The first time I saw the convention center for the con this year was when I was blowing by it on the 522 back to Woodinville to catch dinner with friends. I put both my hands on the window and nearly fogged it up in my excitement. For just a moment, I was 13 at my first PAX again. I was on the side of the bus closest to the secondary building of the convention center, connected to the main building by a skybridge a few floors up. PAX-folk call it the Annex, and there's always something cool going on with the windows that become a wall and a half of the first floor.
That's strange, I remarked to myself, seeing how no monster had broken through the glass, and how there were no flashing lights. Instead, there was just complete window art.
I didn't even need to squint. The letters, in a comical, all-caps font, spoke in a sort of premonition-y way...that was also comical: FORTNITE
|I'm decently impressed with how well this photo came out, considering the bus was moving.|
It was soon made extremely apparent to me what had taken over the con center. As well, Facebook, of all people, had a much larger presence, allegedly having a large booth and cameras everywhere. Truth be told, Facebook did film me in the line to get in on Friday and I'm sure my face will be out there on the blue Zuckertopia. It was the absences, too, that made me concerned going in: No major Wizards of the Coast presence, and Magic wouldn't be in the Annex, because of the Fortnite mini golf. D&D was in a hotel as usual. No Blizzard, as if that mattered to me, but I know that with the popularity of Overwatch, it was strange.
Of course, I only saw these things when I looked. I was more focused on the indie floors, where I was disappointed to realize that Klei wasn't present, but that was only one company not present that I had somewhat expected, especially with the oncoming release of Don't Starve: Hamlet. However, the Megabooth, TinyBuild, and the sixth floor were all still hopping with excitement, new titles (like Disco Elysium and Risk of Rain 2 (which was really good, according to my people)) and companies gaining momentum with games close to release.
I was hanging out at PC freeplay (where my friend won third in the Speedrunners tournament!) when I realized just how much the incoming big-deals like Fortnite were changing the PAX texture. All younger kids with foam pickaxes, talking about pins and mini golf and something about a spray...? I remember my excitements that others thought were cringey, and I afford these younger gamers the respect I wish I had gotten from older people, but then I realized that had I been a year younger, we all would have been in the same school, and I wondered if there was actually just something wrong about me not really caring about what was missing in terms of brands and games.
|(source) Services like Elgato Streaming Pods are rather new to the PAX scene|
What filled in the gaps opened up to me how PAX was changing from the last time I'd attended in a way I could chew on a little better. Facebook, Mixer, Twitch, and Elgato became popular names between the partner lounges, streaming pods, gaming focuses... Streaming is without a doubt on the rise - I'm looking to get into it, too - and more of PAX is being catered towards them. I'm not talking about the whole fiasco around media preference at booths and whatever happened with Gris, but as you look at the excitement of the incoming PAX generation, of which I am a part, there's more and more excitement towards meeting up with streamers, Youtubers, and other content creators at the con.
This of course has established a slight generational gap in PAX goers. This was largely addressed on the Reddit thread, "A lot of people seem to think that this years PAX 'Just felt Different Somehow'..." Opinions bounced back and forth between older generations not enjoying streaming as a game consumption method, and others commented on the benefits streaming had for them. However, everyone certainly agreed that PAX was taking a shift towards being more of a corporate host for big names, and that was just how it was growing. One Redditor really struck a chord for me:
"I just do NOT get the appeal (at 37 years old) of the whole streamer thing. If I want to play a game, I'll go play it...The show has changed, it has gotten bigger, flashier, etc. But it's fundamentally still PAX - and PAX is purely what you make of it" (MotWokorb)
MotWokorb is quite right - PAX is what you make of it. As a person with a lower gaming budget (hell, a lot of that budget goes into PAX tickets themselves), AAA games never quite surfaced for me, and so not being active in that area of the con only exposed me to the indie floors and tabletop areas, which didn't face the issues presented by popular media, streamers, and whatever the heck Facebook is trying to do. What I made of PAX was a chance to meet like-minded puzzle-solving minions playing Dr. Exoskeleton, or get really excited about Boyfriend Dungeon and YIIK on the sixth floor, but had I gone in more geared towards the big names on the dark, crowded main expo hall floor, I'm sure my enjoyment would have certainly changed.
|booths like Discord also got more space, but that's fine, because Discord, like PAX, is for gamers. They also had games to play.|
As PAX adjusts to current popular interests, I doubt that I will lose interest in it. PAX, though some may argue that it is shifting from this, is still a convention for gamers. It's the gamers that make it so - Even if more and more of the expo hall becomes monopolized for corporate and even if streamers start to take over as the main attractions, it's the community of cookie-buying, pipecleaner twisting (and handing out!), dancing, smiling people that make PAX something I save up for and return to every year.
For now, the con still has the main events that I'm interested in, be it the tabletop freeplay, the indie games, or the plague doctor minions lurking silently nearby... And as long as I have the family of PAX to come back to, I'll still be going.