Timing is everything. I’ve never felt compelled to go to conventions like PAX West or look into cosplay or remove myself from my gaming-at-home bubble. Experiencing the stories and characters was personal. Something I did curled up in my own space where I was free to laugh out loud, cry, or huff about the decisions I was forced to make. Playing online and with friends provided a social aspect that I loved deeply, but to go out into the open world and walk amongst the convention hall crowds? That has always been a simple ‘no’ from me.
But timing is everything.
My husband has been trying to get me out of my comfort zone for years to go to a convention – any convention – with him. He’s also gently pushed my thoughts over the years to actually working in the gaming industry. It was always another ‘no’ from me, because I felt that I was unqualified, not nerdy or gamer enough, and that even if I wanted to I had missed my window of opportunity.
That timing thing, though.
In early August, I gave my 2 weeks notice to my office job and decided I was going to go for it and get into the gaming industry. I was going to embrace myself and my passions and never look back. Get out of my comfort zone. I had absolutely nothing lined up except for pieces of personal projects I’ve been trying to put together. So when it came up with perfect timing, I applied for a weekend job that entailed working at PAX West. Not just working, but talking to people and explaining games and how to play their demos. With Ubisoft. And I got it. I had no idea what to expect and walked into the Washington State Convention Center with a little bit of a guard up. My boothmates quickly took that down, though. I got to connect with some talented, funny, kind-hearted people. They never questioned my constant poor dancing when my legs began to ache from the hours of standing; instead, they danced with me.
And that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? To be danced with. To not only have your quirks on display but to have them embraced and encouraged. Those moments of connection with them or those at other booths or attendees who struck up a conversation were what got me through the day. I had a few conversations about keeping motivation alive, chasing dreams, and the realities surrounding the chase.
I also got the quiet moments that I gravitate towards. Getting onto the demo floor about an hour before the crowds were let in gave me my time to wander. I slowly approached an interesting booth and quietly ask my questions. I tried to memorize where each booth was and what they were doing, creating road maps in my head to navigate for when the aisles would be congested with bodies. The clock would hit 10 AM and the everything would swell with movement.
Experiencing PAX West
First of all, I want to report that I’m typing this out while battling my convention-cold. Seems like an obvious side effect to being around so many people, but it completely slipped my mind. If you’re going to your first PAX event or convention, take some preemptive measures. If you happen to be working, take care of your voice and throat: 4 days of raising my voice over game trailers, crowd noise, and onstage live streams took its toll.
First impressions: everything feels larger than life. Lit up booth signs tower over you (as to be seen over the crowds and other booths), attemping to draw you in with photo opportunities or rest areas. It’s impressive and quickly overwhelming, even when you know where everything is and how to navigate the space.
Being an ambivert, I was relieved to be sheltered by the safety of the booth and its footprint. It felt like being sheltered in a lighthouse perched amidst a roaring sea. Navigating to try to experience moments of PAX West during breaks wasn’t always welcome. I would often retreat to the edges of rooms were people weren’t as clustered. Otherwise, it was time spent shuffling in a pack from lane to lane, intersection to intersection, nearly running into people who stop mid-stride in the aisle to gaze at a game. I felt surrounded by creatures raising their heads above the tide of the crowd to get their barrings, on the hunt for something shiny to grab their attention, before the plunging back into the current of shuffling feet. When possible, I relied on my habit to slip between people quickly, twisting my body around their obliviousness to holding up the slow moving mechanism around them.
Other times I’d escape the building all together for lunch. Food wasn’t scarce inside, though, there were 3 locations that I knew of within the demo floors offering meals. 1 of which had a vegan ‘Mediterranean Plate’ with mostly humus and pita bread. Off the demo floor was my favorite spot, Juicy Cafe, which offers salads and rice bowls. I’d grab something and retreat outside for a moment away.
Despite my reaction to the crowd, there were plenty of reasons to keep braving the waters and venturing out. The concept of Pinny Arcade, a Disney-esque pin collecting system in which you’re encouraged to trade with others, was more fun that I thought it’d be. You can buy them or collect them for doing demos and/or taking photos at booths. There’s plenty of event-specific merch that sold out within the first 2 days, one being a shirt from Twitch that I was happy to snag. If you’re looking to get those exclusive pieces from these events, being early is the only way to do it.
