified.

All those horror stories you've heard are true. The Utilikilts, Vibram monkey-foot toe shoes, booth babe gawking, leather fedoras. Everyone spineless, slavering fanboy and devotee of the stinking morass that composes the "greater nerd culture" is out in force. The number of DS units I saw made me wonder if they were standard issue; what happened to MP3 players and books? I'm not advocating picking any fights, because you'll never win by virtue of sheer number, but if you find yourself reflexively looking down your nose at half the people you walk by, don't fight it.

Now imagine wearing them in a public bathroom.

4. Civil disobedience is your friend.

"Enforcers" are the volunteer staff in charge of everything not handled by the convention center employees, and yes, a handful will actually prove helpful and understanding, having applied for the sake of creating a better experience for everyone. But, much like real police forces, ulterior motives are generally your best bet: easy access on off-shift hours, power-tripping, focusing attention on themselves, so on. Their ability to help you in the event of an actual need, such as directions or clearly-stated instructions, ranges from limited to active hindrance. Don't go around making people's lives worse, but don't be shy about subtly telling them to stuff it when barking demands rudely or treating you like a child. The unofficial Rule 1 of "Don't be a dick" should apply to all parties.

5. Take chances on the fringes.

Read every panel description; give every booth about 10 fair seconds of attention. Don't be afraid to gamble on an hour for a low-visibility panel; if you're like me, you can get through the convention floor almost entirely on your first day. As you work beyond the video game ends and through the card games to the tabletop section, you are almost guaranteed to notice a distinct drop-off in weenies. My longest wait was to alpha test "D&D Next", and a deck of Cards Against Humanity with some well-adjusted people killed that time. And to say nothing about discovering Legend of the Cipher and its wide-eyed, ambitious attempt to merge Bambataa's Five Pillars and real people in the music business with a CCG.

I sincerely wish only the best for these people.

6. Cherish the sane ones.

Much like the Internet from which most of the people at PAX claim a second citizenship to, your best bet is to seek out and stick by the handful who can give you a good conversation, or at the very least a pleasant exchange. If you get along with someone online and you can both pass for socially functional, chances are you'll enjoy each other's company. Whether drunken IHOP visits or quick tit-for-tats, don't pass up a chance at making human connections for anything. Some of my most memorable time was just chatting with people who didn't even necessarily share my opinions, but picking their brains was delightful on its own. Pass-holders, panelists, presenters, organizers, convention center staff, whoever; make contacts and make friends while you're in the same physical space. 

7. Drink more booze, and do it off-site.

Self-explanatory... just be responsible. Make your own fun whenever possible, because Heaven knows nobody is going to do it for you. If it's on a schedule, it's going to be crowded and any magic there might have been will be diluted. Know when it's time to get your alone time and your sleep in so the next day isn't all woe and misery.

Good as a spa visit; soundtrack by pre-Aja Steely Dan.
8. Pinch every penny. 

Between your hotel, your airfare/gasoline/train ticket, your passes, and your food, haven't you already shelled out your share? Impulse purchases are how some of the booth workers make their entire salaries; they don't need yours. Ask yourself at every pass if you'd buy it if you sitting at home and looking at an online order form. Are you ever going to wear that shirt in public, in front of other people in a social setting? Exactly how much dust is that foam Minecraft sword going to collect if it survives the trip home? I spent less than $20 on "souvenir" goods while on the floor of the BCEC, but still blew through almost $300 on necessities. Budget yourself before leaving if you have to.

9. Pull yourself out of it once in a while.

Every moment you take to recognize the patent absurdity in everything you're seeing and doing is crucial to keeping your head on. Remember your place in the greater world against all the pressure to lose yourself. Keep up with news on the outside world, or just poke a few air holes for yourself. Examples:
Glorified press release in standing room only mini-theater receives orgasmic screams of delight.
 Discarded promotional Lincoln hat lying unloved against bench. Consumption and disposal, accelerated to poignant melancholy.
Small child of undetermined ethnicity haunts food court, belly distended in famine. Fat Mario orders burger. Gaia weeps softly. 
10. Make it count.

You'll never see it all. In fact, you're almost guaranteed to have two things lined up in just such a way where catching both is untenable. Not just happening at the same time, either; factor in wait times and even panels an hour apart can be conjoined into a snafu. If it's going to be worth getting into, get there an hour before the start and judge the crowd. Cosplay-heavy fanboy nest like the Mass Effect panel? Nobody's gonna nut up and say anything negative, so just bounce. Is there a man holding a sign to say it's too early to start waiting so I should come back later to wait properly for 2 hours? Call it an early day and book it for the hotel; nothing is worth being screamed at with threats of pass confiscation, especially if it's going to be recorded and archived anyway. Remember your own worth as a human being when deciding the worth of something!

How seriously am I supposed to take you? Other than 'not at all'?

So... should you go? Eh, why not. Revel in some absurdity, take self-important nerds down a peg or two, make some new acquaintances, have some experiences, engage in dialogue, shake hands, get drunk, take pictures. Tune in the pulse of this strange proto-subculture you've defaulted into. Remind yourself that the few people out there with half a brain and some fraction of a heart are out there, scattered adrift in the same indifferent sea of waddling money pinatas as you. Clear a few days in your schedule; go and find them at all costs.

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