Tens of thousands of gamers poured into the Boston Convention and Expo Center this weekend for PAX East, the annual video game expo from the creators of Penny Arcade, a massively popular web comic that has spawned its own empire.
Unlike other gaming conventions that are aimed at industry professionals and media, PAX is all about the fans, giving gamers the chance to play upcoming games months before release and hear from game creators, in addition to featuring community events like concerts, tournaments, and parties.
Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski kicked off PAX East with the story of his lifelong love of video games, which was surprisingly charming and sentimental coming from the man who invented Gears’ lancer, an assault rifle with a chainsaw bayonet used for cutting foes in half.
Bleszinski discussed the great impact games had on his life, and how they have influenced everything from his career to meeting his wife. He talked about being bullied for loving his Nintendo Entertainment System in middle school and lauded the gaming community for its supportive nature, rejecting the idea that violent games cause violent behavior. He showed several slides of brawls erupting at sporting events and joked that you probably won’t see many fistfights break out at PAX East.
Since PAX began in 2004, it has grown into one of the largest fan expos in the country and is notable for the sense of community it has cultivated. Gamers of all sorts gather to not only play games, but also trade collectible pins, dance, sing karaoke and simply chat about their favorite pastime. Many people show up in elaborate costumes as their favorite characters, and it’s not unusual to see someone dressed as Metroid’s Samus Aran posing for photos with Mega Man as BioShock’s Big Daddy and Little Sister look on.
With the current console generation winding down, there was a smaller presence than usual from Microsoft and Sony, who are holding off on showing their next-gen games until E3. This gave indie and mobile games a chance to shine, and they offered a variety of clever, creative games that in many ways overshadowed the big-budget games on display – at least in terms of quality, if not loudness.
PAX East wraps up Sunday evening with the final round of the Omegathan, the culmination of a three-day elimination tournament that crowns a champion of games that range from Bomberman to Jenga, and always ends in a mystery game to decide the competition. One contestant will emerge victorious, but everyone will leave feeling rewarded.
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