Welcome Home: My first PAX Aus experience


Walking into the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (after a disastrous time trying to navigate the Melbourne public transport system), I noticed a banner that stretched across the ceiling; it read ‘Welcome Home’. 

Even as somebody who hadn’t been to Australia’s Penny Arcade Expo before, I knew that PAX was a home-away-from-home for many of its attendees and I was looking forward to sharing that sentiment by the end of the weekend.

PAX offers an escape for game-lovers, cosplayers, and nerdy folk everywhere, and they came in hordes. The hall was packed, even at the early hour that we arrived to pick up our ‘special guest’ passes.

I was on the first panel of the day in the Kookaburra theatre, entitled ‘Rocket League: Community Building in Competitive Games’. The audience was small, but engaged, and seemed to enjoy themselves. It was wonderful to discuss ways to foster communities with the fifty-odd attendees in this informal setting, and then to spill out of the theatre to talk one-on-one with people about tangential ideas after our hour was over.

My second panel, ‘Sick Heroes: Exploring Representations of Illness in Games’, was held on Friday evening. After the success of the morning, I felt more confident walking into the Bunyip theatre, but I was not prepared for a full house, with people being turned away at the door. It’s amazing how, even with hundreds on people jammed into the room, it still felt like we were just having a relaxed chat with some wonderful people. There’s nothing better than having people nod or applaud in response to things you say, come up to you later to shake your hand for being ‘courageous’, or quote you on Twitter. It really felt like my words were making a difference during this panel.

Between and after these panels, I had plenty of time to watch other panels too. Over the course of the weekend, I managed to attend ‘Aiming for Equality’, the ‘Nano Jam’, ‘Queer Geeks of Oz’, and ‘Death and Dying in Videogames’. All of these panels made good points and had plenty of positives, but I also have a lot of mixed feelings about some of them. My thoughts don’t have space to sprawl out here, and each of these panels deserves an individual article about its merits and weaknesses.

When I wasn’t presenting on or watching panels, I was exploring the PAX exhibition hall. The floor was like a giant mix of Supanova and EB Expo, but so much bigger. Half the floor was filled with merch and tabletop games, while the other half had booths for all the major studios. The most significant and unique thing that PAX has ‘PAX Rising’. There is so much to say about this showcase of home-grown indie titles that it also needs an article of its own to do it justice.

In the evenings, there were incredible dinners and after-parties for all of the different groups involved in the games industry. The Co-op Drinks on Friday night were a stand-out, and involved a wonderful selfie show-of-support on Twitter for the organisation ‘Take This’, and for mental health awareness.

‘Take This’ was responsible for the AFK room at PAX, a space for people who needed a break from the chaos of the theatres and exhibition hall (which felt all the more exhausting after late nights at the many aforementioned after parties). PAX is a place of wonderful diversity and acceptance, and the presence of the AFK room only reinforced that.

I enjoyed being on panels as much as watching them, helping out on the University of the Sunshine Coast booth as much as exploring all the others, and enjoying the festivities inside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre as much as those held outside it. I’m sad that it all came to an end so quickly, but I’m already excited to return to my new home-away-from-home this time next year.

Originally published on alaynamcole.com