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PAX East 2014 After-Action Report

PAX East 2014 Expo Floor

It’s been two years since I started attending Penny Arcade Expos. A year ago, I began working as an Enforcer for said events. It’s not a ton of experience, but it’s built on top of all I’ve done before. In light of that, I have to say this PAX East was the smoothest one yet, and one of the best convention experiences I’ve had in a long time.

In previous years, I’ve gauged the success or lack thereof in the experience on what I get to see, do, or play. I’ve had to readjust those priorities. Conventions and gatherings of the like-minded are awesome in and of themselves, and working as part of the staff for such a thing means having a hand in making that experience more awesome for other people. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone. But it’s a big part of why I’ve chosen to do it multiple events in a row, now.

That said, I’ve met a ton of cool people doing this. Not just the people I’ve worked with, but the people who make it to the event. I have definitely arrived at a point where I am more excited to meet people than I am to see exhibits, at least when it comes to PAX. I can see that changing when more games arrive that grab my attention, but for this time around my focus was entirely on how things were running in my theatre.

I hope everybody that made it out had an excellent time! I have to keep this short since I have a number of things with which I need to get caught up.

Wacky Weather & Whatnot

Test Pattern

Traveled home from Boston today, almost lost my glasses, got a nasty whack to the head, and apparently it’s snowing in places.

You know, I leave my apartment for six days and this sort of thing happens…

Anyway, back to normal tomorrow.

Many Lines on One Line

This is not a post about managing lines at PAX East. It’s actually a reference to this week’s Flash Fiction challenge over on Terribleminds. Chuck has once again admonished us to write a killer opening line, which is a fantastic exercise, but not really something I can build an entire post around.

Normally I would fire up the Brainstormer to fuel a Flash Fiction post, but I’m writing this on Sunday with PAX East still in full swing. I hope everyone who came had an excellent time! I will Brainstorm some Flash for later this week, give you guys a preview of a game or two from the Expo floor (if I have time to get down there), and sleep more between now and then.

Mmm. Sleep.

If you’re traveling, travel safe!

500 Words on Conventions & Community

500 Words on Conventions & Community

Conventions and exhibitions almost feel like another world. Within the walls of the buildings and skyways, tens of thousands of like minds gather. It is wonderful and terrifying and energizing and exhausting, all at the same time.

A lot of communities come together, especially if individuals within said communities often feel that they’re alone. Seeing so many people gathered in the same place for the same reason refutes that feeling through sheer fact of numbers. Even so, it can be overwhelming, and as much as an individual can see plainly that they are not alone, other feelings can lead to unintended isolation.

I have felt this myself, and the fact is that the more involved you become in interactions with others, the less isolated you feel. I would remind you, if you feel this way, that it’s okay to be nervous. You’re allowed to have time and space to yourself, but it may not necessarily be for the best if you stay there. Remember that everybody is there for the same reason: a celebration of common ground, shared interest, and collective excitement.

The gaming community in particular has come under fire before. There are certainly incendiary elements. There’s a reason some of the best advice a YouTuber can follow is “Don’t read the comments.” Fans of things in general, and gamers in particular, feel entitled to their opinions and are convinced of the rightness of their causes. While it’s wonderful we live in a world where we can speak and think as we like, that can occasionally lead to uncomfortable situations.

Thankfully, you have just as much right to ignore what someone says as they have to say it. Or, even better, say something that refutes what you disagree with.

As long as we’re communicating honestly and without overarching judgment, we have very little reason to remain silent. Broadly, the way we conduct ourselves be it in the comments or in person falls under Wheaton’s First Law:

Don’t be a dick.

I’m sure this will seem like common sense to a lot of folks. This is a good thing. Still, it’s much like what I’ve said about consent – the more people that know these things, the better the community will be overall. Like I said, there is little reason to remain silent. As long as you’re being positive about what you’re saying, and saying it with the intent of increasing awareness and decreasing worldsuck, by all means, speak up! You will be glad you did.

I’m not sure what else I can add. PAX East is in full swing and I am busier than ever. I’ll be outside Bumblebee Theatre in the Boston Convention & Expo Center. Becoming an Enforcer has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and has lead to some incredibly invaluable and completely unforgettable changes, both now and in the future.

But that is a story, and a post, for another time…

From the Vault: The Video Game Singularity

I’m on my way to Boston for PAX East this morning. While I make my way through several states on what are certain to be lovely roads, have a look at my thoughts on the lines between video game developers and video game players, and what might happen if they get blurred.