I didn’t have time to sit through panels, which I neglected. To be honest, I don’t even know what panels were going on. I’m fortunate enough to be able to attend Creative Mornings, a monthly lecture series, so I get to hear from local creatives frequently. Due to this, I didn’t feel a strong need to try and make it to a panel during a lunch break. However, if given an opportunity to do this again and not work, I think I would spend most of my experience in panels, with breaks to venture out into the choas.
My Conclusion: Outside of the event specific merch and getting to demo games before they’re released, I honestly don’t feel the urgent pull to go to every event that pops up. I enjoyed working and sharing the games with people far more than walking around and just trying to attend. My passion rests on that side of the spectrum anyway: sharing, explaining, showing, revealing worlds to others.
I want to end this by talking about games that made me excited to spend some of my spare time at their booths. That’s the other part of what these things are really for, aren’t they? The want to experience, discover, and embrace games that move you are so heavily entwined in events like PAX that I couldn’t write this without mentioning new games.
4 games in particular stood out to me. In the relatively quiet moments before PAX West officially started, I’d head to these booths and talk to those demoing the games or watch others as they played.
Upon walking onto the demo floor, turning to the right offered a glimpse of the giant sign for Gris – a game I’ve been following since its announcement. I’ve followed the illustrator behind the game, Conrad Roset, for quite a while. An artist from Terrassa, Spain, Conrad’s artistic style has always moved me. His watercolors and linework are soft, emotive, yet protective and powerful. You can imagine my excitement when he announced he would be working on a game. Gris is about a girl, lost in her own world and mind, dealing with pain and sorrow. Much like why I instantly fell for Sea of Solitude, Gris promises to offer soft, introspective moments with gorgeous visuals.
I didn’t know Gris was going to be at PAX West, so I was utterly delighted when I saw it. There were 3 spots that facilitated gameplay – two soft chairs and a loveseat. You sat in an atmosphere that could be your living room, put on the headphones, and played. I loved every ounce of how this game was presented to those demoing it; there were no multiple booths to stand at, no feelings of rushing through a game play. You sat comfortably and fell into the world of Gris.
Available: December, 2018
The Gardens Between
I stopped at this booth after seeing the artwork. The Gardens Between, a tale of two best friends navigating the world together, has a dreamy childhood vibe with a unique puzzle-solving gameplay. You don’t control either of the friends but rather the flow of time. As Arina and Frendt navigate a level, you solve the level’s puzzle by moving time back and forth. The key is that the environment stays the way you leave it. For example, an action (pressing a button) made by one of the friends does nothing at first. A few moments later there is a way to turn power on to items, meaning that rewinding the friends and allowing the action to be made again (pushing a button) now has consequence and allows them to advance in the level.
Available: September 20, 2018
The World Next Door
Many games that I’ve seen that are story-driven indie games have static backgrounds with character art moving on and off the screen. You select your choices and the story continues. For this kind of game play, look to the popular Dream Daddy or Doki Doki Literature Club set up. The World Next Door mixes this interaction with puzzles and battles.
You follow the story of Jun, a teenage girl trapped in a parallel world filled with demons and spirits. As you play, the game promises that mysteries will be revealed and I’m assuming you’ll find a way to get Jun back home.
Available: Early 2019
The Inner Friend
I almost walked by this game completely, but a momentary glance at the gameplay made me do a double take. At first I thought this was connected to Inside from the visuals, but it is not. Even so, when I learned this game as a horror story vibe, I was sucked in.
The Inner Friend pushes you into the deep end of a chilling experience about childhood fears and unresolved trauma. You play as a literally fragmented child, running through nightmarish landscapes, solving puzzles to conquer fears one by one. Everything, from the visuals to the music, will keep you on edge.
Available: September 6, 2018
I encourage you to check these out for yourself. If none of these spark your interest, find the other games shown on the Indie Megabooth site. Supporting indie games really helps those of us wanting to follow our dreams and passions to tell stories and share them with the world.