Friday, April 2, 2010

PAX East Recap - Part 1

I must be really bad at conventions.

I've attended two years of Baltimore's lovely Otakon anime convention, a bunch of events that sort of qualify as conventions, and a Star Trek convention from when I was barely tall enough to see through the crowd to notice that Patrick Stewart was, in fact, not actually calling on me to ask a question. Though my experience is limited, I was fairly certain I knew how to attend a con.

In my mind, I had a pretty good idea of what the convention scene should always be like: scope out all the nifty costumes, sit in on a few interesting panels, sample the local cuisine, only go back to sleep when your eyes are so blurry you can't tell the difference between a Moogle and an Andorian, take part in a couple of embarrassing special events, meet a handful of famous people, and leave your wallet with some nameless merchant in exchange for a bag of two things you could've gotten cheaper on eBay.

Bottom line: Conventions are exhausting and expensive, but overwhelmingly fun. Show up with money, and the convention will do the rest.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

When my girlfriend notified me that I would be driving the two of us to Boston to attend a gaming convention called PAX East, I made a face that visually expressed my simultaneous internal feelings of "How will I afford to pay for this without a full-time job?", "What if I have a full-time job then and can't afford to take off from work?", and "Buh?!"

I had never heard of PAX East because I really don't pay convention attention unless somebody drags me off to one, and also because PAX (the Penny Arcade Expo, hence the acronym) was founded by the two guys who write Penny Arcade, a webcomic that I've read in the past but don't enjoy nearly as much as other people do, and thus don't keep up with all the latest comics and news.

I filed the date away in the back of my mind and made arrangements to be free of all obligations for the last weekend of March, and that's about all the advance planning I did. My gal took care of arranging to stay with a friend who lived within commutable distance of the convention center, and it wasn't until I packed a bag and printed out directions the night before the con that I actually started giving it any thought.

PAX East, you see, is a gaming convention for gamers of all types--there's video games, tabletop roleplaying games, card games, board games, you name it. Though I am the everygeek and could easily fit in at a convention dedicated to any one of these kinds of games, the convention setting is not necessarily ideal for my style of gaming.

I'm not much of one for social gaming, so Rock Band and Smash Bros. are fun for temporarily vanquishing bouts of boredom with friends, but I get worn out playing them very quickly in most cases. Tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons are a blast when you know what's being organized, but I didn't want to blindly drag my books around when there was no guarantee that I'd find a group to play with, or a specific roleplaying game I could pick up and (want to) play, or that I'd want to potentially miss out on the rest of the con for a session that could easily run for several hours. Card and board games can be great fun with the right group of people, but learning the rules and playing through anything longer than Fluxx can be just as big a time investment as tabletop RPGs.

More importantly, most of the games I might be playing at the convention I could easily play at home. If I was going to the expense and effort of attending PAX East, I might as well do things that I couldn't do anywhere else.

Like get miserably lost in downtown Boston when the map failed to communicate--I'm not making this up--four consecutive steps that were essential in ensuring that we went the correct direction when arriving at a split in the road. Getting un-lost without a GPS is next to impossible there, as the Founding Fathers obviously didn't have motor vehicles in mind when they built the streets with their bare hands.

Fortunately, a policeman with a charmingly authentic Bostonian accent pointed us in the right direction. However, I almost drove off in an offended huff when I thought I heard him tell me to "Go check Google Maps," when he actually said, "I'll go check Google Maps." That's the worst advice you can give a lost driver with no technology at his disposal, by the way--"Go check Google Maps."

Well, we followed his directions to a T, and then to an S and a V and all the other funny letter-shaped streets and intersections scattered around Boston until we reached our destination. Huzzah! Fire up the cell phone and ask our gracious host where his house was... he'll go stand outside and wave at us... he's not standing outside because this is not his street.

Boston and its surroundings have approximately only five different street names. Federal law prohibits the addition of more street names, as it might confuse the locals with the sheer variety words one would need to remember to navigate the city with any kind of efficiency.

Wanna know how we figured out how to get to the right street? We went and checked Google Maps. Ha! That's irony for ya. Actually, my girlfriend got real-time directions over the phone, like tech support in your car, and we eventually ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

Unload the car, meet and greet everybody in the apartment we were staying at, hang out a bit, and go to sleep at a half-decent hour, for the next day...

The next day, we would sleep in.

But in the afternoon! Oh, the glorious afternoon! That evening I looked over the schedule for the first time in any kind of active capacity, and my gal had already super-highlighted the main attraction, the primary reason she brought me to PAX in the first place: to see the keynote speaker, Wil Wheaton, who you may recall as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, himself on Big Bang Theory, someone from that Stand By Me movie that I never saw, and that really creepy criminal from that crime show my dad was watching that one time.

Yes, that Wil Wheaton.

You know he's almost 40 years old now? Seems like just last week he was taking the Starfleet entrance exam. Yeah, I've been watching Next Generation on DVD.

From one perspective, he's just a geek with a hip blog and a passion for gaming, which is why he was the perfect choice for a keynote speaker. Naturally, we wanted to get to the convention in time to hear him speak, and better yet, to have enough time beforehand to case the joint and figure out how we wanted to spend our time there.

For me, I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to do. Because, though my experience was limited, I was fairly certain I knew how to attend a con. I quietly read through all the descriptions of the panels that would be there, and I worked out which panels I would be able to attend, and where I should break for something to eat. After all, Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb probably wouldn't be coming over to my house any time soon to record their next episode of X-Play. If I was going to do this con right, I would attend all the once-in-a-lifetime panels I could, and then fill in the gaps with social gaming and the obligatory whimsical shopping spree through the Dealer's Room.

The plan was solid. The timing on the panels I wanted to attend worked out beautifully. The fact that the con didn't start until Friday afternoon gave us all morning to stock up on sleep for the last time that weekend. There was nothing good on TV. Conditions were perfect.

Until everything fell apart.

[Continued tomorrow.]


zharth said...

I agree that plans are good, but one thing about cons is that you should expect your plan to fail at some point. There's just too much chaos, and for things to work out just as planned, you would have to violate the second law of thermodynamics - and good luck with that. :p

Flashman85 said...

Believe me, we know what it's like to have our plans fall apart. Which is why we barely plan anything anymore, because it always falls apart, no matter what it is.

However, when someone's sole purpose of going to a con does not go even remotely as planned, very bad things happen.