Postcards from PAX East: The Final Day


by Adam Harshberger

Here’s the story of my third and final day at PAX East.

I woke up still dreaming about Jesus coming back to life, thinking about the cubicle that was anxiously awaiting my Monday return, and an especially ill-advised shot of Jameson from the night before. I only managed to get about four hours of sleep, and my throat was raw from too much yelling. I ate breakfast in the over-priced lobby restaurant, shook off the hangover as best I could, and took the silver line to the convention hall.

Sunday, I had come to understand, is the slow day at PAX East. It felt like it, too, with the hallways around the floor oddly empty. It was somber, a little. “Yeah, today’s the last day,” said the man on his cell phone, “back to the real world tomorrow.” We were in the bathroom. He was pissing next to me.

I only had one appointment on Sunday, and none of the panels interested me. So I wandered and said goodbye to a lot of the wonderful people I had met, but I missed just as many as I caught.

You’ll never have as many friends as you do at PAX. I said things to strangers that I would never normally say – there’s a sense of sameness wherever you go, imagined or not, and it made me brave. I wouldn’t call myself shy, really, but I just don’t say much to strangers. I’d rather not offend them with some offhand comment. Also, I never, ever curse when I’m speaking to people I don’t know.

So I was a little surprised when I was playing a game called AirMech on the show floor. We were playing on a long row of PCs, and I was saddled down with bags, leaving my knees to lock up worse than ever. But AirMech is a really good game, really tense and frenetic. So I looked over at the dude playing next to me, widened my eyes like I do when I’m excited, grinned, and said, “I can’t believe this is running in a fucking browser!”

My stomach dropped a little. In the awkward seconds between my mouth closing and his opening, I thought of a thousand ways that could go wrong. Did I just scream in his ear? Is it bad to yell the word “fucking” on Easter Sunday? What if he thinks this game sucks?

Looking right at me, he replied, “Dude, I know. Fucking incredible!” all nonchalant, and snapped his neck back to the battle in front of him. “That went well,” I thought, and continued playing.

The same thing happened on the first day. I saw someone wearing an Illusion of Gaia shirt, looked her square in the eye, and said, “That shirt is fucking awesome!”

Apparently, I said “fucking” a lot at PAX East.

That afternoon, I managed to not only find room and an open outlet in the press room, but sit in it, too. It was quiet, but busy enough. Kotaku was there in force, still. I tried to write for about an hour, staring at a blank document and writing about seven different leads for a Firefall preview. Nothing came. I quietly hoped Stephen Totilo was not judging me based on my inability to write a single word worth saving, packed up my stuff, and said goodbye to that, as I imagine it, peer-panopticon of a room.

After my press room adventure, I got really nauseous. Too much caffeine. I wandered the show floor some more, alongside my friend and weekend-roommate Ben, and felt almost stoned. We played about five minutes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 with some kind of glasses that are supposed to enhance your vision for better fragging. They just made it look yellow tinted, and I still died as much as I do normally. Ben and I explored a little more, concluded that we both felt like death, and decided it was time to head to the airport, where we parted ways and made for our respective terminals.

Within hours, I was aboard a plane, heading back to Columbus. The daunting realities of the real world were coming back to me. I slept on the plane, which is something I can rarely do. I also had the very back seat and it smelled, literally, like shit. My flight got in around 9:40, and I was home by 10:30. Sweet, sweet sleep soon followed.

On Monday, the real world felt much like I left it. My cubicle was still there. Games writing, I think, is still my dream job. This weekend reinforced that – not just the games or the raw spectacle of the event, but the people I met, especially. But if you’re hoping for a romantic ending where I risk it all and move to California to make a run at it, you won’t find that. My current job, while totally unrelated to gaming, is probably my runner-up dream occupation.

What did I leave PAX East with? Steelier resolve. I had flown there with my motivations and hopes for a games writing future at a low. But talking to the people there, seeing the looks in their eyes, it filled me with enthusiasm again. There’s so much to say, there’s so much to talk about, and there are so many people who actually give a shit. They’re packed in like sardines.

One of the first things that baffled me about PAX East was the unholy amount of time people put into cosplay. Some of it is jaw-dropping. I wondered where they got the time and motivation to do it. Like I said before, I write a lot about video games, and for free, too. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never spent as much time on an article as some of these folk did on their costumes – and I have the petty motivations of Twitter and WordPress hit counters to keep me going if I run out of self motivation. They don’t.

Only now can I see clearly why they do it. It’s the self-propelling, infectious, communal nature of events like PAX East. Fuck festivals of Mammon, these are festivals of People Like Me. If you’re like me, these are the kind of things you go to and find your place in the world – and the motivation, the camaraderie, you need to get there.

So you should probably go. At least once. You’ll see a lot of stuff that’s really cool. You’ll play some great games before most people do, and some bad ones, too. You’ll pay like nine bucks for a hot dog, and way too much to admit for a taxi. And along the way, you’ll meet some awesome people from every area of gaming culture. That’s what makes it worthwhile – everything else is just bonus points.

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  • Steven Sukkau

    Haha, I hope swearing at strangers becomes a regular tag on md! Great article man!