I remember it well: we were at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market on a beautiful September morning in 2008, and I was sick with envy. Twitter was full of people talking about all the fun they were having at PAX, and then came the killing blow: “You know who’s at PAX?” Ken asked me. “Yes, JoCo’s there. With Paul and Storm.” I said. “And Wil Wheaton!” he added. Wil Wheat–ARGH! There was major geekery happening practically in our back yard, and we weren’t in on it. A resolution bloomed in my heart, and hardened: next year, PAX would be ours!
The thought lay fallow through the busy and exciting months that closed out ’08 and led in ’09, but never quite went away. Soon enough, chatter about PAX 09 started up, and I was ready for it. One tweet, “Hey Tweeps, are we doing PAX this year?” and the ball was rolling. We had a Team PAX meeting in mid-June to coordinate registration and hotels. We were DOING this thing. And this weekend, we DID this thing. Although, a reasonable argument could be made that this thing did us.
You can prepare for PAX, but you can’t really Be Prepared for it, the first time you go. We made smart choices in casual clothing, comfortable shoes, a close-by hotel for convenient napping, etc. And yet, walking into the din and crush of the expo hall was a daunting experience; I wanted to run away. I felt that way a lot, the first day: we’d made a mistake, this wasn’t our scene, there wasn’t anything there for us. I had to fight those impressions and work my way into a different mindset. I made it into a game: there is good stuff here, but you must seek it out, hidden amongst the dross. It took a while to find the prizes of PAX, but they were there, and they were worth the search.
The three panels I attended were excellent. The panelists were intelligent, funny, and thoughtful, and the discussions were interesting. All of them ended well before the topics were exhausted, leaving me with the sense of unfinished sentences hanging in the air. They are all discussions I want to continue, and I hope I don’t have to wait until PAX ’10 to do it.
I didn’t get to meet Wil Wheaton, as I’d hoped, but I was there for the great Wil Wheaton moment: when Jonathan Coulton changed the words of “My Monkey” and sang the whole thing as “Wil Wheaton” (it’s up on YouTube, and it’s adorable.) It was cute and funny, Wil being the duly elected King of the Nerd Prom and all, but what made it great was Wil’s reaction: he looked like an abashed little boy, all shiny eyes and pleased grin; he was surprised and maybe a little starstruck at having JoCo sing about him. That’s what I love about Wil: the fame and fandom haven’t eclipsed the plain old normal guy. He’s just a geek, albeit Geek Prime; just as big a fan of the stuff we’re all fans of, and not afraid to show it. He doesn’t put up a cool front or hold himself at a distance from hoi polloi; he’s right there in the mix, Fanning out with the rest of us.
There’s a new star in my personal firmament, too: Deirdra Kiai, who utterly rocked the two panels I saw her on. So smart, so funny, so…well, I’m gonna have to drag out the big words for this small woman: so perspicacious. She has a way of saying the things that need to be said; I was grateful for several well-placed comments she made during panel discussions. CountessZ and I half-jokingly (and more than half-seriously) formed the Deirdra Kiai Fan Club; we are entirely-seriously agitating for Deirdra to have her own Awesome Hour next year. She was great on the panels, but she has enough to say that she deserves time of her own to say it. (Deirdra, whatever support/encouragement you need to make that happen, your Fan Club stands ready to provide it!)
It was a weekend of highs and lows (and maybe I’ll do a post on the lows: there were some doozies!); a weekend of vacillation between never wanting to go to another PAX, and never wanting to leave it; a weekend of feeling excluded and feeling connected; a weekend of exhaustion and exhilaration. During a discussion of how we talk about gameplay, Nels Anderson drew a distinction between ‘fun’ (tra-la, happy funtime!) and ‘engaging’ (holding the gamer’s attention and being worthy of the time invested). I think that sums up my PAX09 experience perfectly: it wasn’t really Fun (though it had its moments), so much as it was Engaging.
So, Tweeps, are we doing PAX next year?