“Shit, have they capped the line?” wondered a 20-something woman in a home made Bayonetta cosplay, arriving only minutes before Saturday night’s Let’s Play Some Bad Dating Sims panel in the Galah Theatre. Her boyfriend, dressed less ambitiously in a tee and jeans, stared hopelessly at the line.
“Guys!” I called excitedly from my position in line, “Over here!”
I’d run into these two earlier in the day while waiting for the Fakin’ It: Game Reviews panel and in the 30 minutes we’d been in line, we’d become friends. Chatting about the show, getting to know each other. And here they were again. They hurried over.
While it is deeply, Capital-U Unaustralian to let people cut in line, the thing about PAX is that that nobody really seems to mind. Everyone’s there to have a good time. If you would like to join them in the Good Time, then by all means, join your friends in the queue. Testing the theory, my new friends stood nearby under the pretence of having a chat and as the line began to move inside, they simply came with me.
The same thing happens at every panel you attend — it happened to me again on Friday at the Gamespot Theatre ahead of the fantastic Are We Having Fun? panel about playing games with a critical eye. Not only were Rami Ismail’s stories about fooling the player worth their weight in gold (as was watching poor Dave Hollingworth undergo the mental equivalent of gravitational collapse in real time), the audience and the friends I made in the line were all of a similar mind and ready to learn.
These two events — the making of new friends and some of the local games and tech industry’s best and brightest making me laugh — are two of my very favourite things about the annual PAX Aus convention here in Melbourne. I’ve been to the show every year since its inception in 2013, and every year I have found these two facets to be by far the show’s most enjoyable moments.
There’s about a thousand things you can do at PAX, this we know. Esports, Tabletop, the crowded Expo Hall with its queues, the indie pavillion, console, PC and VR freeplay, tournaments, meet ups, cosplay … it goes on and on. And all of these things are enjoyable, they’re places I make sure to spend a little time every year. But the simple act of making friends in a queue for a panel is one of the show’s happy consequences.
Everyone is at the show because of a shared love of games, so finding common ground is easy. You chat happily in the line, you enjoy a panel together and a little bond is formed. I’ve had PAXes where I’ve met whole groups of people this way and ended up being invited out to drinks with them at the end of the day.
I don’t have this experience at any other convention, and I cover a lot of different conventions and consumer trade shows. None of them have the atmosphere that PAX does, the background hum of thousands of people stoked to be in one another’s company. At trade shows where media dominate the crowd coming through the doors each day, this is not surprising — we see events like these all the time, and we can be a jaded, cynical lot as a result. For PAX-goers, they’re being treated to that same kind of experience we see a lot of and they’re living for it.
The Expo Hall, an area that by this point in the year holds little interest for media (save for quick and happy catch ups with people we know in PR and distribution), is a pretty solid reconstruction of The E3 Experience with the added benefit of merch stands, PC hardware manufacturers, Esports and more. A point almost universally agreed upon, however, is that the Expo Hall’s best and most interesting section is the PAX Rising indie pavilion. Every year this area is stacked high with some of the most interesting independent titles from developers both local and international. Getting to spend some hands-on time with these games and actually speak to the developers, who are typically found manning the booth themselves, is one of the many things about PAX Aus that makes the convention unique.
This year saw a strong contingent from Melbourne and Sydney on the floor, including Robot House’s recently-announced Rumu, a game about a little cleaning robot that lives in a state-of-the-art smart home. When you, Rumu, stumble into a secret part of the house and begin to uncover the some ugly truths about your eccentric owners David and Cecily, you are faced with some rather troubling moral decisions. One to watch for sure. You can add it to your Steam watchlist now. For the devs as much as the punters, this face-to-face interaction is of vital importance. To get to see how someone who has never played your game before reacts to it in the moment is incredibly valuable. It is also yet another way that PAX Aus allows people who love games to meet one another and form friendships and connections.
But the show is behind us again for another year. As the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre emptied on Sunday afternoon there were, as there are always is, a lot of joy among the tired faces. Despite a lot of aching legs and feet, people stopped in droves to take photos of the sign above the centre’s main door, the one that had on Friday been displaying the familiar “Welcome Home.” At 5pm on Sunday afternoon it now read “See you next year.”
Yeah, you will.