X-Box Kitten

I feel we are rapidly approaching what I’ve chosen to dub “the Video Game Singularity”. It’s the point at which the lines between developers and players of video games blurs to the degree that the storytelling experience these games convey is one truly shared between both camps. We’re on our way with RPGs with user mod tools like Skyrim, massively multiplayer experiences and yes, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure tales like the Mass Effect trilogy. Now, things like marketing departments, stratospheric fanatical expectations, and the limitations of current technology will hinder this advent, but it’s sooner than we think.

The Internet’s instant communication and dissemination of information is accelerating the process as we, as gamers, find and refine our voices. While we’ll never be able to excise every single idiot or douchebag from the community, we can minimize their impact while maximizing what matters: our investment in our entertainment. We are patrons, and video games are the art for which we pay.

Games are unquestionably art. Moreover, they a new form of art all their own, with their own traditions, their own classical periods, their own auteurs, their own mavericks. So I pose the question: why do we judge them as works of art extant in other forms when they clearly do not belong there?

Think about it. A movie critic, with little to no exposure to gaming in general, has no basis by which to judge the merits and flaws of BioShock or Killer7 in comparison to Kane and Lynch. By comparison, many gamers who only see a handful of movies may not recognize the reasons why film aficionados praise Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey. The two mediums are completely different, and the biggest difference is in the controller held by the player.

From the moment we put our fingers on buttons, sticks, or mice at the start of a game, we have a measure of control over our experience. A well-designed game lets the player feel like they are truly a part of the world they’re being shown, that their choices will help shape the events to come. In a movie or a book, there’s no interaction between the observer and the observed. We experience the narrative the authors want us to experience regardless of whatever decisions we might have made differently. Video games, on the other hand, invite us to make our choices and experience the consequences for better or for worse.

Since players are a part of the building process for the narrative, it could be argued that they have just as much ownership of the story as the developers do. That isn’t to say they should get a cut of the game’s profits, as not everyone can render the iron sights of a gun or the glowing eyes of a dimensional horror-beast as well as a professional, who has to pay for things like training and food. A game done right, however, makes the player feel like a part of its world, and with that comes a certain feeling of entitlement.

That word’s been bandied about quite a bit lately, and to be honest I don’t think gamer entitlement is entirely a bad thing. The problem arises when gamers act like theirs is the only opinion that matters. Gaming is, at its best, a collaborative storytelling experience. Bad games shoulder players out of their narratives with non-interactive cutscenes or features that ruin immersion. Bad gamers scream their heads off whenever things don’t go exactly the way they expect in a given story. “This sucks and so do you” is not as helpful as “I think this sucks and here’s why.”

Not to belabor the point, but you can tell an author or director how much a book or movie sucks in your opinion, and the most you might get is a “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Game developers, however, know their medium is mutable. It can be changed. And if mistakes are made in the process of creating a game that slipped by them or weren’t obvious, they can go back and fix them. Now, the ending of a narrative is not the same as a major clipping issue, games crashing entirely, or an encounter being unreasonably difficult, and not every complaint from the player base is legitimate. And in some cases, the costs in time and money required to make changes to adjust a story even slightly can be entirely too prohibitive. But when there’s truth found in the midst of an outcry, some merit to be discerned from a cavalcade of bitching and moaning, game developers have power other creators of narrative simply don’t have.

The question is: should they exercise it?

Let me put it another way:

Should finished games be considered immutable things like films or novels, set in stone by their creators? Does listening to players and altering the experience after much debate ruin the artistic merit of a given game?

I think the answer to both questions is “no.”

Changing the ending of a novel or film because fans didn’t like it is one thing. Most directors and authors would cite artistic integrity in keeping their tales as they are. There are those who feel game developers should maintain the same standards. That doesn’t seem right to me, though. For one thing, a writer may change an ending if a test reader can cite issues with it, and a director can re-cut their film if focus groups find it difficult to watch without any benefit. Moreover, gaming is so different from every other art form, so involving of the end user of the content, that sooner or later a different set of standards should be observed.

As we approach the Video Game Singularity, it becomes more and more apparent that the old ways of judging those who create the stories we enjoy no longer apply. We are just as responsible for the stories being told through games as the developers are, and while games empower and encourage us to make decisions to alter the outcome, we must realize that our power in that regard is shared with the developers, and is not exclusively our own. By the same token, the onus of integrity does not solely fall on the developers. We, as participants in the story, must also hold ourselves to a standard, in providing constructive criticism, frank examination, and willingness to adapt or compromise when it comes to the narratives we come to love. Only by doing this can we blur that line between gamers and developers. Only by showing this desire to address these stories as living things in which we have a say and for the benefit of which we will work with their original creators will gamers stop coming across as spoiled brats and start to be considered a vital part of the game creation process.

We can stop being seen as mere end-user consumers, and start participating actively in the perpetuation of this art form. To me, that’s exciting and powerful.

I mean, we still have people using racist and homophobic language in the community, but hey, baby steps.