When I was growing up, being a geek wasn’t something to be celebrated. Sure, we were out there—trying like hell to get the syntax of commands just right in text-based computer roleplaying games or spending umpteen hours mastering the jumping puzzles in Pitfall. Or maybe running a marathon laser-disc rewatching of Star Wars or crying because Knight Rider got pre-empted. Again.
(Should I admit that I’ve done all these things?)
Over the last few years, being a geek has not only become something that’s more accepted socially and quote-unquote cool, but also recognized as a market filled with potential. And that’s led to geeky merchandise springing up everywhere—t-shirts, bags, mugs, keychains, jewellery, basically any sort of peripheral you can think. And then there are the conventions.
There are so many now. Just a few: Comic Con in San Diego, Comic Con in New York, Fan Expo (among others) in Toronto. Even my hometown, tiny little Ottawa, has a comic convention—and every single year, it is PACKED.
As a gamer, though, there’s nothing quite like the experience of PAX (Penny Arcade Expo). I’ve never been to the west coast version of this con, but I’ve attended the east coast version, in Boston, twice. In fact, I’m typing this from beautiful Boston. I’m here with my husband, as well as my writing partner, Kelly Jensen, and her husband.
And about three-quarters of the North American gamer community.
If you’ve never been to PAX East, it’s important to note that it’s not just geared at computer gamers. I’d say tabletop gaming makes up about half of the draw of the con. You can pick up so many different types of games, from Mah-jongg to Cards Against Humanity. You can sign up for game tutorials or to try out a new version of Dungeons & Dragons.
The real draw for me, though, is seeing the video games. There are demos, tournaments, and lots of enthusiasm about all sorts of games from independent studios to large ones. BioWare, in particular, has a special place in my heart. Kelly and I met because of a mutual obsession Dragon Age: Origins that resulted in many, many in-depth character discussions. When we attended PAX East in 2013, we were blown away by the Mass Effect tribute the company put on. Unfortunately, this year their presence wasn’t quite as massive, but it was still a lot of fun to see people dressed as characters from the latest BioWare game (Dragon Age: Inquisition, if you’re keeping track).
Oh, and let's not forget all the merchandise you can buy, some of which is seriously neat stuff. Like hand-crafted suede top hats. Or modernized bean bag chairs. Or tables designed for gaming, complete with dry-erase inserts that you can draw out your campaign.
It never ceases to amaze me how big geek culture has gotten, but it doesn’t really surprise me. There is so much creativity out there to admire and celebrate—and it’s a lot of fun to mingle with other like-minded folks for a weekend.