PAX South 2016: My Ladies Gaming Adventure
By C’loni Bailey, Assistant Manager at Bookmans Mesa
I traveled with a couple of my friends for a ladies’ gaming adventure to PAX South in San Antonio, TX, the last weekend in January. The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) is the go-to gaming convention for gamers all over the world since its inception in 2004. Since then, PAX expanded to four locations: the original PAX Prime in Seattle, PAX East in Boston, PAX Aus in Australia, and the most recent addition, PAX South in San Antonio.
Anyone who has tried to get tickets to PAX Prime or PAX East knows how nearly impossible it is these days. Organizers never announce the dates the tickets go live ahead of time. Instead potential con goers must watch the PAX Twitter feed and refresh the website when the time for tickets gets close. Even then, you’re lucky if you manage to score tickets. PAX Prime 2015 tickets sold out in 54 minutes!
Fortunately, PAX South tickets are easier to obtain (for the time being). Only in its second year, PAX South is a smaller convention than Prime or East and strongly indie focused, with next to no Triple-A titles present. This makes for a generally less frantic event, though 2016 saw a larger turnout than in its opening year. As with any PAX convention, the numbers will balloon in subsequent years. If you want to attend a PAX gaming convention, you had best visit PAX South before tickets start selling out as quickly as Prime.
PAX South was a much smaller convention than I expected but that wasn’t a bad thing. At least there weren’t hoards of gamer guys blocking any and all entrances. A good number of women were there! Having only been to one other gaming convention, where I was one of maybe ten women present, I was pleasantly surprised at how many female gamers, developers, artists and other industry folk were in attendance. My lady friends and I did not feel out of place.
First we hit up the main Expo Hall, which was the bright, noisy center of the con where the new games were. Being heavily indie game focused, there were many developers and games we had never heard of, most of which were preparing to launch new titles (and in some cases their first titles) on Steam. There was not much of a console presence, which is understandable given the focus on indie developers. There are more tools and opportunities for indie developers to create on PC with Steam than for consoles and console development is usually the next step once a developer has proven the title works and sells on PC.
Mobile games were a big trend this year. Dungeon Boss, a mobile game for iPhone, iPad and Android devices, had a booth that showed off their fun and stylized dungeon crawler with paper crowns and mushroom hats, key chains and a screen printing booth where you could choose one of their designs to have screen printed on a T-shirt while you wait. The line for the shirts wrapped around the booth all weekend and never seemed to get smaller. We saw a mobile game like a dungeon version of Minesweeper as well as several retro 8-bit style games.
One of the benefits of PAX South being smaller than Prime is that con goers could talk to the developers about their games. We had fun talking to various creators and artists. For many of them, this was their first PAX and their first time showing off the product of many months or even years of hard work. Some developers were nervous about putting their work out there to be judged by the masses, but they were also exhilarated by the experience of watching people play their games.
We stopped by a mobile survival horror game called “From Beneath”. My friends and I chatted with the creators and they were particularly proud the of game’s sound. I’m a wimp when it comes to horror games and refused to try it but the game rep insisted that I at least put on the headphones and listen to it as my friend played. I gave in and tried on the headphones for approximately 2.5 seconds before the freaky noises creeped me out. I snatched them off and backed away. “No no no, I can’t do this!” I told the rep. He laughed and said I had the best reaction he had seen.
We also enjoyed “Karaski: What Goes Up”, a first person, exploration/detective game set on a Slavic airship. The creator is an adorable Polish man who was super excited to be at PAX. He took the time to talk to us about the setting and gameplay, but seeing his enthusiasm and passion for his game sold us on it. Karaski is currently available on Steam.
Video games were not the only focus of the convention. An entire room was devoted to tabletop gaming, as well as an area in the Expo Hall where new card and board games were demoed. I tested a few games and bought a card game called “Fun-employed”, an “Apples to Apples” style game where the goal is to convince whoever is playing the Employer why you would be qualified for a randomly drawn job utilizing four random qualification cards you draw. For example, the job card our Employer drew was Dominatrix, and my qualification cards were “Red Sea”, “Stool”, “Whip” and “Uncontrollable Libido”. Using those four cards I had to argue why I would be good for the job, an easy feat given the particular cards I drew. Once all the players finish their arguments, the Employer picks a winner. It’s super fun because so much of it is based on improvisation.
Panels are an important part of any convention and PAX South is no different. Most of the panels were focused on industry-related topics such as developing games for Steam, crowd sourcing or launching a first game. My friends and I only attended one panel. We were far too busy playing games on the Expo floor for most of the con. That one panel was a fantastic, though. “Queering up Misconceptions: LGBT Game Industry Life” focused on LGBT representation in gaming. This panel had a full turnout, which was wonderful to see for a panel about diversity and representation. The panel featured four hosts, gay and bi, who were a part of the gaming industry. They discussed not only LGBT representation in games themselves, but also behind the scenes in the industry and how coming out influenced their careers. It was an insightful panel. My only complaint is that it did not feel long enough. One hour may seem like a long time, but it’s really not when you start going into in depth on issues like transgender representation in games.
The Diversity Lounge also offered a space for gamers to learn about LGBT gaming groups like the Houston Gaymers, partners with our own Phoenix Gaymers who were also in attendance, as well as LGBT-focused comics. The lounge had huge striped bean bags strewn all over the floor for people to relax on. My friends and I took advantage of these a few times when we needed to get off our feet.
In the evenings, PAX South con goers were treated to free concerts in the huge concert hall featuring geeky bands such as The Doubleclicks, MC Frontalot, Bit Brigade (who played the entirety of Mega Man 2 as one of their friends played through the entire game without dying) and the Protomen.
The highlight of our PAX South weekend was an impromptu Dragon Age party thrown at a local bar by Mike Laidlaw, the lead designer of the Dragon Age series. The Bioware Base, a hugely popular part of last year’s convention, was absent this year but this helped make up for it. I wore my Josephine Montilyet cosplay from Dragon Age: Inquisition to the party and received glowing compliments and free drinks from Mr. Laidlaw himself!
Our ladies’ gaming adventure was a success! I came away with several new games to try, a Dragon Age scarf and Mabari plushie, and the Fun-employed card game. By the end of our trip we were exhausted and over-stimulated. I got hit with a combo migraine/con crud head cold after we got home, but we are glad we went. We are already planning next year’s adventure!
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